Want to make people smile? Just drive a Bugeye Sprite into any old-car gathering and its insouciant expression will have everyone grinning back. For eyes, it has headlamps that look as if they were pasted on as an afterthought, for a nose, a little round emblem, Ad to this the open-mouthed grin of the grilleand it becomes impossible to look at this car and keep a straight face. Take it out on a quiet, curving two-lane road and it will make you grin, too. With only 48 bhp from the 948cc engine, 0 to 60 takes 21 seconds and 70 mph is a real strain, but the little car's neutral balance rewards a nice line through the curves and the four-speed transmission is entertaining in between.
When Donald Healey developed the Sprite, he wanted it to be cheap to buy and own, small enough to keep "in a chap's bike shed," and above all, fun to drive. The Sprite is a marvel of cost-cutting simplicity and innovative technology. Most components came out of the Austin/Morris parts bin, but the monocoque chassis with its stub front frame and trailing rear suspension were inspired by the D-type Jaguar. To save weight and cost, the rear shroud and fenders were a single piece, without a trunk lid. Instead, luggage was stowed with the spare tire through an opening behind the two seats. Similarly, the entire front section ahead of the firewall, including the fenders, was a single piece, hinged at the back, that lifted up for excellent access to the engine and front suspension.
All of these attributes would change over time. Later versions, the Sprite Mk II, III and IVs, gained a trunk lid, a separate hood opening, more conventional rear suspension and more power. Sadly, the separate headlights that gave it the "bugeye" or "frogeye" nickname also were replaced by standard lights. A badge-engineered MG Midget sibling also appeared.
A Bugeye Sprite is very collectible today. Its charming good looks put it on nearly everyone's wish list, so it typically sells for much more than its three successors. Near-exact restorations have sold for up to $25,000. However, very few such cars exist, and for good reason. After you've smiled at it, and it's smiled back, there isn't much more you can do with a stock Bugeye. As a result, most Bugeyes have gotten 1098cc or 1275cc engines and front disc brakes from the later Sprite/Midget so they can at least go and stop with highway traffic. So, unless you're interested in concours or vintage racing, a modified Bugeye in top condition may be what you really want in terms of modern-day usability. In any of its various forms, however, the car will always be able to make the crowd happy, just by being there.

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