Mike Bouckaert ©2018, courtesy of RM Sotheby’s
First registered in November 1958, chassis no. AN57565 was prepared by Donald Healey and his team for the 1959 Monte Carlo, Sestriere and Alpine rallies. It would go on to be the only Works Rally Austin Healey Frogeye Sprite produced. Its early history was detailed in John Sprinzel and Tom Coulthard’s book Spritely Years. The authors summarized this Sprite’s history: “Cherry red from the production line and painted Colorado Red before the car got to the Works department. Car prepared by the Donald Healey Motor Company at the Cape Works, Warwick, and the BMC competition department by Marcus Chambers (BMC’s team manager) for the 1959 Monte Carlo and Sestriere Rallies (with number plates XOH 277) and Alpine rally, with its original registration XOH 276. “Equipped with wire wheels for the 1959 Alpine Rally and Girling disc brakes. Later sold to Cecil Winby of BRICO, the British Piston Ring Company, who co-drove a works Healey with Tommy Wisdom in the last ‘true’ Mille Miglia in 1957.” What this description does not include is the little Sprite’s strong finishing record during these early rallies. In the 1959 Monte Carlo Rally it finished a very respectable 5th in class, driven by Tommy Wisdom and navigated by Douglas Johns. In the Sestriere and Alpine rallies of the same year, AN57565 finished 1st and 2nd in class, respectively, again driven by Tommy Wisdom, with Tony Lucas and Jack Hay as navigators at each event. Offered now following a thorough restoration, this was completed in January 2018 — almost 59 years to the date of its preparation for the 1959 Monte Carlo Rally.  

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1958 Austin-Healey Sprite Mk 1 Works Rally
Years Produced:1958–61
Number Produced:49,616
Original List Price:£669 ($1,867)
SCM Valuation:$140,082 (this car)
Tune Up Cost:$100
Chassis Number Location:Plate on scuttle
Engine Number Location:On step near front on right side of block
Club Info:Austin-Healey Club
Alternatives:1951–61 Turner Sports, 1957–62 Lancia Appia convertible, any Fiat 1100 variant
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 155, sold for $140,082, including buyer’s premium, at RM Sotheby’s London, U.K., auction on September 5, 2018.

This Frogeye, as we call them in English, looked absolutely correct — as well as like new — with every period detail down to the original mesh air filters and “do not drain” Castrol antifreeze tag wired to the radiator neck. It was festooned with period rally kit, as it had been restored back to the form in which it started the 1959 Coupe des Alpes (won by a Renault Dauphine, trivia fans).

The only glaring standout was the tires: It looked a little like a spider in wellies, as the new Dunlop SP Sport knobblies it wore were rather larger than the period fit at 185/70R13. Of course, that’s down to available rubber, as the choice in smaller diameters is rather limited now.

Rally-spec Healey

Although most BMC rally cars were prepared at the legendary Comps Department at Abingdon, the Healeys, father and son, knew a thing or two about rallying, too. They designed and constructed the cars they competed in on Alpine rallies and the Mille Miglia in the ’50s.

Before that, Donald (always “DMH” in the Cape Works) won the 1931 Monte Carlo Rally in an Invicta, and later designed the straight-8 Triumph Dolomite. These were proper engineers who could drive. But for the tiny Healey Motor Company, the help of the legendary and well-drilled Comps Department for event support would have been most welcome.

Tommy Wisdom was motoring correspondent for the Daily Herald. Although officially a privateer, he was almost on a standing with Works drivers, being well connected, and crucially for those times, “the right sort of chap.” He did the “Monte” 23 times, and his daughter Ann navigated Pat Moss to their greatest victory — an outright win on the 1960 Liège-Rome-Liège. In this period he co-authored The Austin-Healey with DMH, so it’s no surprise he found his way into the seat of this baby Healey.

The Sprite’s first major success came when John Sprinzel and Willy Cave won their class on the 1958 Alpine Rally in the first “PMO 200.” (That number went on all Sprinzel’s Sprites, and Willy’s still navigating in historic rallies in his late 90s.)

In 1959, when this Works car was campaigned in European rallies, the Sprite was introduced to the U.S. market by winning its class in the 12-hour race at Sebring.

After that, BMC concentrated on the Big Healey for rallying, although it continued to run streamlined Sprites in long-distance race events such as the Targa Florio and Le Mans.

Longtime racer

After its short rallying career, this car was used by Derek Winsby of BRICO, then painted metallic blue. By 1979 it was in Modsports trim owned by Bob Slessor, still blue but with flared arches and split Webers. It was briefly owned by Bob Patterson, then it passed back to Bob Slessor, who continued to run it in AMOC series. After that it was owned by Steve Cook, then sold to Hubertus Hüppauf, who raced it at Spa. In 1990, Hüppauf’s friend Gerhard Hutzler bought it and presumably continued to race it.

It was found in Germany 10 years ago, rather derelict. After a long and obviously meticulous restoration, it appeared in its present form — and in 1959 Coupe des Alpes livery — at InterClassics Maastricht, on the Austin-Healey Club Nederland stand.

Good bits, good value

As an original — okay, original-spec — rally car, it’s worth more than as a tired, modified Modsports car. As it had been a racer rather than a rally car for much of its life, it’s unlikely it had the chance to go rusty, so the restoration would have been fairly straightforward. The hardest part was likely finding all the rare rally bits, unless by chance they had stayed with the car.

The rally kit included Halda Tripmaster and Speedpilot, twin clocks plus back-up, two map lights and windscreen heaters/deflectors. The regular rev counter had been replaced by a Smiths Chronometric item, reading to 8,000 and therefore probably robbed from a motorcycle. What looks like a period extinguisher on the transmission tunnel is a tire inflator.

Why there was a Bush radio in the left footwell is a mystery, but there’s also a loudspeaker in the roof, so the two may once have been connected. The fiberglass hard top still displayed a faded original 1959 Rallye Monte-Carlo sticker in the rear window.

If the stars all aligned for him, it’s quite possible the restorer didn’t lose money, and may have even come out slightly on top. Over £100k Sterling ($130k) is good going for any ex-Works rally car, especially a model that wasn’t used for long, and one with relatively minor Works history at that.

A Big Healey with the same sort of Works-connected provenance would command probably twice this, and Escorts and Minis about the same or a little less. I’d say this tiddler is more than holding its own in the market. Wouldn’t it be great to see it out on the Monte again? ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.)

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