The Golden Child
Purpose-built to create excitement on the Austin-Healey stand at the October 1958 London Motor Show at Earls Court, this l00-Six upstaged Britain’s “Big Five” automakers as the unqualified hit of the event. Today, it remains a fascinating example of state-of-the-art marketing of the 1950s and the definitive British sports cars of the 1950s and 1960s.
Ken Gregory, Donald Healey’s public relations manager, sold his employer on the value of a radically outfitted 100-Six to dominate the floor traffic at Earls Court, but Healey reconsidered due to the projected costs. Undeterred, Gregory persisted and finally obtained approval, provided a buyer would commit to purchase the car at a fixed price. Following a meeting at a Fleet Street pub between Gregory and Daily Express motoring correspondent Basil Cardew, who conveyed the proposal to his editor Tom Blackburn, the newspaper agreed to purchase the show car from Austin-Healey and award it as the grand prize in a contest.
With precious little time, a regular-production 100-Six roadster was plucked from the assembly line and prepared in secret after regular working hours.
A special ivory paint finish was applied, and all brightwork was plated in 24-karat gold “ . . . right down to the tiniest trimming washers and screws: the wire wheels, disc brakes, bumpers, and instruments were given the same treatment,” Gregory later recalled in his autobiography. The cockpit was similarly flamboyant, with the seats, dashboard, inner doors, and side panels all trimmed in reversed Champagne Connolly kid leather. Luxurious Champagne Diadem Mink by London furrier Lorna Doon Snow adorned the inserts and back squabs of the bucket seats. Appropriately rounding out the incredible package, the Austin-Healey even included a gold-plated ignition key and key ring, complete with a solid-gold scale replica of the car itself!
Not just flamboyantly liveried and tailored, the car was fitted with Dunlop four-wheel disc brakes, making this the only non-competition Austin-Healey so-equipped. Brake servos were also fitted; these would not become standard on Austin-Healeys until 1964.
Valued at approximately ₤4,000, nearly four times the price of a regular-production 100-Six, the Earls Court car was dubbed “the most flirtatious car in the Motor Show” by the Daily Express. A steady stream of press reports and excitement around the “Super Austin-Healey” contest, in addition to hordes of onlookers, provided a massive public relations coup for Healey that normal advertising techniques never could.
“ONE FANTASTIC CAR”
The Daily Express contest winner sold the car almost immediately. Records on file in an extensive history file confirm the very special 100-Six was first road-registered on 25 February 1959. Accounts of the car’s early owners vary depending upon the source, but documented ownership history picks up in 1969, with the car passing through a number of owners until 1983, when the car was purchased, sight unseen, after lengthy discussions and with the help of a friend, by the highly respected marque experts, Bruce and Inan Phillips, of Healey Surgeons.
Soon after receiving the car, the Phillips were enthusiastically encouraged to restore the automobile they dubbed “Goldie” for the annual Healey Club show in Charlotte, North Carolina. Accordingly, the Phillips commenced a show-quality restoration of the car to its original glory, with the car completed in 1986. In addition to extensive metalwork, the restoration included complete and accurate reproduction of the lavish kid leather and mink interior. The bumpers and larger pieces of brightwork, including the windshield, were sent to England for re-plating, and the wire-spoke wheels were custom-made for the car by Dayton. For driving ease, a correct overdrive unit was installed during the restoration, with the associated electronics neatly tucked beneath the dash.
During the restoration, an interesting detail emerged. As recently related by Inan Phillips, some chassis work was evidently performed when the car was prepared for Earls Court, for primarily cosmetic reasons. The unintended but welcome consequence was a noticeably stiffer chassis, resulting in the car’s uncanny smoothness noted during an early post-restoration test drive. During one memorable test drive, “Goldie” was opened up and clocked at 120 mph! As Inan Philips noted, the 100-Six was “one fantastic running and driving car . . . the smoothest driving Healey we’ve ever owned.”
During the Phillips’ tenure, several articles were published, including a number by Inan Phillips for the Austin-Healey Club newsletter and an article by John Matras for Autoweek. The famous 100-Six was displayed at numerous annual Healey gatherings in the U.S. and Canada, and was even able to be reunited with its creator, Donald Healey.
Eventually, “Goldie” was sold to the current owner through a mutual friend. Under the current caretaker, it was displayed at the 2012 Concours d’Elegance of Texas, with impressive pre-show preparation completed by Jeff’s Resurrections, the noted restorers in Taylor, Texas. Work included repainting the lower engine compartment and cleaning, detailing, and repainting of the suspension and undercarriage. The car was also awarded Best Restored at the 2015 Kuwaiti Concours d’Elegance.
Immortalized in scale-model form and simply captivating today, the offering of the Earls Court 100-Six represents a singular opportunity. It is the only non-racing Healey with four-wheel disc brakes. It is the only Healey exclusively fitted with such unique interior appointments. It is the only Healey that is the instantly recognizable, iconic, show-stopping “Goldie” – simply put, the most fantastic Austin-Healey ever produced.