- 1958 Austin-Healey Sprite
- Frontline 1380cc fast road engine
- Lightweight Ashley bonnet
- Extensive upgrades and history file
Supplied with in-depth notes, history and specification details – all painstakingly hand-written by its owner – this Austin-Healey Sprite offers a unique and exhilarating take on the original car’s ‘back to basics’ sports car formula.
The logbook records the first owner of chassis number AN5-3479 as being Christopher Cheek of Richmond, Surrey, and it was registered 802 SMG on 8 October 1958 – the first year of Sprite production. At that point, the car was yellow and fitted with the standard 948cc A-series engine, and after Mr Cheek it passed to Mervyn Mitchell in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire.
By the 1980s, the Sprite had been fitted with the 1275cc engine and four-speed gearbox from an MG Metro, as well as front disc brakes to replace the original drums. It had also been repainted red.
The car was purchased by the current custodian in July 2015, and was immediately entrusted to MG performance specialist Frontline Developments. The first job was to fit an Ashley bonnet – a popular period modification that replaced the distinctive ‘Frogeye’ front end with a lighter and more streamlined panel by Ashley Laminates.
A Honeybourne Mouldings hard-top was fitted, Avo telescopic dampers and an anti-roll bar were installed at the front, and the inlet and exhaust manifolds were replaced. But that was just the beginning…
In 2016, a Revotec fan was fitted, a Quaife limited-slip diff was specified with a 3.9:1 final-drive ratio, and stronger halfshafts were installed.
The following year, the engine was upgraded to Frontline’s 1380cc fast-road specification. An alloy cylinder head from Moss was fitted, the crankshaft was balanced and the flywheel lightened. The dynamo was replaced with an Accuspark Dynamator alternator and an alloy radiator was installed. Minilite alloy wheels were fitted and the front brake discs were increased from 8in to 9in. At the rear, 8in discs replaced the drum set-up.
The power output from the modified engine is quoted as being 90bhp at 6000rpm, and it drives through a Frontline five-speed gearbox. The full specification is documented in the history file, and over the subsequent two years the owner covered another 5000 exhilarating miles in the car, which is now being offered for sale by the Classic Motor Hub.
The Austin-Healey Sprite was already a fun little sports car in factory specification, but the well-chosen and beautifully engineered modifications on this example have turned it into a genuine ‘pocket rocket’ boasting chassis upgrades that will enable its new owner to exploit every last bit of its extra horsepower.
Launched in Monaco shortly after the Principality’s 1958 Grand Prix, the Austin-Healey Sprite was intended as a small, cheap sports car that would fit into BMC’s range beneath the larger MGA. It started a dynasty that would provide countless enthusiasts with affordable, fun motoring – a brief that it still fulfils more than 60 years later.
Under the stewardship of Geoffrey Healey – son of Donald – the original Sprite featured bodywork that was designed by Gerry Coker, and its distinctive headlamps soon led to it being given the ‘Frogeye’ nickname. Barrie Bilbie’s chassis design made use of unitary construction, and the engine was a twin-carburettor version of the 948cc A-series unit that was also found in the Austin A35 and Morris 1000.
Rack-and-pinion steering was used, the suspension was by coil springs and wishbones, and the live rear axle featured quarter-elliptic springs and lever-arm dampers.
In 1962, a redesigned Sprite was introduced that did away with the ‘Frogeye’ styling, and an MG Midget-badged variant made its debut. As well as the facelift, the engine was enlarged to 1098cc during the Mk2’s production run and front disc brakes fitted. Over the years, the engine capacity was increased to 1275cc, but production of the Austin Sprite came to an end in 1971. Its MG Midget sibling lived on until 1980.
Its fine handling and an engine that was ripe for modification meant that Sprite made a good competition car. Perhaps its most famous successes came at Sebring in Florida, with a class one-two-three in the 1959 12 Hours, which was followed by a class win and second overall (with Stirling Moss at the wheel) in the 1960 4 Hours.