Healey family legacy lives on in Caton Healey BN100
Another debut at the Salon Prive event held at Chelsea Royal Hospital, London, is a new version of a stunning 1950s British sportscar, highlights Iain Robertson, as he enthuses enviously about a machine on which only 25 potential owners will ever get their excitable mitts and that he covets with all his soul and being…
Known frequently as a ‘squealy Healey’, mainly due to narrowness of tyres combined with an excess of an engine’s bottom-end torque that could break traction in a trice, the original Austin Healey BN100 emerged from a post-war era of British automotive excellence, when our nation ruled the roads worldwide. Possessing as much of a reputation for wayward behaviour as most early Porsche 911s, or the even earlier 356s, these were cars that challenged their owners but made them feel like automotive kings once mastered. Yet, their engineering was simple and uncomplicated. By today’s standards, they were not even particularly potent, although a snarling side-exiting exhaust pipe could instill excitement and grab attention like no family saloon ever could. Instead, they exuded beauty of form and conveyed a Le Croisette impression on a car more likely to encounter a drizzly Box Hill.
Make no bones, casting your eyes over the Caton recreation is an exercise in achingly unparalleled desire. The classic Healey outline is utterly beautiful in a long-nosed, bob-tailed, two-seater signature of mind-warping elegance. Its deliciously recreated and close-coupled cockpit simply refines what Donald Healey produced originally, with a tad more care, access to modern tooling and a bigger 2022 budget. Sadly, at two metres in height, I am never going to fit, even with extra space available but, if I had the investment and a lounge wall large enough, I know where my Caton Healey would be parked as art form to be admired privately.
Yet, look closely…while the proportions appear faithful, the Caton version is all-new, from its LED-ringed projector headlamps to its tiny multi-purpose taillights. The hand-pressed alloy panels, formed on a traditional English Wheel, flow effortlessly from the reshaped radiator grille to its elegant bootlid, taking in what can only be described as a bespoke cockpit, with hand-stitched hide replacing plastic, into which are set the Smiths analogue instrument dials. Panel gaps are tight and fenders seamless. The seats are Bridge of Weir leather clad. Instead of a recalcitrant three-speed, a more relaxed, more compact and easier shifting 5-speed manual gearbox has been installed, with its lever positioned more helpfully to effect speedier ratio changes. Intriguingly, the original 2.6-litre four-cylinder Austin motor has been thoroughly repurposed, bored out to 3.0-litres, fitted with a modern pair of larger choke carburettors and forged steel crankshaft, it develops a cool 185bhp, almost twice that of the original, while retaining the Healey signature rasp. There are not many original Healey engines about, which explains partly the 25-car strictly limited production run.
To retain the better aspects of the original BN100’s chassis dynamics, much of the suspension is to specification, complete with (adjustable) double wishbone front coils, rear cart springs and lever arm dampers, although they are re-engineered and optimised for a new generation, complete with original sized but modern Michelin tyres for a truly authentic handling and roadholding experience. Strengthened driveshafts transfer power to the road, without electronic intervention, and stopping power is increased dramatically, with four-pot callipers up front, three-pots on the rear and new disc rotors all-round, but no antilock system, which would only dilute the overall dynamic appeal. Keeping it real is the unassisted steering, although rose-jointed anti-roll bars on both axles aid overall stability.
However, Caton’s role in the development of the new cars is reliant heavily on the expertise of J.M.E. Healey, the world’s renowned Healey expert, still based at Austin Healey’s home of Warwick. No single company knows, or understands the Healey premise more and its much-strengthened chassis, which removes the original bulkhead weakpoints, forms the basis for the Caton replicas. Its partnership efforts are felt in every element of the Caton Healey’s re-engineering, from engine to suspension. Jonathan Everard, who founded J.M.E., and his father Harold were former employees of Donald Healey, although sons Chris and Dan continue managing the legacy.
It is just as well that the Caton Healey has a fairly blustery windscreen, as anything that helps to make the probable list price inaudible might be considered fortunate. If you want one, rumours persist that you will need £400,000 to buy it. Personally, not being a bespoke client of the company, I find that price a bit too much to swallow and, to be frank, I reckon even hardened investors might harbour similar, coffee-spitting issues. Oh well, dream on.