Prepared by the BMC Competition Department for the 1961 season, ‘XJB 871’, made its debut in the arduous 1961 Acropolis Rally in the hands of Peter Riley and Tony Ambrose. Regarded as one of the toughest rallies on the calendar, Riley and Ambrose made for an impressive debut finishing first in class and third overall. The duo would then contest the Alpine Rally later in June but suffered brake failure tackling the Stelvio Pass and were forced to retire the car.
Once back at the BMC Works, ‘XJB 871’ was purchased by aspiring Finnish driver, Rauno Aaltonen who wished to spend more time in the seat of a ‘Big Healey’ in preparation of other rallies with the marque. Aaltonen’s practise in ‘XJB 871’ duly paid off as he went on to win the Spa-Sofia-Liege Rally in 1964 with the marque and he cited his time in the car as the key to his success.
In 1965, Aaltonen advertised the Austin-Healey for sale in a local magazine and a sale was agreed with Finnish student Caj Hasselgren. Hasselgren who was in awe of Aaltonen drove the Healey sparingly which was crucial in maintaining the cars originality. During his ownership he decided to embark on a mechanical restoration and Caj returned from many a UK business trip armed with parts for the Healey. The restoration took infinitely longer than had originally been planned but it was fruitful with numerous victories recorded in historic events following the rebuild. With Hasselgren focusing more on single seater racing, ‘XJB 871’ was retired from competitive use and driven by his family on the road.
Following some fifty-one years of single ownership – which must be a record for a Works Healey – ‘XJB 871’ was sold by the Hasselgren family and was entrusted by the new owner to Austin-Healey specialist, John Chatham in the UK. Chatham was tasked with preparing the Big Healey for the 2017 Rallye Monte Carlo Historique and work to the car included the following; a new competition wiring harness, replacement of the steering box with a period one, new brake lines, the bottom end/bearings were checked, the gearbox received a complete overhaul with the fitment of straight cut gears and competition shock absorbers were fitted. ‘XJB 871’ ran extremely well but was retired from the Rally due to the health of one of the crew members and was subsequently sold.
The current owner has used the Healey purely as a road car and it is offered today fresh from a recent service by Woolmer Classic Engineering and is accompanied by a valid Historic Technical Passport.
Photo Credit: Riiko-Andre Nuud, Riiko Photo