In careful hands a Sprite could return 40 mpg-but not many did. Healthy survivors are scarce
The meticulous restoration of the 1958 "Bugeye" Sprite offered here has been the subject of newspaper and magazine articles in the U.S. and the U.K.
"Here's a new twist to a timeless tale. A group of high school students pool their money to buy a car, it needs some work.but hey, how hard can it be to make an old car run? Sounds like something from the era of ducktails and drive-ins? But here's the twist: those students are young women, and the 1958 Austin-Healey "Bugeye" Sprite was just a tub and twenty-odd boxes full of rock-hard rubber, rats nests of frayed wire, and hundreds of unlabeled bits!"
DECIDED TO DO IT RIGHT
The first step in the 18-month saga of "Team Sprite" began with the discovery of a three-inch patch of beautiful Cherry Red original paint while stripping away a 25-year-old BRG repaint. At that point, the girls voted to restore the car as closely as possible to the way it rolled off the assembly line, in late October 1958.
The ensuing bumper-to-bumper, show-quality restoration proceeded with Team Sprite trading their just-finished 1,098-cc mill for a 1958, 948-cc engine professionally rebuilt with NOS parts. Using parts with correct date codes as far as possible, the team returned the car to original factory specifications. A new convertible top, restored sliding side windows, and the rare dealer option luggage rack make AN5L6206 a highly correct Sprite. A file of documentation for purchased and donated parts accompanies the car in the sale.
The proceeds of the sale will go to the five original investors; three girls just started their first year of college, the fourth plans to travel, and their teacher and mentor plans to look for another project, maybe a small vintage racer of some sort.
With its 0-60 in a neck-snapping 22 seconds, and a heating system once described as "a hamster puffing warm air across your knees," the perpetually grinning Bugeye Sprite is unquestionably the most affordable of classic sports cars, and guarantees more smiles per gallon than cars costing ten times as much.
|Original List Price:||$1,795|
|Chassis Number Location:||Embossed plate screwed to chassis rail under air cleaners|
|Engine Number Location:||Embossed plate screwed to step on right side of engine|
|Club Info:||Austin-Healey Club USA (www.healey.org) Austin-Healey Club of America (www.healeyclub.org)|
This 1958 Austin-Healey “Bugeye” Sprite was sold at RM’s Phoenix, Arizona auction on January 19, 2007 for $23,100
The 1958 Austin-Healey “Bugeye” Sprite brought sports car motoring to the youngest and most impecunious drivers, mostly through the use of off-the-shelf parts. Donald Healey partnered with BMC to borrow suspension from the rotund Austin A-35 commuter, while “Aunty” Morris Minor provided the engine.
Twin SU carburetors boosted horsepower from 37 to 43, which meant that any performance would depend on light weight. The Bugeye (Frogeye in England) was basic. The headlights were originally intended to be concealed, but cost fixed them on top of the hood. There were no outside door handles and the side windows were flimsy Perspex sliders.
The top lifted off and more or less fell apart, and there was no outside access to the trunk space, which made it impossible to repair if the car had been rear ended. The front clip lifted up for engine access, but not far enough to avoid banging your head.
But the Sprite had rack-and-pinion steering and the drum brakes were adequate for its 80 mph top speed. In careful hands it could return 40 mpg, but not many did. Rust was a perpetual concern with the leaky superstructure and total lack of undercoating, and the extra six horsepower from the twin carburetors proved six too many for the crash first gear, inevitably howling by now.
Every auction offers opportunities to buy interesting cars in excellent condition at reasonable prices, and occasionally the chance to buy a great story as well. This eye-catching Bugeye Sprite, with its distinctive BMC cherry red finish and period-correct whitewalls, was restored to its original specifications.
The work was done by eight young women and their advisor at a small private school in the Sierra foothills near Nevada City, California. Supported by local gearheads and Austin-Healey aficionados worldwide, they undertook a complete, concours-level restoration of a basket-case Bugeye. They attracted the attention of sponsors and supporters and put in hundreds of hours of their own time.
GREAT STORY FOR A NEW OWNER
That’s a great story for the new owner to narrate as he or she shows off this highly accurate restoration at the next British car or Austin-Healey club meet.
Few cars that cross the auction block have an entire web site devoted to the restoration, as is the case for this pretty little car (www.teamsprite.com). On the web site, it’s possible to see the Sprite at various stages of its restoration and also to get brief profiles of each of the team members involved. In addition, lists are provided of all the corporate sponsors, such as Moss Motors,which donated parts and services, and the private supporters who helped out with hard-to-find original parts and other contributions.
USED THE RIGHT MOTOR
The project advisor encouraged the team to do everything to top standards of originality and quality. For example, according to the documentation, the pile of parts that accompanied the stripped Bugeye shell included a larger 1960 A-Series engine, which simply wouldn’t have been right for the first year of Sprite production, so it was swapped for the proper 948 cc, 1958 engine.
Even the battery, which sits front-and-center in the engine compartment, is a correct reproduction of the original Lucas tar-top battery, and from the pictures, all the other details (except perhaps the contemporary gold Lucas Sport Coil) look equally correct for the car and its period.
It’s no surprise that the 1958 Austin-Healey “Bugeye” Sprite was readily accepted at the internationally prestigious RM Biltmore auction in Phoenix, Arizona. When this “high school shop” project, carried out in a rural high school garage, crossed the block at RM, it stood its ground among the classic restorations on offer.
The restoration team can take great pride in its achievement, and clearly learned much more than the mechanical skills they were seeking almost two years ago. The lucky buyer takes away much more than just an excellent Bugeye restoration-a unique and detailed provenance. Even at the price, this car was well-bought.