Sebring Keeps “The Big Healey” Spirit Alive
By Andy Bannister
The head-turning look of one of the most iconic sports cars of the 1960s, the Austin-Healey 3000, is still available brand new in the shape of the Sebring range, a line-up of replicas attempting to recreate the spirit of this very British roadster.
Whilst Chrysler uses the Sebring trademark in the USA, it has of course no connection with Sebring International, a small family-owned company based in Cambridgeshire, England.
Sebring offers four models inspired by the classic Big Healey, offered by the British Motor Corporation from 1959 to 1967.
The Austin-Healey’s shape seems to get better with age and is as appealing to enthusiasts today as it has ever been. Sebring’s products can be purchased as self-build kits or as factory finished sports cars retailing from upwards of $70,000. Hand-made with leather-trimmed interiors, these are a real indulgence.
The Sebring SX is the model which most resembles the 60s original, with its classic lines and timeless good looks, although the shell is rustproof glassfibre, unlike the Austin-Healey which inspired it. As with all Sebrings it is built around a rugged cold-formed box chassis.
For those seeking something more contemporary, the Sebring TMX is a Healey with a modern twist. Its flared wheel arches endow the car with a low aggressive stance, which makes it stand out from the crowd. There’s also the good looking and brutishly powerful MXR model.
Finally, the Sebring ZX is the lightest and most sporty member of the range, built primarily for those who wish to indulge in track days and sprints.
The road-legal (in Britain, at least) ZX delivers real performance, with up to 500bhp from its choice of V8 engines, backed up by a slick 5 or 6 speed gearbox.
Whilst the original Austin-Healey featured a fairly primitive 2912cc BMC unit, the Sebring range offers a wide range of engine options from a 2.4-litre Nissan in-line six to a range of V8s – Rovers from 3.5-to 4.6 litres and a big 5.7 Chevrolet unit.
Sebring has been around since 1994 and has successfully sold hundreds of its models, building up its own modest cult following. Most sales are in kit form, which require a variety of components from popular European Fords, with other items coming from the parts bins of Vauxhall, Jaguar, VW and Rover.
In an attempt to broaden its appeal – and perhaps edge into the gap led by the departure of traditional British open car makes like TVR and Marcos – the company added a further model, the Exalt, to its line-up this year.
This features a more modern interpretation of the Austin-Healey shape and engines from a relatively modest 3.0 litre six to a Chevy 6.3 V8. A built-up version costs from around $90,000.
Sebring, of course, cannot-use the fabled Austin-Healey name, which was acquired by Nanjing, the new Chinese owners of MG, and in 2007 was the subject of an agreement with Healey Automobile Consultants and HFI Automotive.
At the time those companies agreed to collaborate on the future development of the Healey and Austin-Healey brands and sports cars bearing their name. As with the oft-heralded MG revival, many sceptics will believe it when it happens.
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