Having said that, now we have to appraise the Healey Silverstone, a car that attracts superlatives today, just as it did in 1949. Truly a British classic car. What makes it so special? Donald Healey allowed himself a generous slice of over-indulgence to build it. Healey had his roots deep in competition and felt the need to roll back the years and build a car faithful to his first principles. It was a magnificent success, every completed car had a customer pacing up and down, waiting for his new Silverstone to arrive. Donald Healey could not build enough of them. Notwithstanding the car`s brilliance, it inspired a huge revival in pure sports-cars.
Mere statistics cannot explain the immense following the car still has today. It was not built in a multi-million dollar factory in Italy or the US. It was not designed by computers and desk-pilot engineers. It was created by a man with Castrol-R running through his veins, one of the great men of vision. He knew more about competition cars than most of his contemporaries and, most of all, he knew his public.
The Healey Silverstone was not a futuristic design. It was built on the same chassis and running-gear package as all the Healeys up to that date. What was different was the body design. Styled with Formula 1 cars in mind, it looked like what it was, a monoposto racing car but with two seats. It had some clever innovations that helped to preserve the image.
Whereas road cars had to have wings for spray suppression, Healey gave the Silverstone as little as he could get away with. What amounted to motorcycle mud-guards were fitted, easily removable for racing. The headlights were cunningly concealed behind the radiator grille, the very short windscreen-frame retracted into the body and disappeared altogether. Flying-helmet and goggles were back in fashion!
However, the headlight arrangement was not appreciated by the British police, stopping Silverstones to inquire as to why the mandatory lights were not fitted. Many owners fitted external bolt-on lights to `keep the peace`. Healey`s famous handling qualities were augmented by the lightweight and perfectly balanced Silverstone. The car would turn an average motorist into a high-speed enthusiast overnight. Fortunately the car was very forgiving, with characteristics that were not present by chance. The design was faultless. We must now address the `nuts & bolts` department, the specs.
Healey`s tried and trusted steel, box-section chassis was still going strong. An ash-timber frame was built upon it to take the aluminium body. The front suspension was, as always, coil-springs and alloy trailing arms with lever-arm dampers. Steering was worm & roller, as usual. Rear suspension used Riley`s live axle with coils, trailing arms and Panhard rod. Lever-arm dampers were here also. Lockheed drum brakes were fitted to all four corners.
Styled like a 1940’s Grand Prix car, the body was cigar-shaped with a pointed tail, housing the fuel tank. Due to the small cock-pit and Healey`s imaginative innovation, the spare-wheel found an unusual home. A `letter-box` orifice was built into the tail to house the spare-wheel and allowed it to `double` as a rear bumper! This `rubber bumper` allowed drivers to reverse up to walls without bending the beautiful but fragile tail. There was no front-bumper fitted although some nice `after-market` inventions did appear later.
The small cock-pit of the Healey Silverstone was reminiscent of a GP car though large enough for comfort, the two seats were leather-covered and tilting forward to access the luggage-space behind. Not a luxury car but well finished.
As stated the short windscreen retracted into the body if desired. The headlights were concealed behind the radiator grille. Mudguards, mandatory for road-use, were nicely made and easily removed for racing. The overall impression was of beauty and functionality. Designer and un-sung hero, Les Hodges… we salute you!
Engine and Transmission:
Nothing new here, the 2.4 litre Riley, twin-cam four cylinder was finally where it belonged, in a light-weight road/race car. The cross-flowed cylinder-head gave a compression ratio of 6.9:1 and twin SU H4 carburettors supplied the fuel. Riley`s 4-speed gearbox transmitted the power to the rear axle.
The Riley 2.4 produced 104 bhp with 132ft/lbs of torque. This gave a top-speed of 110 mph and a 0-60 time of 11 seconds with a power-to-weight ratio of 110 bhp per ton. It should be borne in mind that the Silverstone was a very fast car in an era of very poor braking. It won many races (both on the circuit and the road!) due to it`s phenomenal cornering ability and general handling.
Production and Politics:
The reason for the premature and unpopular ending of Healey Silverstone production was a symptom of the period. In post WWII Britain rationing was still in force. This affected industry as much as the house-wife. The only way Donald Healey could get the permission, materials and the finance to expand was to export. Healey struck a deal with Nash of the US to build cars exclusively for US export. The promised `permission to expand` would come from the government retrospectively. With his limited manufacturing facility, Healey was forced to suspend Silverstone production in 1950 and concentrate on the Nash-Healey. The Healey Silverstone production sadly never re-started. It is our belief that Healey would have re-launched the Silverstone had time and events not overtaken him.
Today the Silverstone is alive and well. Only 105 examples were produced by Donald Healey Motor Company, all of which are accounted for. There are, however, a lot more Silverstones around than that 105! The explanation is rather unfortunate. The Healey rolling-chassis was common to all cars up to 1949. Inevitably many other Healey`s have been cannibalised and re-bodied to create a Silverstone. That is sad for the victim car but the other Healeys were not of the classic car calibre of the Silverstone. We do not condone this behaviour but we understand it.
Many of the originals live in US and Australia where they race and win regularly. This behaviour we do condone! Healey Silverstones were built to race and we love to see them still doing it! Most of these cars have different engines now, we have even heard of one in the US with a 4.2 litre Ford V8 in it! That must be an interesting drive! We assume (and hope) that disc brakes are now fitted! This great car lives on, in fact it is increasing in numbers!
We should offer some advice for any reader trying to hunt one down. For the prospective purchaser there are several points to be aware of. Read our buyers guide below for advice.
On initial inspection a kit-car is what it is, obviously. These can be very well-made, fun to own and drive. They are, however, not worth a lot of money. Assuming the builder is a competent mechanic a deal could be worthwhile if a realistic price can be agreed upon.
He will have put in around 200 lonely hours in his garage to build the car and he will require sufficient recompense. There`s the problem. If the builder costs his labour hours and then adds the parts-invoice he will come up with a figure that kills the deal. Our advice is never to build a replica with the intention of selling it for profit. When a kit-car is sold a lot of money will be lost by somebody! Make sure it is not you !
The phrase `let the buyer beware` applies here. If the reader is fortunate enough to find what is represented as an `original` Healey Silverstone for sale he should first ascertain that the body is indeed aluminium. That`s simple because magnets don`t stick to alloy. However there are a lot of GRP bodies around and a diligent search for a stone-chip on the body will show what is underneath the paint.
The next step, after confirming the presence of a Riley 2.4 engine under the bonnet is to seek out the chassis number. A list of all original Healey chassis numbers is available from the excellent owner`s club archive. A serious prospective buyer will have already joined the owner`s club who will be delighted to point the buyer in the right direction.
Many Healey`s were later re-bodied as Silverstones, which accounts for the disappearance of many of the saloon cars. A conversion built by a craftsman will be convincing but not worth the normal price for a genuine Silverstone which today is around £150,000. The difference in value between a re-bodied Healey Tickford and a genuine Silverstone is huge. Proceed with caution, dear reader.
To close the chapter on this outstanding classic British sports car it should be said that whereas Donald Healey went on to build the Nash-Healey and be influential in creating the Austin-Healey and Jensen-Healey cars, the Silverstone was his finest hour.
Healey Silverstone 1949-1950 Specs
|Body Type||2 seater roadster|
|Drive Type||Rear wheel drive|
|Cargo Volume||Some space behind the seats|
|Engine||2.4 Riley DOHC 8V|
|Displacement||2443 cc||149.1 cui|
|Power||78 Kw||104 bhp||4500 RPM|
|Torque||179 Nm||132 ft. lb||3500 RPM|
|Top Speed||177 km/h||110 mph|
|Acceleration||0-100 km/h - 0-60 mph||11 s|
|Fuel consumption||l/100 km||Imperial mpg|
|Gearbox||4 speed manual|
|Weight||940 kg||2072 lb|
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I was born in Hereford UK in 1948 and brought up in Gloucester UK. I played Rugby football internationally as a schoolboy. At the age of 17, a new and wet driving license in my paw, I entered motor racing. I was supported and financed by my parents and so my journey began.
In 1965 I bought a 1293cc Mini-Cooper `S` and campaigned it for a season. Having quickly made some good friends in the racing fraternity, several interesting opportunities came my way. I joined a sports-car team and raced in the Le Mans 24 hours in 1968 and 1969 in a Lola T70. Mechanical failure defeated both efforts. During that period I owned and raced a `D type` Jaguar and an AC Cobra. In those days cars like that were available and not too expensive, now they reside in museums and private collections. I had a chain of interesting cars through my youth including Jaguars, Minis, Mustangs and Lotus-Cortinas.
As a young driver I had my share of accidents too. Often the car would only be worth scrap-metal value by the time I got it home! I worked for an Aston-Martin/Jaguar dealership for a while, which enhanced my experience and gave me the opportunity to sample some very exotic machines, Ferrari, Facel-Vega, Iso and Maserati to recall a few of them.
At the end of 1969 I moved to South Africa to work on my uncle`s farm but the S.A. government had other ideas and drafted me into the army. After five years had passed I was thanked and released from the service. While I was there I bought a beige Cadillac Eldorado, previously the property of Marilyn Monroe. While I was away on a patrol my girlfriend had it re-sprayed pink! I was unimpressed by both the joke and the bill for the work!
When I returned to UK in 1974 I left it behind. On my return I found that the once-mighty British motor industry was in decline and was headed for oblivion. Motor racing was now very expensive so I turned to commercial transport. Driving large trucks gave me freedom and a chance to see some of the world. I don`t remember ever making a career choice but for the next thirty years a truck was my home. For about ten years in that period I owned two trucks of my own.
I also owned a famous MGB-GT, known as `Lucky`. If you`d like to read `The Story of Lucky` there is an article in Inopian`s archive. I finally retired, due to ill-health, in 2008. Since I had varied knowledge and many experiences on our subject I decided to share the stories of the cars I enjoyed (and hated) with the new generation.
Enjoy Inopian… it is constructed and written for you.