Healey Marine – Lady Austina
In 1955 the company became involved with building speedboats. Donald Healey was a keen water-skier (as was racing driver Stirling Moss) and the story he tells is that he returned from water-skiing in Nassau in 1955 and was looking for something to do so convinced the company that speedboats were an area to get involved in.
The first Healey Ski-Master was built at Bridport in Devon and the model sold reasonably well with many being exported to the United States. Production for the next model was transferred to the company’s Cape Works in Warwick and it was called the Healey Sprite (the same name was used for the sports car produced by Austin-Healey from 1958 until 1971). A new subsidiary company Healey Marine was set up to concentrate on larger boats with an inboard (rather than an outboard) engine. ‘Bic’ Healey, who was responsible for marketing for the motor company, was put in charge (allegedly on the basis that he had been in the navy during the Second World War).
‘Bic’ came to an arrangement with Lord Aylesford of Packington Hall (near Coventry) to use one of the lakes on the estate for testing boats. Family members were frequently there at weekends for boat testing and water-skiing. A pond at the Cape Works was also used to ensure that boats could float. Production was eventually transferred to Yorkshire.
Inevitably, because of Donald Healey’s competitive nature, Healey boats were entering races; he and ‘Bic’ often drove them in events. Donald was involved in the 1958 24-hour race at AixLes-Bains in France (with motor racing driver Tommy Wisdom). They won the trophy for the best-placed British crew. Another event was the Six Heures de Paris race which took place on the river Seine at the same time as the Paris Salon motor show. This time ‘Bic’ was co-driver with Tommy Wisdom and although their boat performed well it broke down.
The company switched from wood to fibre glass for the hulls and a chance meeting with world speed record driver Donald Campbell (who was at Warwick to complain about the steering on his car) led to ‘Bic’ being invited to a trial run for Campbell’s boat ‘Bluebird’ on Coniston Water.
Two Healey boats were in the support team acting as rescue craft. Campbell was also managing director of Dowty Marine and ‘Bic’ got to be driven at high speed by Campbell in one of Dowty’s speedboats on the company’s test lake near Cirencester.
Healey eventually pulled out of boat building as more companies started building them, and because the company could not put the resources needed into the market. Staff were overworked, especially ‘Bic’ who was also still in charge of car sales.
Company expansion and move were another reason for ending boat building. The company moved from the Cape to a former cinema at Cotton End in Warwick and the premises there, including a new showroom were opened on 3 July 1963 – the day of Donald Healey’s 65th birthday. The opening ceremony was performed by Alec Issigonis, designer of the Mini car, and also in attendance was the Mayor of Warwick, and Healey’s friends in the motor industry. The company also moved its London showroom from Holland Park to a more central position in Grosvenor Street.
The ‘Big’ Austin-Healey car came to an end because of stricter safety regulations (mainly concerning the doors, and environmental pollution). To meet these requirements a Rolls-Healey (or Healey 4000) was built which had greater ground clearance to fit a catalyst box in the exhaust system (it was a wider version of a 3000) but only three were built (including one at the new family home at Trebah in Cornwall). This was because in 1967 Donald Healey was summoned to the office of British Leyland Chairman and Managing Director Donald Stokes at the Standard Works in Coventry to be told that he was discontinuing the MG plus royalties to other names such as Healey and Cooper, to concentrate on the Triumph.