Donald Mitchell Healey (1898 - 1988) - Rally driver, engineer and speed record holder
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Donald Mitchell Healey was born on 3rd July 1898 in Perranporth. He became interested in everything mechanical from an early age, but his greatest interest was in aircraft. After leaving school he joined the Sopwith Aviation Company and from there he volunteered for the Royal Flying Corps (RFC.), where he earned his "wings" in 1916. During the First World War, he served on anti-Zeppelin patrols and also as a flying instructor.
After being shot down by British anti-aircraft fire on one of the first night bomber missions of the war, he was invalided out of the RFC at the age of 18. He returned to Cornwall and enrolled in a correspondence course in automobile engineering. After the war, in 1919, he opened the first garage in Perranporth.
In 1921, Donald Healey married Ivy Maud James and they had three sons, Geoffrey, John, and Brian. In 1931, Donald Healey won the Monte Carlo Rally driving an Invicta. He has previously competed in the Monte Carlo Rally in 1929 and subsequently finished in the top eight places in 1932, 1934 and 1936.
In 1932 Donald won the class for unlimited sports cars at the Brighton Speed Trials, driving an Invicta, in a time of 28.8 sec for the half mile course.
He gained a reputation as a consultant engineer and designer and was appointed General Manager of the Triumph Motor Company in 1931. He went on to create the renowned Southern Cross and Dolomite 8 models.
In 1945, he formed the Donald Healey Motor Company Ltd, based in an old RAF hangar at Warwick. The company developed the Austin-Healey and Austin-Healey Sprite motor cars in licensing arrangement with British Motor Corporation in 1952 and 1959.
In 1949, Donald established an agreement with George W. Mason, the president of Nash Motors to build Nash-engined Healey sports cars. The first series of the 2-seaters were built in 1951 and they were designed by Healey. The Nash-Healey's engine was a Nash Ambassador 6-cylinder, the body was aluminum, and the chassis was a Healey Silverstone. However, Pininfarina restyled the bodywork for 1952 and took over the production of its new steel body. The company developed the Austin-Healey and Austin-Healey Sprite motor cars in licensing arrangement with British Motor Corporation in 1952 and 1959.
On 23rd/24th August 1954 at Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, a factory-prepared Austin-Healey set 83 National and International Class D records driven by Donald Healey, George Eyston, Carroll Shelby, Mort Goodall and Roy Jackson-Moore, including a 24-hour average speed of 132.29 mph. See the video below.
The record remained unbeaten until Sunday 15th November 2009, at the Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire, when the 'Healey endurance' car rebuilt by Denis Welch Motorsport successfully completed 308 laps at a new record breaking speed, averaging 148.13 mph.
Donald bought the 27 acre Trebah Estate, near Falmouth, in 1961 and carried out many ambitious projects there, including the building of commercial greenhouses to grow orchids and a project to build air/sea rescue inflatables. He demolished the old concrete covering of the beach of Polgwidden Cove (created for a D-Day invasion launch-pad) and used the salvaged material to surface a steep track from the house down to the beach. He later sold Trebah in 1971. The Austin Healey Club placed a small monument, in the form of a sports car, and an inscribed plaque, as a memorial to Donald in the garden of Trebah, which is now open to the public, next to the Visitor Centre.
In 1970 Donald became chairman of Jensen Motors with the enthusiastic backing of key US based Austin-Healey distributors. This was a long and fruitful relationship for Healey, in part because Jensen had been making body shells for Austin-Healey since the 1952 demise of the similar Austin A40 Sports. Healey's first project with a Jensen was re-engineering the Jensen 541S with a V8 engine in 1961, the resulting car being a personal favourite of Healey's. Ten years later, Donald helped design the Lotus engined Jensen-Healey together with Lagonda designer William Towns, to replace the Austin-Healey, which BMC were discontinuing.
In 1973 Donald was awarded the CBE for Services to Export.
He died at Perranporth on 13 January 1988.