If You’re Going To Buy A Big Healey, Make It A Works Rally Car
Photography courtesy of RM Sotheby’s
I’m not sure what you’re looking for in a car, but I can tell you what Rauno Aaltonen was. Aaltonen was an old-school racer, fast on sea, on a motorcycle, or in a car. A multiple rally winner back when the roads were rough and drivers had to know how to fix things if a race went (metaphorically) south, Aaltonen had a particular knack for specializing in being fast over a huge course.
Like, races where drivers were motoring halfway across Europe and back.
Funny thing is when you go over the results from a particular period in time, namely from the late ’50s to early ’60s, one car seems to be near (or at) the top of many such events: the Austin-Healey 3000. Built as both a tough, usable sports car for enthusiasts and competitive racing machine, buyers took comfort that if they tired of the daily commute, they could unbolt the bumpers and try a weekend of racing. Rally drivers and long-distance drivers took note of the car’s torquey inline six-cylinder engine that gave great power and relaxed manners at higher speeds.
This particular car, a 1961, is an ultimate: it’s both an Austin-Healey Works competition car—and its first private owner was the long-distance rally specialist Aaltonen. One of five built, this was first registered and known internally as XJB 871, first entered in the 1961 Acropolis Rally where it finished 3rd overall and 1st in the GT class. RM Sotheby’s notes the rally, “…was known for being one of the toughest events of the year. The fact that this car was so competitive and finished without incident is a testament to the 3000’s strength and reliability under any condition.”
It was entered into just one more event under factory ownership, that year’s Alpine Rally, where it retired. It was retained by the factory, later sold and shipped to the care of Aaltonen, once he decided to use the car in order to train for the 1964 Spa-Sofia-Liège Rally—otherwise known as the Marathon de la Route. The race itself was a punishing contest, that Aaltonen won at a startling pace that was to never be topped. Over about four days and 3,100 miles, he and co-driver Tony Ambrose were the first of 21 finishers from around 100 starters. Average speeds? Usually between 50-60 mph; it was to be the last of the big, continent-crushing road rallies as the event was changed significantly after 1964. RM Sotheby’s notes Aaltonen as saying, “when you have a long rally, a tough and hard one, the car should be like an extension of your arm. You must know everything about what it is doing, and those Works Healeys were very strong”.
This car didn’t win the rally, but it certainly was the set of training wheels he needed before the main event. After being sold in 1965 to Caj Hasselgren, the young enthusiast drove it for a decade, then put it into storage; it was later restored, and now after his death is being offered by his family as the Austin-Healey Works competition car with the longest single ownership history.
It’s said to be road-ready, retains its Acropolis Rally engine, and eligible for classic car events just about everywhere. Just make sure you keep a helmet handy: maybe Aaltonen wouldn’t mind giving the car’s third private owner a lesson or two in the art of the Scandinavian flick.
–1961 Acropolis Rally; 1st in Class, 3rd Overall
–One of five factory-prepared competition Healeys for the 1961 season
–Sold in 1961 to rally legend Rauno Aaltonen; only two private owners
–Believed to be the most original 3000 Mk 1 Works rally car; retains its original engine
~180 horsepower, 2,912 cc OHV inline six-cylinder engine with triple SU carburettors, four-speed manual transmission, independent front coil-spring suspension and anti-sway bar, live rear axle with semi-elliptical leaf springs, and four-wheel disc brakes. Wheelbase: 2,337 mm
Chassis no. H-BN7/13708
Engine no. 29D-RU-H/25616
Includes FIA papers