Healey Silverstone

  


 

Readers of Winifred Fortescue's books may remember an amusing tale in her last book, 'Laughter in Provence', first published in 1950. The story tells of a visit to her home at Fort Escue, Opio by a much loved niece and her husband. They drove down to Opio from England in their powerful 2 seater sports car, a leaf green Healey Silverstone. In 1950's rural Provence this must have been an impressive sight when compared with the local  vehicles of the day.

'My niece brought her Man to see her second mother, (my proud title). He has a magnificent figure, a Greek profile and a shining cap of red-gold hair which covers and excellent brain. They had driven across France in a Healey Sports Car capable of terrific speed and painted in a brilliant shade of green. It is a very small car for passengers, most of the space being taken up by that tremendously powerful engine and huge reservoir for petrol. Louise fell for him and his car, and her joy knew no bounds when my niece, not knowing that Louise shirks the marketing and always loads it upon the Gazelle, suggested that her husband should drive Louise into town to do her shopping. The prospect of a drive in such a car (which, wherever it goes, is the cynosure of all eyes and of special interest to all young men), seated beside le beau  Monsieur, an object of the envy of both sexes, went to her head like wine, and I was hardly surprised when the poor young man insisted that the Gazelle should go with them as chaperone or he would not go at all! Louise would scream with hyena laughter and make him and his car more conspicuous than they were already; she might do anything - So all three packed into that tiny car - Louise told me afterwards that she had hard work to install her well covered fesses and had to roll herself sideways to get in; but she adored her wild drive through the air and the admiring envious glances as they roared on their way. My nephew sandwiched the slim Gazelle between himself and Louise - for safety - and we all realised that the presence of a third had slightly dampened her wild enthusiasm'. 

Winifred Fotescue,  'Laughter in Provence', 1950.

Laughter in Provence, 1951 Blackwoods edition

Winifred Fortescue's companion secretary in 'Laughter in Provence', Ailsa, has very kindly supplied the following recollection of that 1950's visit, almost 60 years later. 'Laughter in Provence' is dedicated to her.

A 1950 Memoir of the Healey Silverstone

Almost sixty years on the Healey Silverstone has featured in my life again - raising the thought that inanimate would seem to survive better than the animate.

The Healey Silverstone came into my orbit in 1950 when I was living in the south of France as a companion secretary to Lady Fortescue. Admittedly cars then were not of any special interest to me, although I had been relieved when Lady Fortescue had replaced her Austin Seven with a modern reliable Simca. (The Austin Seven, le pigeon gris, as Lady Fortescue called it, had a Red Cross painted on its doors since she had used it in connection with her relief work after the war; its demise came about when a rear wheel fell off when I was driving the car.) My only link with a racing car had been a few months earlier when, with a surge of ex-patriot pride, I had watched some British cars roar past  on a local route on their way to the Monte Carlo Rally. The Healey Silverstone was certainly eye catching and, to the initiated, imposing with its powerful engine hidden under the long bonnet, which composed so much of the total car, leaving of course little space for the passengers.

However my first memory of the Healey Silverstone pre-dates the arrival of the car at Opio; this memory is linked to the indignation      expressed by Lady Fortescue that its owner (the husband of her much loved niece) should be driving his wife, when she was so heavily pregnant, over the hairpin bends on the mountainous roads. Her disapproval disappeared when the Healey Silverstone delivered its passengers safely to Opio.

It was part of my routine to go to the nearby market town of Grasse to make household purchases that the resident housekeeper could not make locally in the village. In the book 'Laughter in Provence' Lady Fortescue records the drive to Grasse in the Healey Silverstone, when the somewhat excitable housekeeper determined to do the shopping in Grasse, for the purpose of having a ride in the car; it would appear that the quiet and unassuming owner of the car insisted upon my company as chaperone, so all three of us squeezed into the car and set off for the shopping expedition in style.

My most vivid memory is the drive up to Gourdon, a small but charming village set high up on the mountain side. This was an exhilarating drive: sunshine, fresh air and inspiring scenery along the mountain road, allied to the power of the throbbing engine handled with such utter quiet confidence by the car owner and driver. I do not recall any conversation but I do remember the fun of the drive.

Ailsa, Companion Secretary to Lady Fortescue.

The Healey Silverstone described in the story has survived and its present owner, Chris Berens, recently traced a son of Lady Fortescue's niece in the story and the car literally turned up on his doorstep. He has kindly supplied some superb photographs of the Healey as it is today, no longer leaf green in colour but red. You will see from the photo's that the car is in magnificent condition. When he saw it recently he could still see some of the modifications made to it by his father.

The Healey Silverstone from 'Laughter in Provence'

The Healey Silverstone in 2008

The Healey Silverstone from 'Laughter in Provence'

The Healey Silverstone in 2008

The Healey Silverstone from 'Laughter in Provence'

The Healey Silverstone at Goodwood

The Healey Silverstone from 'Laughter in Provence'

Howard Grattan at the wheel in 2008

 

The Healey Silverstone from 'Laughter in Provence'

Howard Grattan at the wheel in Mombasa, Kenya - aged 2 yrs

 

The Healey Silverstone was built by Donald Healey at Warwick, England. Introduced in July 1949, it was to become the first production car from Healey costing less than 1000. It was an open two-seater lacking much in the way of creature comforts, and built for maximum performance on the existing 'C' type chassis. The engine was moved back 8ins, an anti roll bar was fitted, together with stiffer rear springs, and 5.50 by 15 tyres replaced the 5.75 by 15s. The body was a single stressed-skin alloy sheet, with cycle wings front and rear, which were easily removed for competition work. A full width windscreen that could be lowered into the scuttle was unusual and it was even offered with a hood. Economies in weight, 18.5cwt. provided a comfortable 100 plus mph. The spare wheel served as a bumper, housed in a horizontal slot in the tail.

Donald Healey  and co-driver Ian Appleyard entered a Silverstone in the 1949 Alpine Rally and were successful in winning their class, coming second overall. Donald believed they would have obtained a Coupe des Alpes for a penalty free run had they not been delayed at a level crossing. They managed to drive under the level crossing barrier but the delay cost them them a vital two minutes. 106 Silverstone models were built in total, many surviving in the U.S, Australia, Germany and Denmark.  They proved safe, reliable and easy to maintain. Many famous names made their motor racing debuts at the wheel of this model including Tony Brooks and my name sake Peter Riley, (no relation!)

Based on Donald Healey, 'My World of Cars'.

There is no trace in Warwick today of the workshops & showroom in the old converted Warwick Cinema on Emscote Road. The building has been demolished and replaced by a retirement complex, aptly named Healey Court. However, Jon Everard, a former Healey apprentice has secured some of the original Healey workshops at The Cape, Warwick, where the Healey 100's were constructed. He now operates his highly successful business JME Healeys from the site and has 4 decades of experience in re-building and preparing these superb cars. For more information on JME Healeys click here.

Healey in Warwick

The former Healey HQ in the old cinema, Coton End, Warwick. The record breaking Healey Sprite is in the foreground

 

UPDATE
The legendary Austin Healey sports cars are going home to their old factory in Warwick.

Jon Everard, who started as an apprentice at the Donald Healey Motor Company at the Cape in Warwick in 1962, has bought part of the old site for his highly successful Austin Healey restoration firm, JME Healeys. Mr Everard, who was an apprentice with the Donald Healey Motor Company in 1962 and 1963, launched his Healey restoration company in 1978 in Wise Terrace. "When Donald Healeys closed in the early 1970s, I bought some of the tooling and another chap bought the spare parts," he said. "My business began slowly, fitting parts to Healeys that were sent to me from overseas and then in 1978 I put an advertisement in the newly launched Classic Car magazine and it took off from there. "I was soon carrying out full restorations of cars from the UK and overseas. It is very exciting, going back to where it all started for me."

From the Coventry Telegraph 31st July 2008

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Pictures - thanks to Howard Grattan, a niece of Lady Fortescue, Chris Berens - owner of the Healey Silverstone