Test drive Caton’s $500,000 Healey in the English countryside

Say hello to the latest must-have restomod. You might know the recipe by now – take a legendary classic car, strip away almost everything and replace it with the finest engineering you can get your hands on. Add several hundred thousand dollars, limit the production run to a handful, and calculate the bottom line sanely.

This end result in this case is called Healey by Caton. You can read more about the story behind the car here, or stay tuned for a quick recap. Caton is a UK startup from a company called Envisage Group that makes one-off show cars for a range of manufacturers. However, because such work is mostly hidden under a veil of non-disclosure agreements, it is difficult for Envisage to show their work publicly.

Meet Caton, a manufacturer of beautifully restored vehicles that can be tailored to the precise needs of the buyer. Instead of a small palette of colors and interior finishes to choose from, a Caton buyer can have almost anything they want.

For his first Healey example, Caton kept things classically simple. Always a recipe for success for 1950s British sports cars, green-over-tan suits the Healey perfectly. Beneath this all-new aluminum body are the foundations of an original Austin-Healey 100 – more specifically, this is based on a BN1 series built between 1953 and 1955. Its VIN is enough for this creation to retain an Austin -Healey identity.

The hand-formed body has been subtly updated and modernized, with all sheet metal fitted to a tolerance of 0.2mm. It was stripped and the bumpers removed, while the vents on the front fenders were enlarged to cool the significantly modified three-liter four-cylinder engine. Modern LED lighting is installed all around, and the interior is completely new without really seeing it.

What is impressive here is how much work has been done and how many modifications have been made, and yet the car looks original to all but the most obsessive eye. The interior, for example, now easily accommodates taller riders and has a shifter on top of the transmission tunnel, rather than halfway up the footwell as on an original Healey 100. There’s no touchscreen display with Apple CarPlay, but USB ports can be installed and there’s now ample room in the doors for water bottles, phones and other travel essentials.

There are no seat belts or a roof, at least for this example. However, sketch your own roof design and Caton will see what is possible.

Press the starter button once to activate the ignition and fuel pump, then step on the brake and press the S button again to bring the engine to life. It’s the perfect classic sports car soundtrack; throaty and characterful without being rowdy, and emitting from a side-exit exhaust under the driver’s door of this left-hand drive example. The engine reportedly produces 188 hp and 144 lb-ft of torque, or roughly double the original.

Weighing just over 2,000 pounds a whisker, Caton’s Healey is fast enough, with the kind of performance that’s accessible on the public road without fear for your driver’s license. Fitted with twin H8 carburettors, it’s an engine that loves to rev, propels the driver and is matched to a five-speed manual transmission that’s tight, precise and utterly satisfying to use.

The AP Racing pedal box takes a little getting used to due to the initial firmness of the gas pedal, but I got used to it after a few hours. The controls all have an authentic and satisfying weight, while the steering is also nicely weighted, but with some play in the forward position, typical of a fifties car.

Ride quality is surprisingly good. The chassis has been strengthened and features a double wishbone and coil spring arrangement up front, while retaining leaf springs at the rear. There’s a limited-slip differential, but no traction or stability control, and no ABS either. Luckily, the brakes have received a significant upgrade, with 11.5-inch cross-drilled and slotted discs replacing the original Healey drums. Pedaling is reassuringly firm and stopping power is ample – a good thing given the timely absence of seatbelts.

My drive in the Healey by Caton starts at Caffeine & Machine, a coffee shop that has quickly become a mecca for car enthusiasts, and I drive to the Cotswolds. Driving through old English villages, holiday postcard-worthy, the car feels right at home. Speeding down country lanes, passing tractors and stopping in front of upscale farm shops, the Caton Healey makes perfect sense here.

To the amusement of non-British readers, the village names I run through on this early June morning are exactly as you’d hope: Stow-on-the-Wold, Moreton-in-Marsh, Chipping Norton, Fish Hill, Burford and Shipston- on Stour.

A genuine Austin-Healey would of course also feel at home in the Cotswolds and I suspect that’s what most passers-by think. But while the aesthetic of the original fits, I’m sure the driver wouldn’t have half as much fun.

Restored, modified and remastered cars like this offer the experience you think you remember from the original, or how you hoped it would. The looks and sounds are all there, but instead of an underpowered and unruly engine with a hopelessly unergonomic gear change, this version of Healey has modern reliability and performance – in terms of both acceleration and deceleration – and just enough presence. Suitability for everyday use too.

With the Healey by Caton, you can put on your rose-colored glasses, look back on a beautiful 1950’s British sports car and drive it as you would a modern vehicle. It starts the first time, the trunk opens at the push of a button, the engine stays cool in traffic and the brakes work like a driver expects in 2022.

Yet it looks, sounds and feels like you always hoped it would. It’s the best of both worlds, and the 25 customers who order a Healey from Caton, despite parting with a sizable chunk of cash, will receive something truly special.

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