The remarkable story of Pat Moss’s URX 727 Austin Healey 3000

Pat Moss’s URX 727 Austin Healey 3000

Has a more quintessentially British sports car than the Austin Healey 3000 ever been built on our isles? It may be just one model – albeit the most famous – of the fabled ‘big Healeys’ that began with the Austin Healey 100 in 1953, but the muscular-looking 3000 has captured hearts and imaginations well beyond Blighty since its June 1959 introduction. Indeed, it can be said to have gained classic status while still in production, a status afforded to very few cars.

We have good reason to show affection towards this legendary six-cylinder sports car here at U Drive Cars, as it is a proud part of our range of classic driving experiences. Our Austin Healey 3000 package allows you to experience for yourself the car’s 150bhp, 173 lb ft of torque and 0-60 time of 8.2 seconds – quite brisk in any era, but even more so in the time of ‘gentleman’ racers!

Today, however, we aren’t focusing so much on our own fine example of this true British icon, but instead one very special 3000 built in the spring of 1960: probably the most famous Healey of all, the URX 727 registered car that Pat Moss and Ann Wisdom took to a historic victory in that year’s Liege-Rome-Liege event. The car also achieved eye-catching results in other international rallies, including the Tulip Rally, in which it placed eighth overall, and the Alpine, where it achieved second overall and first in class.

Few models boast such a formidable competition heritage

While the Austin Healey 3000 quickly began to be put through its paces on the world’s race circuits, it was rallying where the car especially excelled. As soon as the new model was introduced, examples were seeing action across Europe, including an SMO 745 registered car that achieved fifth overall at the 1959 Alpine in the hands of John Gott, and seventh overall at the 1960 Geneva Rally, with Moss – the younger sister of Sir Sterling – behind the wheel.

That latter success had also netted Moss the Ladies Prize, for which she and trusty co-driver Ann were presented with Heuer clocks that they were to make extensive use of in their future rallying careers. Then, along came another 3000 for Moss’s use – URX 727, or ‘Uuuurx’, as its driver would affectionately know it.

While it was customary for ‘works’, or manufacturer-backed rally cars to be continually swapped between drivers, once Moss took possession of ‘Uuuurx’, no one else would be permitted to drive it – indeed, she remained its owner until after its retirement. Quickly fitting their newly-acquired clocks to URX 727’s dashboard, Pat and Ann then turned their attentions to what would prove to be a momentous season.

‘Uuuurx’ came up trumps on the ‘biggest one’ of all

The car’s first outing, the Tulip Rally, brought Moss and Wisdom another first-in-class result and another Ladies Prize, in part thanks to their excellent time on one of the stages of the famous Col de Turini. The Ladies Prize was also theirs at the Alpine, one of the most challenging European rallies of all – albeit, merely a warm-up for the Liege that was to take place a month later.

If the aforementioned events had been major tests for the British team that consisted of four Austin Healeys in all, the Liege was something else altogether, the ultimate examination of the performance and endurance abilities of the leading drivers of the day. A 96-hour drive with no stop awaited, spanning Germany, Austria, Italy and Yugoslavia. If Pat and Ann could do well on this one, they really would be well on their way to securing legend status – as would their car.

What happened next was truly remarkable. The Healeys were competitive from the start, racking up top 10 times, but the sheer adversity of the event proved too much for the car of Peter Lilley, which had been suffering from a sticking throttle and then lost a fan, with the resultant penetration of the radiator forcing his retirement.

Pat and Ann, too, were hit by problems, including their overdrive packing up, followed by the clutch slipping during their drive through Yugoslavia. The cause of this latter problem was determined to be a broken oil seal between the clutch and the gearbox, which necessitated continual stops so that it could be squirted with the fire extinguisher. Eventually, it became clear that the gearbox had become too damaged for continued use, which forced chief mechanic Doug Hamlin to borrow a lift from a garage to undertake much-needed repairs to the stricken Healey.

Although it took less than an hour to undertake this vital work, such was the pressure on the crew to make the next stage in time to avoid disqualification, that Ann had to replace parts of the inside of the car as Moss drove. When an increasingly exhausted Moss finally reached Liege – greeted by the British national anthem and a police escort – the duo were astonished to learn that they were the outright winners of the event.

A triumph that will always be remembered

While Austin Healey 3000s would continue to score overall and class victories on rallies for the following three years, when Paddy Hopkirk claimed a famous overall win at the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally aboard a Mini Cooper S, it became clear that the Healeys’ time on the European rally scene – at least as a full-blown factory-backed effort – was coming to an end.

In any case, neither the ladies nor the car itself would ever top that remarkable Liege success. Even more amazingly, two other Healeys followed Moss home that day to complete a 1-2-3 class ranking. Never before had a British crew behind the wheel of a British car claimed overall victory in the fabled marathon, and Pat and Ann were deservedly given the ‘Driver of the Year Award’, their famous Liege triumph having undoubtedly played a great part in this decision.

Here at U Drive Cars, we were delighted to learn that the car was restored back to its Liege-winning specification by JME Healeys after it was sold at auction in 2008. Sadly, Moss herself died in October 2008, followed by Ann seven years later, but few motorsport enthusiasts to know about their finest hour in the Liege, aboard their faithful and dependable ‘Uuuurx’ Healey, will ever forget it.

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