The history of the Austin Healey Club – an article produced by Joyce Pearce and first published in the 1986 International Healey Weekend Brochure
No history of note ever made interesting reading by
leaving out the disappointments and difficulties. These are just as much part
of history as the successes and the fun. Nothing is ever perfect in this world
although we try our very best to make it. A mixed bag is what makes life
interesting and gives us the scope for improvement and the incentive to carry on.
The club’s many re-organisations in its early
development stages led to inaccuracies and omissions in the records. During the
changes from management to management, records did get mislaid or even lost and
mistakes were undoubtedly made. It is therefore
surprisingly difficult to re-construct the full story, much having to be done
from memory. Very few of the early pioneers of the club are still around to
tell the tale, though I am fortunate enough to have been around since 1967 and can
therefore remember much of what happened.
Today, the confusion has been further fuelled by the
publication of many books and articles using a fair amount of ‘poetic licence’
to fill the missing pages, often giving an inaccurate and out of date picture
of the club. As the club gets older, its newer members, some born long after
the original club was formed, are the ones who are now often faced with the
task of providing club history and information to the press, publishers and
other members. So it is of concern to us all that we have as accurate a history
as possible which can be used for the basis of answering such demands.
Our chequered history, whilst not being easy to
understand, provided an immense challenge in the form of problems to be overcome.
These in turn, whilst being unsettling at the time, did give members and
officials the opportunity not only to learn a great deal from experts both
inside and outside the club, but to develop expertise of their own. To learn by
one’s mistakes, though seemingly disastrous at the time, is a very good way of
ensuring they never happen again.
Having coped with a wide variety of problems and tasks,
including how to set up a Limited Company, it should be possible in future to
meet any problem head-on and deal with it swiftly and efficiently.
A good, interesting club is run by able, dedicated, if
sometimes extrovert people. They would not be there if they did not have the
motivation, ideas and convictions that they hold. But each one of them is
different and in their own way, like every other person on this planet, want to
leave his or her mark, whether winning in the competitive events or implementing
a new administration change. It is these different ideas and opinions that form
the basis of most of the decisions taken, and some of our most brilliant event
ideas have been born out of compromise between the various suggestions. To the
onlooker it may appear from time to time that the committee seem to be arguing,
but this is really not the case, it is all part of our democratic way of decision
To have survived for 25 years is something of an
achievement, given the recent worldwide financial climate particularly. It
would not have been possible if we had not had a good foundation to build on,
and dedicated volunteers and supportive members prepared to give up their time
and work very hard for the club.
Formation & Administration
It will, no doubt, come as a surprise to some,
particularly our newer members, to learn that there was a Healey Club as far
back as 1955. This may lead you now to wondering why we are celebrating 25
years of the Club this year, when it would appear the club is 31 years old!
Read on and all will be revealed …..
The first Healey Club, The Healey Drivers Club, was
formed long before Austin Healeys were in production, in 1955. This Club was
primarily started on the suggestion of Peter Cavanagh, a well-known radio
personality of the time, together with Brian Healey, John Langrishe and Mort
Goodall. The membership of around 200 consisted mainly of owners of what we
today call Warwick Healeys — the Silverstones, Tickfords, Abbotts, Elliotts
As newer marques came off the production lines, so a
number of groups and small clubs grew up around this original club. This
situation continued until 1957 when BMC took production of the 100-6 to
The first club for Sprites and their owners was formed
in 1959 on the instigation of Raymond Baxter, also a well-known media man, Doug
Worgan and Derek ‘Willey’ Williams and a group of enthusiasts. The club was
named ‘The Southern Counties Sprite Club’.
This initial Sprite Club was quickly joined by an
‘Eastern Sprite Group’ organised initially by Colin Stokes, Gordon Barrett and
Maurice Norton, and a ‘Northern Sprite Group’ organised originally by Diana
Simpson and her husband together with a group of local enthusiasts.
John Langrishe and John Thornley, both great club enthusiasts, suggested the
various groups and clubs should be reorganised along the lines of the very
successful M.G. Car Club. Talks were had with BMC (as it then was) and Peter
Browning, then a member of the Harrow Car Club, which resulted in Peter being
invited to join the team at Abingdon. BMC agreed to provide a HQ and
secretarial facilities for the ‘new’ club at Abingdon, together with space for
club news in the magazine ‘Safety Fast’. It was not an easy transition from
several separate groups to one united club and it took Peter Browning, Brian
Healey and John Thornley sometime to convince them all that the ‘new’ club
would cater for them all equally, but eventually they all agreed to give it a
The first Austin Healey Club Ltd. was born and Peter Browning became its first
General Secretary. This new club became the proprietor of all the UK clubs and
groups and a number of overseas clubs, which were by now starting up. It exercised
basic control, keeping the various groups and clubs in contact with HQ and each
other and ensuring that they did not behave in such a way as to bring any
discredit upon the Austin Healey name and motorsport in general.
The Healey Drivers Club (the original 1955 club),
became Midland Centre, the Northern and Eastern Sprite Groups became Northern
and Eastern Centres and the Southern Counties Sprite Club became the Southern
Counties Centre. The Healey Register was retained to serve the Warwick Healeys
but to be on this register one had to join the Austin Healey Club. The initial
4 Centres were joined by a South Western Centre formed later in 1961 and a
Devon & Cornwall Centre formed in 1962. Both centres being founded by Frank
& Edna Walker a very successful husband and wife team.
The Healey Register was initially run by Leslie Cato
and was later joined by a Sprite Register which was started off by Brian
Boughtflower, and much later (July 1968) by a Big Healey Register run by John
Also, in 1961, there was a Scottish Sprite Group, but
they resisted attempts to include them as part of the Austin Healey Club and
towards the end of the 1960s they ceased contact and eventually disbanded.
A new club badge was designed to replace the old Healey
Drivers Club badge which was now not applicable. The castle is symbolic of
Warwick, where the old Healey factory was sited, the Union Jack was added
because it was popular with the overseas enthusiasts, the long suspension
bridge represented the connections with the Longbridge plant and of course the
wings came from the Big Healey bonnet flash.
This has been described as the ‘heyday’ of the Club but judging by our
successes in the late 1970s and early ’80s we are perhaps experiencing a second
flush of this now. However, in 1967 membership of the club was recorded at
5,500 but it must be remembered that this total did include the overseas clubs
and many Warwick Healey owners who today have their own separate clubs. 1967
was also the year that Peter Browning took over from Stuart Turner in the BMC
Competition Department and thus vacated the post of club general secretary.
Richard Shepherd took over for a short while, before handing over to Les
Needham, now General Manager of the RAC/MSA. The centres, meanwhile, with
expansion in mind embarked on the formation of more group offshoots in areas
hitherto not covered by the club. The Berks and Bucks Group instigated by Frank
& Edna Walker after a house move saw them in an area without meetings and
events, and the New Forest Group founded by Gordon Pearce who found himself in
the same situation when he moved up from Bristol.
Perhaps with a certain amount of luck or an uncanny judgement of what was about
to happen, the Berks & Bucks Group applied for and got Centre status
becoming the Thames Valley Centre.
In November of the same year came the great BMC
re-organisation under Lord Stokes. BMC became BLMC and the new company policy
was to cease production of the Big Healeys and to boost MG production at the
expense of the Sprite. Along with this they withdrew all support and facilities
to the clubs, axed ‘Safety Fast’ magazine and put us all out in the cold
Colin Stokes (not to be confused with Lord Stokes),
Doug Worgan and Frank Walker met with officials at Abingdon in the hope of
being able to take over the running of the club but it was not to be. Shortly
after this it was announced that the control of the club would pass back to the
Brian Healey now became the club’s General Secretary. The cessation of BMC
support meant the Austin Healey Club Ltd., which was BMC’s company to do with
as they wished, was wound up and as at this stage they still owned the rights
to the title we had to find another name. However we did go on using the logos
and have only just found out recently that we did not have permission to do so.
However this has now been amicably agreed by the newer and more interested British
In April of ’69 it was decided to re-establish and
re-register the Healey Drivers Club Ltd. as the control body over the centres
and groups. It was at this time that the Healey Register, and the Association
of Healey Owners formed at the time, went off on their own with the loss of
members to the rest of the club. The Healey Register becoming part of the
Historic Sports Car Club and the Association an independent club which catered
for all pre-BMC Healeys.
During this year, the New Forest Group applied for
centre status, but due mainly to the uncertain future and the way it would
affect some other centres membership wise, this was not granted. It was not
until 1971 that they achieved their aim and then mainly due to a great deal of
persistence and the help and support of Brian Healey and Les Needham.
It became clear also during this time that the effort
needed to run the club was just too much for one person and the Healey family
came to the reluctant conclusion that they could not operate it under the
current system. The very sensible solution was to give the centres more
autonomy including control of their own finances and administration, providing
they all agreed to set up an overall control body to ensure the rules were
adhered to and keep everyone in contact. This control body, known as the
National Executive Committee, a title which it still retains today, was duly
formed and the members of the Healey family became President and Vice
Presidents. The first NEC was chaired by Doug Worgan and it was made up from 2
representatives from each centre who met on a bi-monthly basis to carry out the
decision and policy making process for the club.
Colin Stokes took over from Doug Worgan when he
retired from committee work later on. Unfortunately, by now the rising costs
and lack of any form of sponsorship was causing some problems financially and
it was at this time that several Centres were disbanded. Northern, South
Western and Devon and Cornwall all disappeared and Southern Counties who were
also badly affected lapsed into limbo its affairs just ticking over.
New Forest who had just been granted their centre status were seemingly
unaffected by the problems being new and enthusiastic. They also had some very
good committee members who could get jobs done very well for very low costs,
and one of these was introducing their first newsletter. It was called
“Rev Counter”. It had only been in production for three months when
the NEC decided that the title would make an excellent choice for the club’s
first ever National Magazine, which it hoped would bring about a change in
fortunes for the club. Under the editorship of a Thames Valley member. Alan Puzey.
it did just that for a short time, but after about 18 months with rising costs
and printing problems coupled with Alan’s retirement, we had to cease
The Austin Healey marque was now out of production altogether as even the
Sprite production line had been closed down.
But this event, however sad, was a good thing for the club in one vital
way. It caused a sharp increase in the cars’ values and they became more
collectable. In turn this increased membership and brought with it an injection
of much needed funds.
It was in this year that Dave Hicks of Eastern Centre
suggested we have a National Rally. This was called National Healey Day – and
was the fore-runner of our now very successful International Healey Weekends.
With the future more secure once again, the centres
began once more to expand and form groups. Midland and Northern on the
instigation of Cyril Carter, New Forest, a Bristol Group with Mike Gabb, Chris
Marks, Joyce & Gordon Pearce and Dave Hicks all having a hand in the
formation, and Eastern Centre formed a St. Albans Group.
The Bristol Group’s expansion was rapid and in less than a year they had
approaching a hundred members. They asked for centre status and were given it,
becoming the ‘new’ South Western Centre. They in turn formed a Devon &
Cornwall group or Sub-Centre as they preferred to call it.
Northern Group, who had also progressed quickly, were also granted centre
status and they too established Sub-Centres in North Wales and Scotland.
After some six years, the club was back on form and we
had come full circle. In 1974 Rev Counter also made a come-back produced on a
rota basis with each centre taking it in turns to finance and produce.
Attention turned to the Club’s legal position. Roger Byford of Eastern Centre
was now in the chair at NEC. It was discovered that due to confusion when the
NEC had taken over as control body for the club, that it had failed to
ascertain whether it was also supposed to have taken over the Healey Drivers
Club Ltd., or whether control had remained with the Healey family. It was
subsequently found out that as no returns had been filed over the years since
the handover, that the company had been taken off the register at Companies
House. Along with this discovery came the realisation that we were now
under-insured and that if a situation arose whereby a large claim was awarded
against the club that the funds could not meet, then the officials would be
personally liable. This matter had to be rectified quickly. The necessary and
long complicated business of forming a Ltd. Company began all over again, and
eventually the ‘second’ Austin Healey Club Ltd. was born.
Both Rev Counter and International Healey Weekend were becoming too large a
task for single centres to finance and control so it was decided that these two
items should come under the control of the NEC and be paid for out of Central
Funds. Central Funds were gathered on a per-member basis contribution from
centres and thus the costs were spread more evenly.
In late 1981 Joe Cox took over as NEC Chairman and brought with him some new
ideas and a fresh approach to management and marketing of the club, coupled
with immense enthusiasm.
Between 1981 and 1984 membership increased by 25% to
around 2000 and the Centres were much more evenly populated thus making it
possible for the first time to introduce a system of proportional voting at
NEC. This reduced the length of time it took to make the everyday
Today, still under the chairmanship of Joe Cox, our
membership and finances have stabilised. With a very enthusiastic and energetic
committee, many of the events of the past which were curtailed because of lack
of funds, membership, or organisers have now been re-introduced, including the
very successful racing and competition programme chiefly due to the hard work
of the current Competition Secretary, Tony Elshof.
Rev Counter has gone from strength to strength
evolving out of its past traumas into the magazine we had always wanted but so
often failed to achieve. Contact has been re-established around the world, more
members are venturing to overseas events and our major UK events are well
This then, is the story
of how we come to be here today, celebrating this 25th Anniversary of the Club.
But this official story is only the tip of the iceberg. On the other side of
the coin are the events and activities, the side of the club which the member
sees and contributes to. This is much more entertaining. An opportunity to feature
both the history and administration and the entertainment sides of the club
together in one publication has never before occurred and it is a great
pleasure to be able to do it in this special year. We hope you will both learn
something you didn’t know and enjoy reading about all the funny and happy
things that have happened.