It is the almost-perfect collector car, but Jim Rugowski’s love affair with the Nash-Healey started long before he owned one. In 1954, Jim took a photo of a Nash-Healey LeMans coupe at the Lincoln Park Field House, in Manitowoc, WI, the town he grew up in. He still has the faded, curly-edged, black-and-white Brownie print showing the coupe that imbedded itself in his psyche 50 years ago. Jim now has a real car to go with it.
Jim’s white Nash-Healey roadster may well be the perfect collectible vehicle. It features American power and running gear, Italian design and British chassis construction. The Nash-Healey is roomy and provides ample trunk space. With its big Nash Ambassador six, it can really move; with overdrive it produces excellent highway mileage, bettering that of many four-cylinder cars.
The roots of the Nash-Healey story can be traced back as far as World War I, when Royal Air Force pilot Donald Healey developed a taste for speed. By the end of World War II, Healey was managing director of the Donald Healey Motor Company of Warwick, England, a firm that produced limited-production sports-racing cars. American sportsman Briggs Cunningham, who wanted to win LeMans with an American entry, took a liking to the Healey Silverstone and commissioned Healey to build him one with a Cadillac V8.
Cunningham’s car came out terrific and Healey decided to travel to the United States to visit General Motors in a quest to purchase engines for a new series of cars. While sailing aboard the Queen Elizabeth, Healey struck up a conversation with a man who had a mutual interest in cameras. The man turned out to be George Mason, the president of Nash-Kelvinator Corp.
Mason invited Donald Healey to come to his cabin that evening for a cocktail. Naturally, the reason for Healey’s trip to America came out. Mason offered to let Healey stay at his Detroit home while he was in the area. He also told the British car builder that Nash would be interested in supplying engines if General Motors wasn’t. In Detroit, Healey met with Ed Cole, general manager of Cadillac and his request to purchase engines was denied.
Healey contacted Mason to discuss his offer and found him anxious to do extra business. In fact, Mason told Healey that Nash Motors would not only supply engines, but would take a number of the cars to sell through Nash dealers. For $3,982 delivered ($96 more with overdrive), the Nash-Healey was a steal, but only 104 were sold. Racing versions of the early Nash-Healey finished ninth in their class at the Mille Miglia and fourth overall at LeMans in 1950.
After car serial number N2250 and engine number N1163 the engine grew from the previous 3.8-liter job to 4.1 liters. The bigger in-line six had a 3.50 x 4.37-inch bore and stroke and displaced 252.6 cu. in. With its 8.25:1 compression ratio, it developed 140 hp at 4000 rpm. Starting with serial number N2310, the British S.U. carburetors were replaced by a pair of Carter YH sidedraft carbs. The engine was linked to a three-speed manual gearbox. Nash stuck to a 6-volt electrical system.
The Nash-Healey was one of only 17 cars finishing the French Grand Prix out of a starting field of 58 entries. This was an impressive performance, with the “Kenosha Cadillac” besting most of Europe’s leading marques.
The LeMans coupe, added in January 1953, was a larger car and did not perform as well in racing, despite its competition-inspired name. It did, however, embody a beauty of line that few other cars of the era could match.
Jim Rugowski’s white 1953 roadster is of the second-generation type. It has serial number 421, engine number 1421 and chassis number 2404. The car has the beautiful aluminum cylinder head. According to the history Jim received, the car is unrestored. It had 82,000 miles on the clock when Rugowski bought it
Rugowski says that he likes the fact that the car has an all-American drive line and that it’s a ‘50s-era sports car. “I don’t know which of these points I like best,” he admits. Jim also does a lot of touring with the Fox Cities British Car Club based in Oshkosh, WI. The Nash-Healey has also put in appearances at Road America and at the British Car Field Days in Sussex, WI.
Article courtesy Speedville.