I only realised this when I recently attended the 40th Anniversary of the Austin Healey Club of South Africa. These petite sports cars are icons of the motoring world and showed South Africans that British sports cars could be both affordable and durable.
Members met at the Sunnyside Park Hotel in Parktown. The meeting point for this anniversary was significant as president of the Gauteng branch of the owners club, Andries Scholtz,explained: “Forty years ago, the club was founded at this particular hotel so it’s fitting that we meet here, four decades later,” he said. Even though the first meeting took place in 1973 the club decided to celebrate the 40-year milestone before the official 41st year passed.
“We currently have 79 members in the Gauteng branch and expected a turnout of around 37 vehicles for this 40-year celebration,” said Scholtz. From my initial count, there were well over 30 of these sports cars in all different shapes, sizes and colours.”I believe we have every kind of Austin Healey model here today,” Scholtz added.
Apart from the cute little Sprite models with their compact dimensions and smiley frog-eyed faces, I found myself referring to notes, in order to differentiate between the various models on display as they share a fairly common aesthetic.
I found out that the original BN1 was a four-cylinder model with a wedge-shaped grille while the BN2 looked similar, apart from its two-tone paint job. There were only two BN3’s ever made while the BN4 acquired a bigger six-cylinder engine, oval-shaped grille and a bonnet scoop. The BN5 was a once-off and the BN6 was similar to the BN4, with a minor mechanical change.
The two-seater BN7 and the four-seater BT7(often called the 3000 Mk1) got the lightning flash 3000 badge on the front and rear. The second generation of the 3000 series received a new grille and bonnet scoop, lost their grille badges, but obtained 3000 MkII badges at the rear.
The 2+2 BJ7 that followed, got a wrap-around windscreen and wind-up windows as well as a folding roof. Its successor, the BJ8, received a 3000 MkIII badge above the grille and a walnut-veneered dashboard plus a better interior; later models were made more comfortable too.
It all sounds rather confusing but when you have all the models in front of you, along with a passionate owner, setting them apart with subtle nuances is quite easy. “We’re so interested in these cars because they’re arguably the most attractive sports cars of the 50s and 60s. They’rereliable; parts are readily available and they’re easily adaptable for modern traffic,” Scholtz concluded.
One thing that stood out for me was the level of dedication and the sheer amount of passion these owners have for their cars. They drive them from Johannesburg to places all around the country, which is quite amazing when you consider the age of the cars.
The club has a great social atmosphere; the members are very clued-up about their vehicles and enjoy driving them, which is the whole point of classic-car ownership, in my opinion. It was a gathering of true petrol heads who share a passion for these special British sports cars and… I might just be a convert.