Find of the Week: 1960 Austin-Healey Sprite

It's one of the most recognizeable noses in the classic car world. Those prominent headlights mean that even someone who doesn't know what it is has a decent chance of guessing the name. "What is that bug-eyed car?" It's an Austin-Healey Sprite, affectionately known as the Bugeye Sprite. And this immaculate example is our Find of the Week this week.

It was designed to be a low-cost sports car, filling in a gap in a lineup made when the bigger, more expensive MGA replaced the MG T in the British Motor Corporation lineup. Donald Healey wanted "a cheap two seater that a chap could keep in his bike shed." So small, affordable, sporting.

BMC and Healey wanted a followup for the Austin Healey 100 sports car of the 1950s. It sold well, and was popular, so they needed to do it again. This time it was to be a cheaper car. Designed using the Austin parts bin, mainly focusing on the tiny A35 family car that was introduced for 1956.

The new car, named the Sprite, dropped the normal frame and body for a unibody style frame with front and rear firewalls mounted to a floor pan. Many of the body sections were flat steel pieces or used simple curves to keep costs down.

The entire nose, including the hood, fenders, and grille, was one large piece. It was hinged at the back, like a normal hood, and swung up to allow easy access to the entire engine bay. Even the iconic headlights were a budget decision. They were originally intended to fold down and retract, like Porsche would later do with the 928, but the mechanism required fell victim to cost-cutting.

The steering mechanism and front suspension were from a Morris Minor. It had coil springs in the front and Armstrong lever shocks. In the rear were leaf springs and lever-arm shocks.

The engine was from the Austin A35, and it was a 948 cc BMC model. For the sporting Sprite, the engine saw twin SU carburettors fitted that boosted power to 43 hp and 52 lb-ft of torque. Not huge power numbers, but reasonable for the time. The light weight and postage-stamp size of the car helped make the small engine feel bigger.

Because this was a tiny car. It is just 3,480 mm long and 1,346 mm wide. That's 620 mm shorter than a Honda Fit and 349 mm narrower. And while the trunk area looks big, the early cars don't actually have a trunk lid. The design of the body meant that the car needed the strength that the full panel provided. To put your stuff in the trunk, you need to fold the seats forward.

But practicality isn't what matters in a classic sports car. Classic and sports are the keys. The iconic bugeye styling and Healey design give the Sprite all the classic that most people can handle. What about the sporting?

The Sprite started racing almost as soon as it launched. It won its class in the 1958 Alpine Rally and never looked back. Sprites are still used in club and vintage racing around the world. They saw modifications and changes by the aftermarket from day one, so if you want more power, it's never far away. It handled well, and could be seriously quick on the right circuit.

Our Find of the Week is a 1960 model, for sale in Sidney, BC. It's a Mk I version of the car, the bugeye version. In 1961, the Mark II SPrite would come along. It was heavier, but it lost the bugeye nose for a much more conventional grille and fender-mounted headlights. The biggest change was that nose, the rest of the car was almost the same, and would stay that way until 1971.

This car is in beautiful cream with red interior and roof. It looks brand new, or probably better than brand new, given the production methods and practices of 1960 BMC. If you long for top-down classic British motoring, then this Austin-Healey Sprite could be exactly what you're looking for.

Beautiful bugeye 9/20/2017 2:00:52 PM