LIKE THE COTTINGLEY FAIRIES that resided in Holmes literary agent Arthur Conan Doyle’s garden, for awhile Sprites resided in our driveways and garages. In fact, I know of one that still does.
These thoughts came to me while perusing the July 1958 R&T, its cover showing Vanwall Formula 1 cars in the pits of Nürburgring. However, it was the inside front cover that caught my attention.
“This sassy little brother to the Austin Healey 100-Six sets a new high in 948 c.c. performance… a new low in cost! ($1,795. p.o.e. New York).”
This, of course, encouraged me to seek an R&T road test of what was to be known affectionately as the “Bugeye.” Satisfaction came early, only one month later in August 1958. Here in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow are tidbits gleaned from this article, together with my usual personal notes and Internet sleuthing.
Parallels. R&T observed, “The parallels between General Motors in this country and the British Motors Corporation in England are many. Both are the largest in their respective countries, both build close to half of all cars produced at home. Also, both produce sports cars.”
The magazine noted, “But whereas GM builds only the Corvette, the BMC combine has two, the MG and the Austin-Healey. Now we have a third car to add to the list, the long-awaited Morris Minor version, first predicted in R&T back in November, 1952.”
R&T continued, “Technically, the new low-priced sports car is to be known as the Austin-Healey Sprite. It is not quite clear why: The car wasn’t designed and will not be built by Donald Healey, and the only previous Sprite was a Riley model built before the war. Mechanically, the new Sprite is more Austin than anything else, with engine, gearbox, front suspension and rear axle all being developed from components originally found in the Austin A-30 (now the A-35).”
Frog-like Headlights: R&T conveyed, “Even the British press says very little about the looks of this new baby—one writer says the shape was developed in a wind tunnel, another opines that the appearance tends to grow on you. We would be inclined to discount both reports.”
“Incidentally,” R&T noted, “the reason for the frog-like headlights is rather simple: The original design called for concealed lights that popped up when required. Production costs were too high, and the net result has pretty well ruined what otherwise could have had a certain coltish appeal.”
The “Bugeye” endearment was to come later.
Mk I Pluses and Minuses. The road test lists “some very attractive features for the prospective purchaser, among them being 1) low price, 2) comfortable seating and driving position, 3) surprisingly good performance, and 4) really excellent handling qualities.”
Among the Sprite’s shortcomings was really rudimentary weather production, ironically a typical complaint despite Brit weather. The reports observed, “…the simple flap which snaps across the top of the windshield has never been noted for keeping rain out.”
A Cleveland Solution. During a pre-college job, I commuted east to west across Cleveland in my Ford Consul convertible where I often encountered a wave from a guy commuting west to east in his Bugeye. Invariably—and I mean Cleveland winter-long!—its top was omitted.
An R&T Summation. “We found the Austin-Healey Sprite a most significant and exciting new model. It fills the broad gap between the Berkeley and the MG-A with a genuine sports car…. It offers more fun per dollar than anything we have driven for a long time.”
Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll hear from a pal who bought a Mk I Sprite—indeed, twice—and it’s still his today. ds
I never did grow to like the bug eyed Sprites .
The MKII’s (?) with skirted rear wheels were the ones I liked the looks of best .
The BMC ‘A’ series engine was far more rev. happy than the stouter and larger ‘B’ series found in A50’s and millions of MG’s .
They certainly got their money’s worth out of the A30/A35 platform ! .
There’s a lot of A35 in my 1959 Metropolitan Nash FHC .
As a Journeyman Mechanic I find English designs (particularly BMC) to be good and well done considering their financial limitations ~ the let down was always in the near complete lack of quality control ~ once you’ve gone through the vehicle stem to stern they’re reliable and as always, fun to drive .
Economical too .