Often considered to be America’s first post-World War II sports car, the Nash-Healey was said to result from a chance meeting between Donald Healey and Nash-Kelvinator CEO George W. Mason. The backdrop for this was, poetically, a transatlantic voyage aboard the RMS Queen Elizabeth. What better place to devise a new Anglo-American roadster?
Debuting in 1951, first-year examples of the Nash-Healey possessed a charming appearance that belied the car’s actual performance potential. With Donald Healey involved, the Nash-Healey’s status as a proper sports car was never in doubt.: A prototype Nash-Healey was entered into the 1950 running of the 24 Hours of LeMans, where it managed an impressive 3rd in class and 4th overall—trailing a pair of Talbot-Lagos and a Cadillac-powered Allard J2 and finishing just ahead of the Works Aston Martins!
First-year cars are a rare sight, as the initial run of 104 1951 Nash-Healeys featured coachwork by Panelcraft in the UK and bore little resemblance to the Nash range. Nash-Kelvinator then turned to Pinin Farina in Italy to redesign the sports car and bring its looks more in line with the rest of the Nash catalogue. This particular example is even more noteworthy: In the early 1990s, it was acquired by internationally celebrated sculptor and furniture artist Wendell Castle. His well-trained eye recognized something special in the Nash-Healey’s lines, and he set about a roughly 25-year process of making it his own.
The project became much more than a straightforward restoration. Castle had a vision for the car, and he enlisted the help of several specialists to help him realize his dream. The famous POSIES Rods and Customs of Hummelstown, Pennsylvania handled much of the electrical and mechanical restoration, as well as the bodywork—which encompassed several subtle modifications, including the fitment of an earlier Nash ‘egg-crate’ grille. The replacement grille ties the car in nicely with other Nashes of the time, while the more steeply raked windscreen, deletion of the bumpers, and fitment of knock-off wire wheels give it a considerably more purposeful presence. The engine, a Nash 3.85-liter inline-six equipped with an exceedingly rare Healey factory racing aluminum head, was rebuilt by Concours Classics Motor Cars of Macedon, New York, along with the triple SU carburetors.
R.P. Interiors of Horseheads, New York, handled upholstery work and the creation of the fabric top and tonneau cover. A wood-rimmed Moto-Lita steering wheel with a prominent Nash center emblem and a suite of crisp Smiths gauges define the purposeful interior, the layout of which was tweaked by Castle. The bucket seats, trimmed in saddle-colored leather with green piping—which matches the British Racing Green exterior—are borrowed from a later Austin-Healey, and are complemented by tan square weave carpets, also finished with green edging.
This exceptional 1951 Nash-Healey Roadster is both a rare example of a notable postwar Anglo-American sports car and the unique vision of a renowned creative mind. It is accompanied by a large file containing Nash service literature, restoration invoices, correspondence, and ownership history dating back to the 1960s. There’s also a height adjustable roll bar, tonneau cover and partially fabricated side curtains. This one-of-a-kind Nash is beautifully yet purposefully restored, and is suitable for a variety of uses including shows, tours, or vintage racing. As a coveted early model, it is potentially eligible for the Mille Miglia Retrospective or LeMans classic, among many other prestigious pre-57 events, and is sure to delight its next custodian for years to come.
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