Monday, 12 July 2010

Le Mans Healey SR

Here's a racer built the old-fashioned way.
A labour of love for Donald Mitchell Healey, the SR was conceived to elevate the firm from the realm of the class-win to all out victories in various disciplines - specifically in this case, the 24h of Le Mans. The body was hammered out by hand around a plywood buck, its gullwing doors flanked by a Lola T70 windscreen before it and a Tasman 2-litre V8 behind. The material used for the skin was Birmabright, a strong yet light magnesium alloy, while the engine was loaned by fellow Midlanders Climax.

Unfortunately for Healey, success was always out of reach for the SR. Sometimes by quite some margin.
In the 1968 Le Mans 24hr, the clutch seized in the third hour forcing the team to retire. Returning in 1969 with a rather stronger transmission (and a longer wheelbase), the car overheated in the 4th hour and lost its coolant - the rules stipulate that coolant cannot be replaced, so they had to retire again.
By 1970, the Climax engine had been replaced by a 3-litre Repco-Brabham V8, while the body had been opened out to a two-seat roadster, named X37. It made it to the last lap this time, but retired due to ignition failure, much to the irritation of all involved. After this point, the project was quietly dropped.

A forgotten footnote in Le Mans history? Not quite. The car you see in the pictures is a replica, painstakingly recreated by a chap named Brian Wheeler. The original car resides in Australia, and Wheeler felt that there should be at least one SR in its country of origin. Unable to source Healey diagrams or plans, the dimensions were calculated from a range of photographs, while power comes from a 3.5-litre Rover V8 (an engine which is not only rather more practical than either of the Climax or Repco options, but also far more obtainable).
It may not be a faithful recreation of the original in terms of drivetrain, but in a way that helps to keep it in line with Healey's ethos: the SR project was driven by a combination of necessity, practicality and availability, and this is just the kind of thinking that informed this replica's build.
Healey may not have excelled at Le Mans, but at least now the efforts will not be forgotten...

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