Only 64 units of the Healey-Westland were produced and only one of them is in India. That makes it pretty rare. But try telling that to other drivers on Mumbai’s Marine Drive on a weekday morning. All they know is that there is an old fogey of a machine in front of them which they assume is blocking their way to get to work. Given a chance, I would have told them that the Healey-Westland is no doddering machine and has been engineered by a person for whom driving blisteringly fast was everything. But instead of me opening my mouth, I let the machine to do the talking.
I execute a shift from second to third and the Healey barks, actually jumps one step ahead and then shoots forward, leaving the other cars scrambling in its rorty exhaust. I am sure they simply can’t believe an ancient car can move so well. But little do they know who Donald Healey is or about one of the first cars to bear his name. Shifting to fourth, I add some more distance between me and the rest of the cars. It is breezily roaring past the Art Deco buildings, its bass exhaust notes echoing and waking up the denizens. I am doing well past the 50 mph indicated on the speedo and I could do even more, if not for the traffic police reporting early for work on this VIP route. Oops, up comes an amber light turning to red and I need to shed speed quickly. Most cars of its era are usually lethargic when it comes to braking, but not this. It wears a racing driver’s name, right? So if it can go fast, it can also come to a halt equally quickly. The others then catch up at the traffic light, and so the game begins again.
So what is it about the car that makes it worthy of wearing the Healey name? Several key features actually. Donald Healey knew that power-to-weight ratio was everything, so while he got Riley to give him their 2.4-litre engine based on his specifications, his frame was light Ash wood and the panels supplied by coachbuilders Westland was aluminium. Between the two, he had a car that was light and powerful. Massive Lockheed hydraulic drum brakes stopped the projectile. That’s not all. The front suspension was independent and that allowed a greater degree of driving precision, while attention was paid to all aspects of the car to keep its weight low. But it’s so simple to mention all this in passing, when in fact the Healey was designed to go fast. Very fast. Okay, how fast? How about achieving 60 mph (96 kph) in 12.6 seconds, and a top speed of over 160 kph?
What you see is the Westland roadster, which, driven by Donald Healey himself, came overall ninth at the Mille Miglia in 1948, averaging 66 mph (105.6 kph). And at the same event, the Healey-Elliott (identical to the Westland, but with two-door saloon bodywork, only 110 built) took top honours in the touring class. A few weeks before that, the Elliott had won the Tour of Sicily. Not just that, in the same year, briefly it held the record of being the fastest closed car in the world, having been timed at 104.7 mph (167.52 kph).