Austin Healey “Bug Eye” Sprite

One of the more distinctive sports cars is the Austin Healey Sprite that was manufactured from 1958 to 1961.  As the car was updated in future years, this first edition Austin Healey was retroactively designated as the Mark 1 or Mk. 1.

Obviously the most distinctive part of this car was the style of the front headlights.  When the car was first designed the headlights were going to be retractable.  However as the design progressed and as a very important design consideration was the overall cost of the car, it was subsequently decided to make the headlights fixed in their original position.

Austin Healey Sprite 1960 (2)

Austin Healey Sprite MK. 1

The Austin Healey Sprite was to be the baby brother of the Austin Healey 100-Six.  The concept was to bring to market a compact 2-seat sports car with character, acceptable performance, excellent road holding, economical operation, and most importantly, a low price tag.

In order to keep the costs down, the Sprite used many parts from the Austin A35 sedan.

Austin Healey Sprite 1960 (8)

The Front Of The Sprite Seems To Have Smiling Face

The engine and transmission for the Austin Healey Sprite was the 948cc engine and four-speed transmission from the Austin A35.  The engine was upgraded with special valve springs, improved exhaust valves, modified crankshaft bearings and twin 1-1/8″ SU carburetors.  The result was a very modest 42 horsepower engine.

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The Austin Healey Hood Opens For Great Engine Access

If you look carefully you will notice that there is no trunk lid in the Austin Healey Sprite Mk. 1.  Access to the trunk area was through a direct opening behind the seats.

These were not very big cars.  I remember on my last day of high school during which three of us made a run to the beer store in an Austin Healey Sprite Mk. 1.  Three people plus a case of beer sure filled the car up. But it was great fun!  The thing that impressed me the most about this car was the turning radius.  You could drive that car out of any place.  Very maneuverable!

Austin Healey Sprite 1960 (4)

The Austin Healey Sprite Had No Trunk Lid

While the engine had only 42 horsepower, the car was very light having a shipping weight of just over 1,300 pounds.  Still the Austin Healey Sprite was not a fast car.  The top speed was 80 miles per hour.  The Sprite took between 20 ands 21 seconds to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour.  The quarter-mile took about 22 seconds.  The time to more than 70 miles per hour was measured by the calendar.

Austin Healey Sprite 1960 (7)

From This View The Sprite Is A Very Simple Design

The Austin Healy Sprite advertisement below touts the low base price of the Sprite.  Some of the available options were a heater at $55.75, a tachometer at $13.75, a windshield washer for $6.25, and a tonneau cover for $19.95.

Austin Healey Sprite Advertisement

The Austin Healey Sprite Advertisement Emphasizes The Low Price

In order to keep the costs down, the interior of the Austin Healey Sprite was quite plain.  The car shown below has the optional tachometer.

Austin Healey Sprite 1960 (3)

The Sprite’s Basic Interior – Even the Tachometer Was An Option

Note in the image below, that the owner has placed a toy frog on the transmission tunnel.  No doubt that this is reference to the nicknames given to the Austin Healey Sprite Mk. 1 due to the position of the headlights.  In the USA, the car is frequently referred to as the “Bug Eye” Sprite, while in England, the car is often referred to as the “Frog Eye” Sprite.

I cannot determine what the significance of the violin is.

Austin Healey Sprite 1960 (5)

The Sprite Was Often Called The “Bug Eye” or “Frog Eye” Sprite

The Austin Healey Sprite had a good rally history and were frequent class winners.  For example, in the 1958 Alpine Rally 56 cars started the 2,360-mile rally and only 25 completed the rally.  Of those 25 finishers three were Sprites who took the first three places in their class.  It has been speculated that as the Sprite came along at a time when the “big” Healey was dominating international rallying, that the Sprite never got the factory attention that the “big” Healey got, so the rally performance could have been even better.

The image below shows Tommy Wisdom and Douglas Johns at the 1959 Monte Carlo Rally.  They finished 5th in class and 63rd Overall.  Their team mates, John Sprinzel and Willy Cave in another Sprite finished 3rd in class and 14th Overall.  Two other Austin Healey Sprites retired during the rally.  As an aside, I noticed that Willy Cave competed in this year’s Historique Monte Carlo Rally, 54 years after his 1959 finish in a Austin Healey Sprite!

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Tommy Wisdom/Douglas Johns Line Up For A Test In The 1959 Monte Carlo Rally

Other versions of the Austin Healey Sprite were rallied, but these versions were based on race modified configurations such as cars prepared for the Sebring race.  The original version of the Austin Healey Sprite can still be seen rallying in England and Europe.

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A Rally Prepared Austin Healy Sprite Mk. 1 In the Tulip Rally A Few Years Ago

The original style Austin Healey Sprite Mk. 1 has been raced constantly since it first appeared.  Race tuners are able to extract far more than 42 horsepower from these engines.

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A Race Prepared Austin Healey Sprite

This car was quite successful.  BMC sold almost 49,000 Austin Healey Sprite Mk. 1 cars.  This car launched a series of Sprites that would last into the 1970s when BMC finally fell apart.  Through their unique styling, these cars have become one of the most recognizable sports cars in the world.

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One Response to Austin Healey “Bug Eye” Sprite

  1. Marco Isles says:

    It’s not a violin. It’s a ukulele.

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