I’ve made the same mistake I’ve been making for 40 years. I bought a car that I wasn’t familiar with, and I didn’t have an expert examine the car. So, once again, this car is going to cost me double what I wanted to spend.
This all started out as a lark. My very first car was an Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite. I thought it could be fun to have another one — and to make it my son, Bradley’s, car.
My fantasy was I would spend about $15,000 for an honest, non-concours car. I spoke with Bradley about it, and we agreed to develop a pre-flight checklist that he would go over each time we drove it. It would include checking all fluids and pressures. Perhaps this would encourage him to enjoy old cars.
I found a car nearby that seemed to hit all the buttons. It still had its original 948-cc engine, it was quite handsome in British Racing Green (incorrect for the car, but hey, it’s a Bugeye and who cares?), painted spoke wheels and more. It had a fiberglass hood that fit well enough, and a steel hood came with it.
When I test drove the car, it felt peppy enough and revved surprisingly easily. If I had driven lots of Bugeyes, I might have been concerned. But I hadn’t, so the fact that it pulled strongly and didn’t smoke was enough for me to write the check.
I drove it 45 miles from the seller’s place to mine, and aside from being difficult to keep running at idle — and a propensity to pop out of first gear — the Bugeye seemed fine.
I ran it to a nearby shop for the typical fettling I do with any car that I bring into the SCM garage. Installing the correct shift lever solved the transmission problems. Most of the suspension bushings were replaced, and the brakes were overhauled. All was good — for the moment.
However, as the technicians dug into the engine, they discovered it was really a race-prepped unit, with high-compression pistons (200 pounds compression per cylinder instead of the stock 150), a lightened flywheel and a hot cam.
Not only was it impossible to have it idle properly with the lightened flywheel, it also was impossible for the engine to stop blowing headgaskets.
So here I am. My $15,000 Sprite is already a $20,000 Sprite, and it’s not a runner or driver. The Sprite gurus I have talked with recommend having a 1,275-cc engine built to street specs (figure $3,000 to $5,000), and installing a five-speed ($5,000). While I’m sure this would make it a good Sprite, now I’ll have a $30,000 Bugeye — and for that amount I could have bought a very, very, nice and correct one.
What would you do in my situation? I’m told that just rebuilding the 948-cc engine to stock specs would cost almost as much as building a 1,275-cc engine. To compound matters, no one is quite sure how the current 948 has been modified and what it would take to bring it back to stock.
The Bugeye with its current gearing and 4-speed is very buzzy on the highway, and a five-speed would surely help. But am I just trying to build an imitation Alfa with these mods? Recall that I just sold our Volvo Amazon because even after we had spent thousands of dollars on it, it still didn’t handle like an Alfa. Further, this was supposed to be a once-in-awhile fun car — not something I’d use for transcontinental trips.
If anyone has a used 1275 they’d like to sell me, I’m up for it. Or even better, a complete driveline with a five-speed mated to the 1275.
Once again, I’ve committed the cardinal sin of buying a car I don’t know anything about without having a marque expert look at it. I thought that since Bugeyes are such simple cars, I couldn’t possibly go wrong.
Well, I could go wrong, and I did. Again.
I would appreciate any advice you have to share.