Is original always best?
Sometimes, but not very often, a cover version is better than the original. And so it is with cars: despite the plethora of kit cars and retro-inspired models that recreate the icons of the 60s, or merely hark back to them, most of the time we'd rather have the original.
The HMC MkIV, however, is the exception to the rule. It shouldn't be better than the Austin Healey 3000 that it emulates. But it definitely is. And that's not just my opinion - it's what Great Escape Cars customers continualy tell us.
The 'Big Healey' Austin Healey was the he-man alternative to the svelte Jaguar E Type, a compact but powerful two-seater that proved immensely popular in the booming America of the 50s and 60s. It was basic and simple but also beautiful. And, of course, when it got a bit long in the tooth British Leyland didn't bother replacing it.
And so, like the Cobra, the Healey spawned many, many kit car copies as nostalgic car enthusiasts with pockets too shallow to secure a real Healey sought to indulge their fantasies. None of these copies looked particularly like a Healey and few had much road-going finesse, but this didn't really matter. They were close enough.
Then in the late 1990s along came the HMC MKIV. Unlike the Healey kit cars it was a proper factory built replica, except it wasn't really a replica so much as a brand new car. It tapped into the retro-chic trend of the late 90s, reflected in the designs of the Jaguar XK8, Rover 75 and many other cars designed with one eye cast longingly over a shoulder.
The clue to the HMC MkIV's difference lies in its name. MkIV is a clear nod to its heritage - this is a continuation car from the final 'Mk3' Healey, one that was designed to carry on the Healey legacy into the 90s.
That idea is reflected in the attention to detail. Where Healey kit cars aim for the impression of the original, the HMC is genuinely trying to replace it. It was designed from the ground up using a space frame chassis and, like the original, a range of proprietary components including a Land Rover 3.9 litre V8 engine.
It was also designed with input from the Healey family, like the original. It only missed out on being called a Healey at the very last minute due to trademark problems. Hence 'HMC'.
When it launched in 1998 the HMC wowed the press and customers. Where the original Healey looked better than it drove, hindered by an uncomfortable driving position, heavy steering and lumbering chassis, the HMC was nimble, very quick and very engaging.
I've driven an Austin Healey over many miles - it isn't something I want to repeat. I've driven a HMC MkIV over similar distances - I'd jump in it again any time. For me it is the best of both worlds - classic looks but with modern driving ability. It even has heated seats.
HMC couldn't make them fast enough. And that became the problem. Whereas the Healey sold in thousands, only 167 HMC MKIVs were ever made. Parts supply proved to be its Achilles Heel. Which is a real shame because the HMC genuinely delivered what it promised: an update of the Healey and a car that added more lustre to its legacy.
Great Escape Cars has had a HMC MKIV on its fleet for many years. And it's consistently proven to be one of the most popular - and surprising - cars for customers. You can drive it on one of our Classic Taster experiences for £99 or part of our Full and Half Day Road Trips. To find out more click here.