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Monday, 9 April, 2001, 08:39 GMT 09:39 UK
What future for a classic car?
A marque above the competition
A marque above the competition

Wednesday 4th April 2001

Derrick Ross shows off his Austin Healey on a stand at a classic car show. For him this is not just a sports car, but the embodiment of a very particular moment.

"A sunny weekend, the top down, the girl with the headscarf blowing in the wind, the young man driving with his cap and his cravate...

"It was just the car that everyone wanted to get in there, one way or another, everyone wanted one of these," he said.

It's an image from an era when British open top motoring was the envy of the world. It was something BMW hoped to recreate when it bought the Rover Group.

A 21st Century edge

Last year it sold the company. But now it's been showing an Austin Healey concept car to motoring journalists such as Hilton Holloway of Car Magazine.

Austin Healey 3000 Mk III
Austin Healey 3000 Mk III

"Imagine an old-fashioned Sixties roadster given a more 21st Century edge, so it's got harder edges and flatter surfaces.

They said it was going to be based on a very advanced aluminium chassis, which is currently used for the BMW Z8 roadster, so they already knew how it was going to be put together.

"They would be very light and enormously fast and it would probably retail for about 45,000 I would guess," he said.

Who owns the rights?

When BMW sold Rover it did keep some of the badges, such as Mini and Triumph, and even still owns the name Rover which is licenced to the new MG Rover company.

BMW: driving into a storm?
BMW: driving into a storm?

But does BMW have the rights to the Austin Healey name? Cecilia Healey's father and grandfather designed the original car and the family still own the rights to the Healey part of the name.

Ms Healey told PM that she was surprised BMW had not been in touch over use of the name.

"It was our understanding that the Austin Healey trademark was transferred to MG Rover and did not remain with BMW.

Surprising pictures

"It would be good to see a new Austin Healey, so if it came to fruition that would be a good thing, but to see pictures of this new model is surprising," she said.

A favourite on the racetrack as well as the road in the 1960s
A favourite on the racetrack as well as the road in the 1960s

John Sanders, the marketing director for MG Rover, was equally surprised since he was adamant his company owned the Healey name and had received no approaches from BMW.

"Any discussions on Austin Healey probably revolve around the two people that would be empowered to give that name.

"That's us because we own Austin and obviously the Healey family who have the rights to the Healey name.

Tight-lipped

"Austin Healey could have a future for us, but certainly it would be done through the MG Rover company and not through another manufacturer," he said.

Classic but still cutting a dash
Classic but still cutting a dash

At first, a spokesman for BMW Great Britain said they still owned the rights to Austin Healey, but then Jorg Dinner of BMW in Munich contradicted that, saying Austin Healey belonged to MG Rover.

In that case, why was the new Austin Healey concept car rolled out by BMW? "The brand doesn't belong to BMW any more, so I can't comment on anything," said a tight-lipped Herr Dinner.

A waste of history

It's not quite headscarves at dawn, but ownership of the badge was supposed to have been clarified at the moment the Rover sale was sealed.

The confusion over Austin Healey shows on the one hand that BMW continues to believe in the value of these British brands.

On the other, argue enthusiasts, it illustrates how a piece of Great British motor history is being wasted.

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