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Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – the tale of the real Austin-Healey 100S AHS 3610

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Austin-Healey’s 100S was a car built without compromise or attention to cost, meant to deliver racing glory to gentlemen racers capable of fronting the $4,995 price of admission. Just 50 examples were built in 1954-’55, and when values started to climb at the dawn of the 21st Century, so did the appeal of building replica cars. Chassis AHS 3610, which had been out of circulation since the late 1960s, was the subject of one such tribute in the early 2000s, prompting the real AHS 3610 to resurface for a full restoration. Now returned to its as-raced glory, 1955 Austin-Healey 100S chassis AHS 3610 will be offered for sale for the first time in 50 years on January 19, 2017, at the Bonhams Scottsdale auction.

1955 Austin-Healey 100S

Following the racing success of five Special Test Cars, one of which took a podium finish at the 1954 12 Hours of Sebring, the 100S (with the “S” denoting “Sebring”) debuted in time for the 1955 racing season. Like the works racing cars on which they were based, the 100S models came with an alloy frame and body, no bumpers and a simple Perspex windscreen to keep the curb weight to a remarkably svelte 1,876 pounds. The 100S models also came with four-wheel Dunlop disc brakes, a feature generally reserved for pure racing cars of the day.

1955 Austin-Healey 100S

Under the bonnet, the 2.7-liter four-cylinder received performance upgrades sufficient to boost output from 90 horsepower in the 100 to 132 horsepower in the 100S. The most significant change was an aluminum alloy head from Weslake that allowed for better breathing, while other changes included high-compression pistons, a pair of 1 ¾-inch SU carburetors and dual SU fuel pumps. Top speed was said to be in the neighborhood of 125 MPH, while the run from 0-60 MPH took just under eight seconds.

The asking price of the 100S model, $4,995, made it over $2,000 more expensive than a standard Austin-Healey 100, yet the automaker had little trouble selling out its production run. The majority of cars were sold in the U.K. and the United States, though Austin-Healey offered the model in right-hand drive only.

1955 Austin-Healey 100S

Chassis AHS 3610 first surfaces in the racing record in October 1955, driven at an SCCA National event in Sacramento, California by presumed-owner Fred Knoop. Knoop raced the car into May of 1956 before selling it to novice racer Gordon Glyer ahead of the 1957 season. Glyer raced the car into early 1958 before moving on to a faster Ferrari 500 TR.

That’s where the trail of AHS 3610 goes cold for roughly eight years. In 1966, the Austin-Healey turned up on a Denver Saab dealer’s lot, its original 2.7-liter four-cylinder replaced by a Chevrolet 283-cu.in. V-8. Such engine swaps were hardly uncommon at the time, as the American drivetrains were cheaper, more powerful, easier to service and easier to buy parts for. While a V-8 over the front wheels surely hampered the car’s handling, there’s little doubt it improved straight line speed considerably.

1955 Austin-Healey 100S

It was that Chevy-powered Austin-Healey that caught the consignor’s eye. A budding road racer, at 17 he was too young to qualify for an SCCA competition license, so he honed his skills on the autocross track. The 100S, which he referred to as “the fastest car in Denver,” likely had a prodigious appetite for tires, given the power to the rear wheels and the weight perched atop the fronts. A few years after buying the car, the V-8 let go, but by then the consignor was serious about his single-seater racing career. A rebuild (or proper engine swap) for AHS 3610 would have to wait.

1955 Austin-Healey 100S

Three-plus decades later, the Austin-Healey 100S models were gaining in recognition and value. Chassis AHS 3610 had dropped off the radar, and in 2003 a car carrying chassis tag AHS 3610 surfaced on an online auction site, where it was first described as a 100S, but later, as a 100S tribute car. Bonhams even represented this car (properly advertised as a replica, and priced accordingly) at a 2007 U.K. auction, though the car failed to meet its reserve price and was not sold. It’s likely, though not verified, that the 3610 replica carries the original 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine assigned to the genuine AHS 3610, which had gone missing after the Chevrolet V-8 installation.

1955 Austin-Healey 100S

With another 3610 in circulation, the owner of the original car brought his back into the light. In 2003, it was shipped to Steve Pike and Marsh Classics in Australia for a full restoration, during which the Chevrolet V-8 was replaced with a correct-specification 2.7-liter four cylinder. It’s said that the consignor has turned down many offers for the car both pre and post-restoration, and if Bonhams’ pre-auction estimate of $500,000 to $700,000 is correct, his instincts may prove to be correct. By way of comparison, a 100S once owned and raced by actor Jackie Cooper sold at a March 2015 auction for a fee-inclusive price of $1,012,000.

The Bonhams Scottsdale sale takes place at The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa. For additional information, visit Bonhams.com.