Before production of the sensational new Austin-Healey 100 sports car began in earnest at Austin’s Longbridge plant, twenty pre-production cars, numbered AHX1 through AHX20, were hand-built by a small team in Healey’s Warwick factory. According to Geoffrey Healey’s published memoirs, cars 5, 6, 7, 8, and 10 were left out of that sequence and set aside to serve as the official test cars. Of those five, three were designated works racing cars and assigned the numbers SPL 224/B, 225/B, and 226/B, with 227/B becoming the 24-hour record car. Developed by a team led by Geoff Healey and Reginald “Roger” Menadue, these three cars were the face of Austin-Healey’s international motorsports efforts in the 1950s. These so-called “Special Test Cars” were commonly known by their registration numbers – NOJ 391 through NOJ 393 – as well as their distinct light metallic green paintwork. Lacking the budget and resources to build new cars for every venue, the Healey team ran the Special Test Cars hard, continually rebuilding, developing, and modifying them to suit each challenge. They also served as rolling test beds for production parts, developing components integral to the production 100 M Le Mans and the ultra-desirable homologation special 100 S.
SPL 224/B – AHS-3804, a.k.a. “Millie”
From record-breaking at Bonneville, to tearing through Italy on the Mille Miglia, to being caught in the 1955 Le Mans disaster, the Special Test Cars lived remarkable lives. While the details of each SPL car could fill volumes, our focus is on SPL 224/B, also known by its later ID number of AHS-3804, offered publicly for the first time since 2007. This incredible Austin-Healey is the very first Special Test Car, and one of the most extraordinary Austin-Healeys in existence. Its history is nuanced and somewhat complex, as it raced under various identities and guises throughout its storied career, which included multiple appearances at the Mille Miglia, the Tour de France, Sebring, and more. While not every aspect of SPL 224/B’s remarkable story is fully documented, the previous two custodians have gone to great lengths to assemble the history to the best of their ability, piecing together this fascinating puzzle with invaluable input from famous marque insiders like Roger Menadue, Geoff Healey, Ed Bussey, and Phil Stiles.
Completed in the Warwick workshop in early 1953, SPL 224/B and its sister cars were vastly different from the road-going pre-production models. Most notable among these differences are:
- Lightened, strengthened frame
- Body panels in “Birmabright” aluminum alloy over a riveted alloy substructure
- Larger anti-roll bars, re-valved dampers
- Uprated Girling brakes
- Standard 100 engines built by the Austin Experimental Department
- Austin Taxi 4-speed gearbox, modified for floor shift
- Lucas competition wiring and electrics, and much more
Once completed, SPL 224/B was assigned the registration “NOJ 391” ahead of the Healey team’s 1953 Mille Miglia effort. Like the other works racing cars, it was finished in light metallic green, a distinct shade never used in regular production. The factory entered two Austin-Healeys and two Nash-Healeys in the event, and the result was a “learning experience” rife with mechanical foibles that, however minor, caused retirements across the board. After the Mille, the cars returned to Warwick ahead of Le Mans in June. The factory officially entered our featured car, then known as NOJ 391, alongside 392, and with 393 reserved as a backup. Unfortunately, while on public roads ahead of the race, our intrepid Healey had a rather serious coming together with an intoxicated French lorry driver, and the car suffered serious damage. Unable to repair it in time, the team (many suffering from stomach flu) feverishly transferred the running gear, scrutineered parts, and the registration number over to the backup car (now known to be SPL226/B, the infamous ’55 Le Mans crash car) in order to make the race. After months in impound by the French police, SPL 224/B finally returned to the works for a full rebuild.
As described by Geoff Healey in his numerous published works, our Healey was rebuilt for the 1954 season, gaining several significant and radical mechanical upgrades. The damage sustained in France necessitated a new chassis, and the body was modified with enlarged wheel arches to accommodate big 16-inch Dunlop cast alloy wheels. Behind those wheels were new experimental Dunlop power disc brakes. The Austin Taxi gearbox was replaced with a David Brown unit, requiring alterations to the chassis to clear the gearbox-driven pump that pressurized the braking system. Evidence of that modification is still visible on the frame today. The team also fitted a Marston-Excelsior butyl rubber-coated fuel tank, which was a primitive version of the modern fuel cell developed for military aircraft. The tank sat on a unique corrugated alloy boot floor, mounted with through-studs, and the remnants of that feature can still be seen. Other developments included reinforced suspension pickup points that would later appear as standard on the production 100S, heavy-duty sump guard for rally events, and a new single-port Weslake cylinder head.
The team cars were re-registered with the prefix “OON” and entered in the Sportscar World Championship. Lance Macklin returned as Healey’s lead works driver, and he piloted the reborn SPL 224/B on numerous events during the season, including its second appearance at the Mille Miglia. The team drove 150 miles across England, crossed the Channel via ferry, and racked up another 800 miles to arrive the start at Brescia, only to then drive flat out for 1000 miles, then drive home! Macklin and SPL 224/B finished the Mille in a remarkable fifth place overall in the hotly-contested over 2-litre class. It was a stunning performance for a car that, on paper, was thoroughly outclassed by the mighty big-bore Ferraris and Lancias. The car appeared in numerous other events that season, and a summary of SPL 224/B’s extensive race history can be found at the following link: https://hymanltd.com/spl-224b-ahs-3804-race-history-highlights/
For 1955, Austin Healey announced a special race-ready production model named in honor of the marque’s continued success at the Sebring 12 Hours. The 100S “Sebring Replica” was a thoroughly reworked version of a standard 100, incorporating many of the improvements developed on SPL 224/B. Reinforced suspension pickups, a revised head (with carbs moved to the right side) four-wheel disc brakes, and alloy coachwork counted among the numerous modifications. Approximately 50 were built and sold to club racers and enthusiasts around the world. It was during this time that SPL 224/B was rebuilt by the Warwick team in 100S specification and assigned its new identity, AHS-3804, noted in records as the final “production” 100S. This makes it simultaneously the prototype for the 100S and the last production 100S. Based on period photos and assertations by Mr. Healey and by Roger Menadue, AHS-3804 was the chassis used by Lance Macklin and Sir Stirling Moss to take a hard-fought 6th overall and a class win at the 1955 Sebring 12H. In its new guise and red livery, the car returned to the Mille Miglia yet again as a works racer. Donald and Geoff Healey learned that the Italian fans were more likely to lend a hand to a stricken red car than a green one, so the factory entries were repainted in an appropriately Italianate shade. Marvelous period color photographs depict our feature car sitting in front of Geoff Healey’s office, and in Brescia for the start of the ’55 Mille. For this event, it was re-registered “OON 440.” George Abecassis finished a superb 11th overall, exceptionally well-placed among the Mercedes 300SLs, Maserati A6GCSs, and Porsche 550s.
After its 3rd and final run in the Mille Miglia, Geoffrey Healey sold AHS-3804 to Ed Bussey’s Ship & Shore Motors of West Palm Beach, Florida. Bussey was a loyal Healey distributor and factory supporter, and 3804 fit the bill for his entry into the 1956 Sebring 12H. With Sebring legend Phil Stiles sharing driving duties with George Huntoon, the pair brought AHS-3804 home in 11th position, as the only Healey in the top twenty. Bussey later advertised it in Road & Track magazine in June, 1956, specifically mentioning the works Mille Miglia and Sebring success. He finally sold it in 1959 to R.W. Hart of Garland, Texas. Hart used AHS-3804 as a street car, before selling it to Bobby Berger of Dallas, who added a roll bar and raced it in SCCA events around the Texas region. With its radical engine, light alloy bodywork, and numerous non-standard parts, organizers often put Berger in prototype classes, even after he fitted a standard 100 engine. By then he was outclassed, and in 1966 he sold 3804 to the late Mr. Fred Hunter to concentrate on racing a six-cylinder Healey 3000.
When Hunter purchased the car, he had no idea of its illustrious history. Berger advertised it as a standard 100, but Hunter had the suspicion it was much more than that considering the stripped-down spec with no heater, no windscreen, and that exotic-looking S-spec engine on the shelf. The car sat quietly in storage until the mid-1980s, when Hunter got the bug to restore it and began researching its history. He uncovered much of its history as an ex-works racer, and the deeper he dug, the more clues he found to the car’s true identity. Mercifully, he held off on the restoration, choosing instead to get it running preserve its numerous details. In the early 1990s, Hunter invited Roger Menadue and Geoffrey Healey to personally inspect AHS-3804 and provide their insight on the dizzying array of details that were the clues to this car's illustrious past. They graciously agreed, and the discussion was filmed in order to document each and every item and feature. A summary of its unique and noteworthy features is available at the following link: https://hymanltd.com/unique-physical-attributes-of-chassis-spl-224-b-ahs-3804/
As a remarkable specimen of automotive archaeology, AHS-3804 wears its storied history all over its weathered aluminum body. While every drill hole, vent, and layer of paint provides convincing evidence to back the story, the grassroots nature of motorsport in the 50s and casual record keeping by teams and organizers does mean the case for its story relies on circumstantial evidence. However, considering the sheer volume of documentation, period photographs, physical evidence, and the recorded statements by the men responsible for building and racing it, most marque experts and historians agree AHS-3804 is indeed a truly historic Austin-Healey and one of the fabled “SPL” Special Test Cars.
Since 2007, “Millie” (as she is known for her three Mille Miglia appearances) has been in the care of a passionate enthusiast who has championed her preservation. Since Fred Hunter’s passing, even more evidence of the car’s incredible story has been unearthed thanks to the painstaking efforts of its current caretaker. The car wears every battle scar as a badge of honor, and is a hugely significant piece of motor racing history. Offered in 100S specification as it last left the factory, the car retains its correct, numbers-matching 100S engine and gearbox, most of its original alloy bodywork, and countless other unique fittings. Accompanying the sale is an impressive history file with correspondence, period photos, priceless video footage of Geoffrey Healey and Roger Menadue inspecting the car, Healey’s memoirs, spares, and even a replica of the works quick-lift jack. The original head has been removed and preserved, and a correct reproduction S-spec unit fitted in its place.
The availability of this historic Austin-Healey marks a “holy grail” moment for marque enthusiasts and collectors worldwide. With exceptional provenance, it is an eminently desirable and highly eligible car for revival events like Goodwood, Mille Miglia or Le Mans Classic, or for preservation-class honors at the most exclusive concours. The sale of “Mille” represents a one-off opportunity to acquire one of the most important cars in the history of this storied marque.
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