Unique of the Week: 1956 Austin-Healey 100M Le Mans Roadster

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In an era long before the Mazda MX-5 Miata, British roadsters ruled the day and even raced at Le Mans.

Although it was only built from 1953 until '56, the Austin-Healey 100 was an impressive British-built roadster that earned its name due to its ability to reach 100 mph. Compared to the smaller Sprite, which didn't come out until 1958, the 100 was quite a bit larger and was the first of the so-called "Big Healeys", named to distinguish them from the Sprite. The other two Healey's in the name were the 100-6 and 3000, both of which were more powerful and bigger than the original 100.

Power output for the 100, the BN1 series, was originally a 90 horsepower 2660cc I4 engine which was good enough to give the car a top speed of 106 mph and a 0 to 60 mph time of 11.2 seconds. Its replacement, the BN2, not only received larger front wheel arches and a different rear axle, but was also available with two-tone paint. Beginning in 1955 the automaker was in the process of developing the 100 BN2 series for racing duties. The first result of this effort was the 100M. It featured larger carburetors, a high-lift camshaft, a stiffened front suspension and a power boost now rated at 110hp.

Like the regular BN2 series, the 100M was also offered with the two-tone paint scheme. In all just 640 100Ms were made. Austin-Healey wanted existing owners to also have the opportunity to upgrade their BN1 and BN2 series cars up to the level of the 100M, so it offered the Le Mans Engine Modification Kit for sale. It boosted power up to 100hp and owners were even able to install it themselves. Don't mistake the 100M for the 100S, however. At the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans, a horrible crash occurred that involved a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR driven by Pierre Levegh that crashed into Lanc Macklin's Austin-Healey 100S due to the latter being forced to suddenly brake.

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Levegh's impact into Macklin resulted in his 300 SLR going airborne and landing directly on the embankment that separated the track from spectators. Not only did the crash kill Levegh, but large pieces of his car, such as the hood and front axle, went directly into the crowd at such high speeds that a total of 84 people were brutally killed. Macklin's Austin-Healey was also heavily damaged but he was lucky and wasn't seriously injured. His car, although it was damaged, was later sold to several private collectors and was sold at auction in 2011 for over $1.3 million.

This 1956 Austin-Healey 100M that's currently up for grabs on eBay is one of the last original four-cylinder models built before the automaker ditched the engine in favor of a six-cylinder. As a result of that switch, the four-cylinder models became highly collectible and have raised in value considerably over the years. This particular BN2 100M was built from the get-go as a left-hand drive model because it was destined to a dealership in San Francisco, California. Although its original owner remains unknown, its second owner kept it from the early '70s until 2008.

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