There has been much speculation - ever since BMW bought Rover (and even more since they sold it!) - that BMW would 'revive' many of the old BMC/Leyland/Rover 'brands' - including Austin Healey.
In the early 1990's, I had the opportunity to live in Warwick, England for a few years, and had the rare opportunity to talk with Margot & Geoff Healey about many things 'Healey' - including the 'ownership' and 'use' of the Healey brand name.
It is my understanding that the name 'Healey' (as in Austin Healey) wasn't ever actually 'owned' by BMC/Leyland/Rover - it was a brand name used under licence agreement contracts in the era of the production of the cars. BMC/Leyland/Rover owned 'Austin' - but not 'Healey' - it had a licence to use the name, and paid for this licence based on cars produced.
The BMC/Leyland/Rover licence to use the name 'Healey' expired - and the contract was was not renewed - back at the end of 1970. That's why the 'last' 1,000 or so Sprite MK IV's produced between January 1971 - July 1971 were actually badged/ documented as "Austin Sprites" - the AAN10 model Mk IV's - and not 'Austin Healey Sprites'. The Healey name was also subsequently licenced to Jensen for use on the Jensen Healey.
Personally - I hope that BMW and the Healey family can come to a mutually beneficial arrangement whereby BMW either buys or licences the 'Healey' name from the Healey family. I hope that BMW then puts this fantastic new concept into production .... and calls it a Healey...... because without the name - it won't have the same sense of nostalgia or appeal...
The Sixties are back in style and Austin Healey could be set for a revival. BMW has revealed a concept which proves the company is evaluating plans to resurrect the legendary sports car brand with an M3-powered roadster.
Named Project Warwick after the Midlands town that was the birthplace of the original 1953 Austin Healey models, this stunning concept is built around the lightweight aluminium chassis of BMW's thrilling Z8 roadster.
Its bodywork is all-new, though, and clearly designed to hark back to the classic big Healeys of the Fifties and Sixties with a vertically barred grille, air vents in the wings, round tail lamps and raised arches over the rear wheels. The concept has even been given a two-tone paint job, as used on many of the original cars, and features a modern interpretation of the 'aero-screen' instead of a full windscreen.
The engine format matches that of the classic Healey 3000, too, with power provided by the advanced 3.2-litre 343bhp straight-six from the latest M3. That will keep costs down and allow a production version of the car to slot in above the Z3 and rival the Porsche Boxster S and flagship Jaguar F-Type. In order to make sure the Austin Healey appeals to the right enthusiasts, BMW has entrusted the design to its Californian studio DesignWorks.
The styling house was set up to reflect the needs of the huge US car market, particularly in terms of SUVs and roadsters. However, the Warwick proposal has yet to be given the green light by BMW's top brass. Although the company holds the rights to several famous UK marques, it is concentrating on the MINI before committing to any further British ventures.
This article is copyright© Auto Express, and has been reproduced with kind permission of Auto Express
Below is the BBC Radio 4 interview of representatives of Rover and BMW; and their interview with Cecilia Healey (Geoff & Margot Healey's daughter - Donald Healey's grand daughter) - regarding the ownership of the Healey name. This interview was published on the BBC Radio 4 website 'What future for a classic car?' on Wednesday 4th April 2001 and is Copyright© BBC News on line. The full published text of this interview is reproduced here with kind permission of the BBC.
Derrick Ross shows off his Austin Healey on a stand at a classic car show. For him this is not just a sports car, but the embodiment of a very particular moment.
"A sunny weekend, the top down, the girl with the headscarf blowing in the wind, the young man driving with his cap and his cravate...
"It was just the car that everyone wanted to get in there, one way or another, everyone wanted one of these," he said. It's an image from an era when British open top motoring was the envy of the world. It was something BMW hoped to recreate when it bought the Rover Group.
A 21st Century edge
Last year it sold the company. But now it's been showing an Austin Healey concept car to motoring journalists such as Hilton Holloway of Car Magazine.
"Imagine an old-fashioned Sixties roadster given a more 21st Century edge, so it's got harder edges and flatter surfaces.
They said it was going to be based on a very advanced aluminium chassis, which is currently used for the BMW Z8 roadster, so they already knew how it was going to be put together.
"They would be very light and enormously fast and it would probably retail for about £45,000 I would guess," he said.
Who owns the rights?
When BMW sold Rover it did keep some of the badges, such as Mini and Triumph, and even still owns the name Rover which is licenced to the new MG Rover company.But does BMW have the rights to the Austin Healey name?
Cecilia Healey's father and grandfather designed the original car and the family still own the rights to the Healey part of the name.
Ms Healey told PM that she was surprised BMW had not been in touch over use of the name. "It was our understanding that the Austin Healey trademark was transferred to MG Rover and did not remain with BMW.
"It would be good to see a new Austin Healey, so if it came to fruition that would be a good thing, but to see pictures of this new model is surprising," she said.
John Sanders, the marketing director for MG Rover, was equally surprised since he was adamant his company owned the Healey name and had received no approaches from BMW."Any discussions on Austin Healey probably revolve around the two people that would be empowered to give that name. "That's us because we own Austin and obviously the Healey family who have the rights to the Healey name. N.B Emphasis added
"Austin Healey could have a future for us, but certainly it would be done through the MG Rover company and not through another manufacturer," he said.
At first, a spokesman for BMW Great Britain said they still owned the rights to Austin Healey, but then Jorg Dinner of BMW in Munich contradicted that, saying Austin Healey belonged to MG Rover.In that case, why was the new Austin Healey concept car rolled out by BMW? "The brand doesn't belong to BMW any more, so I can't comment on anything," said a tight-lipped Herr Dinner.
A waste of history
It's not quite headscarves at dawn, but ownership of the badge was supposed to have been clarified at the moment the Rover sale was sealed.
The confusion over Austin Healey shows on the one hand that BMW continues to believe in the value of these British brands.
On the other, argue enthusiasts, it illustrates how a piece of Great British motor history is being wasted.
This was the text of the April 4, 2001 BBC Radio 4 interview with representatives of Rover and BMW; and Cecilia Healey (Geoff & Margot Healey's daughter - Donald Healey's grand daughter), as published on the BBS Radio 4 website and is Copyright© BBC. It is reproduced here with kind permission of the BBC.
In my opinion, this interview is one the best I've read recently regarding the ownership of the Healey name (i.e. Rover 'owns' Austin - the Healey family 'owns' Healey). The actual audio interview is also available as an audio download, on the BBC Radio 4 website 'What future for a classic car'