Curbside Classic: Classic Roadsters Sebring MX – Austin Healey 3000 Wannabe

Sebring2

Here’s something I didn’t expect to see outside a grocery store in Utah.  The badging says Austin Healey, but the flares, louvers and faux wire wheels all say Classic Roadsters Sebring MX.

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one of these for real before.  I saw a lot of advertisements for them in Road & Track during the ’80s.  At the time my teenaged self was rather dismissive of these cars; after all, the big Healey 3000 they mimic is one of the great sports cars of all time.

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In the ’80s they were near the bottom of their depreciation curve and as I recall, you could buy a decent A-H for less money than a finished Sebring MX.  This did not make sense to me, and I disdained the logic of building replicas that cost more than the genuine article.

Sebring2

Please forgive my horribly glared interior shot, inside we find more evidence for my Sebring MX identification.  That stout shift lever is undoubtedly connected to an American four-speed transmission.

Healey Interior

The general air of kit car fromage contrasts with the elegant interior fitted to an original Healey.
Sebring3
At the rear we have a heavily sun-patinated finish, luggage rack holes, and some sort of mural.  Also of note are this car’s combination of both side exhausts and dual rear tailpipes. Let’s guess which ones are genuine.

mx3

It looks like this example has had as long and rough a ride as the Classic Roadsters company itself.  There is a bit of history available online for this company, which was apparently started by a Gary Rutherford of Fargo ND in 1979.  They began production with a VW-based MG TD, then expanded the product line to include various front- and rear-engined TDs, some very 1970s interpretations of classic 1930s cars, and a couple of Austin Healey knockoffs.

Screenshot 2014-04-23 21.01.13Saxon, at left; Sebring MX, on the right

The Saxon shown above follows the original Healey more closely, but doesn’t quite look right, mostly because of the windscreen being too flat and too tall.  The Sebring seems to balance the design a little better, with the flares lowering the visual center of gravity.

black mx
To my eyes, the wheels have a big impact on how successful the end result is, and I prefer these Torq Thrusts to the faux wires. There is no shortage of photos online showing completed Sebrings, so it looks like a reasonable number of these kits were sold and completed.  Unlike some early kit cars, they don’t seem to require any hard-to-find parts from rare production vehicles, which must have helped the completion ratio.

Austin_Healey_3000_Replica_-_Flickr_-_mick_-_LumixRecent Sebring MX

By the mid 80’s, the original owner had sold the company, which was thereafter not managed well and closed down.  The company was then reacquired and restarted in Minnesota as Classic Roasters II, also by the original owner.  He later sold out again, and Classic Roadsters Ltd then somehow moved across the border to Saskatoon Saskatchewan in the process.  They are still in business, so should you find yourself suitably inspired by this tell them Paul sent you when you buy your Sebring MX kit.

1967_austin-healey_3000-pic-612861967 Austin-Healey 3000

My older and wiser self can now see both sides of this replica car coin.  True, the Austin Healey is one of the greats, but great cars sometimes aren’t very good cars.  One of my Uncles briefly had a Healey 3000 for his daily driver in the 1970’s.  The frequent and expensive repairs consumed his finances and prevented him from getting places.  I can now see the case for a Healey that doesn’t rust ferociously, is half reliable, easy to maintain, and built without Lucas electrics.

rusty healey
On the other hand, the collector value of a big Healey has skyrocketed in the past 20 years, with nice ones approaching $100k.  This rising tide has not floated all boats, and a Sebring MX is now valued at quite a bit less than the real thing.
Screenshot 2014-04-23 22.01.20
Still, I tend to be hopelessly quixotic when choosing my recreational vehicles, even though most people aren’t, and would much rather have a Sebring than a Cobra replica.  An owner might get asked, “What is it?” regularly but won’t have to answer “Is it real?” every two minutes or be sneered at.  How many of today’s casual enthusiasts even knows what a big Healey is, anyway?
The owner came out of the store as we were leaving, so I never did get a chance to ask him about his car or hear it start up, but I came away from this encounter impressed.  The original vision of the Sebring MX was more likely a weekend cruiser than a desert grocery getter, but this example seems to have done the job for decades.  Kudos to the owner for using his Sebring MX for a long term daily driver.