It Came From Lake Toxaway: 1960 Austin Healey Sprite

By Jeff Bennett

Since it is the month that ends with All Hallow’s Eve, I wanted to give you a glimpse of a story so horrible that you will wonder how God could be so cruel.  Our story begins with a little sports car from England, who, because of his prominent peepers, all the other sports cars called him “Bugeye.”  Bugeye’s days were filled with playful jaunts all along the hills and hollows of beautiful North Carolina.  Then, on a dark and stormy night, Bugeye got parked in the deep, dark, humid woods behind evil Lake Toxaway.  There, a reddish brown substance started eating Bugeye alive, not even having the decency to stop at his structural parts.  There, Bugeye sat all sad and alone, slowly being torn apart by the evil substance that he later learned was called rust.  It was only when his owner figured out that little sports cars like him bring big money that Bugeye was unceremoniously pulled from the mire, hosed off, and prepared for sale.  Thus, in creepy Lake Toxaway, North Carolina, sits a 1960 Austin Healey “Bugeye” Sprite.  It is now for sale on Craigslist, with the condition as the trick, and the $2900 price as the treat.

When you look at this one, you wonder how a car could end up being so neglected and abused.  Bugeye Sprites have been valuable for a number of years, and it is not like they are indistinguishable from other cars.  It must have taken years for the rust to eat so much of this car, but nobody seems to have lifted a finger to slow its progress.  Tragic as tragic gets, for these are really great sports cars.  The biggest problem is that they are pretty much a unibody car, and the strength of the whole car relies on the rigidity of the body structure.  If you took this one apart, my guess is that a lot of that rigidity would disappear down the vacuum cleaner hose when you cleaned it out.

As you can see in this picture of the rocker panel just behind the driver’s side front tire, there is not a lot left to work with.  Victoria British carries rocker panels and floor pans for these, and they are not that expensive.  However, the rust seems to be in every panel to one extent or another.  The real scary part is what does it look like behind the section you cut out?  So, do you replace nearly all of the sheet metal on this one to “save” it?  What would be left of the original car when you were done?

Inside, we see that the door frames are not that bad, and the transmission tunnel looks to be salvageable.  The driver’s side floor pan is likely thin, but I cannot see any rust through here.  The steering wheel looks to be in restorable shape, and the instruments are still there.

The passenger side floor pans are another spooky story.  If you look closely, that diamond plate pattern you see is not a cobbled together patch panel.  That is the deck of the car trailer that the Bugeye is beached upon.  The vertical portion looks to be a piece of scrap steel or even tin welded in as a “I just need something to get me by” repair.

Under the hood is a train wreck as well.  The engine does not turn over, and the seller states that he has poured a concoction of Marvel Mystery Oil and transmission fluid into the cylinders in an attempt to get the pistons unstuck.  The engine also lacks a distributor.  I would be curious to see what the cowl and engine mount areas look like when the engine is pulled.

The seller further states that the bonnet, or hood if you speak American, is not original.  It is a fiberglass aftermarket unit that, if the pictures above are any clue, needs a little work to provide a smooth surface.  Furthermore, the seller goes on to state that the doors, rear tub, inner and outer valances, and the trunk area are all useable.  The car does seem to be missing the lower part of the driver’s seat as well, but the side curtains and top bows are present.

So, what should be done with “Bugeye?”  At a $2900 asking price, the sensible answer would be to negotiate this one down to as low a price as possible, then butcher it up for parts.  Or, if you wanted the story to end well, then start with the same negotiating and order up a plasma cutter and a MIG welder from Eastwood.  Once stripped down to the bare shell and blasted with your media blasting technique of choice, you could begin ruthlessly cutting out all the rust you could find.  Then, the endless job of welding could begin.  Whatever you couldn’t find in the aftermarket for patch panels you could likely fabricate with little trouble.  While you are doing that, prepare to shell out some cash for an engine and transmission rebuild, and begin a search for a proper used bonnet.  In the end, you could have probably purchased a Bugeye in good condition.  At least you will have gained some skills along the way.

So, the end of the story is yet to be written.  Will Bugeye die a horrid death at the hands of the evil rust monster in terrifying Lake Toxaway, or will one of our Barn Finds readers rescue him from the beyond?  Tune in next year at this time for the thrilling conclusion to this terrifying tale…

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Comments

  1. John Norris

    Perfect race car! Rust it’s the good Lord’s acid dipping!!

    2+

  2. Dolphin Dolphin Staff

    These are still so cheap that it doesn’t make sense to try to keep this ‘numbers matching’ body to try to fix it. You would be patching or replacing just about every panel on it, other than the non-numbers matching fiberglas bonnet.

    And better ignore the seller’s advice that “It is a good one to restore or clear coat it do the mechanics interior and drive as a survivor.” There’s holes in the floor and probably most body panels.

    1+

  3. Bob

    I had one in the early 60s, and after I added some horsepower, it was a true fun machine. Parts at the time were dirt cheap, and they needed to be because a lot of things broke. When I was playing with this car, a replacement crankshaft only cost $18.00. How do I know? I cracked one. My buddy and I both owned Sprites, and we could pull the engine with a 2×4, a rope, and a few hand tools, all in less than 45 minutes. The present day driver isn’t likely to put the amount of miles on the car that we did, but there was no throwout bearing, it was a carbon bushing that requires pulling the engine when it needs to be replaced.
    I know the engine was borrowed from the Austin A40, so there should be lots of parts available in the UK.
    I don’t think it is worth the asking price, and with the rust that is visible, the person buying the car better be skilled as welder, because there is a lot of work waiting for whoever buys the car.
    I am sending the picture to show the poor fitment of the doors and the hood.

    Bob

    7+

    • Dolphin Dolphin Staff

      My father and I did the same thing to my Sprite—wrap a few turns of rope under/over the engine, slip a 2X4 through the top loops and over each shoulder, then stand up.

      Presto—engine + transmission out. Needed to replace the layshaft after some genius at the wreckers yard fried the non-synchro first/reverse gears.

      Cost me $550, which was a lot of $ back then for a teenager. Sold it, then went to an MGA then the Sprite’s BIG brother, a Healey 3000, which was about as impressive a road machine as the Sprite was a modest one.

      Of all the cars I had back then the 3000 would be the one I would want. But its little brother was still a lot of fun. Just get one without the rust and headaches this one has.

      2+

  4. Evan

    There’s a typo in the headline. It should read:

    “It came from Lake Toxic Waste”

    3+

  5. Mark Looman

    Love the Bugeye. Still don’t understand why you couldn’t just put a trunk lid on it. Then there is the reverse lifting hood. Didn’t they look at an E type?

    1+

    • Bob

      My buddy and I both altered the nose by removing the bug eyes and putting the lights in the fenders. He did his first, and when I saw how it looked, I just had to have it.
      I imagine that the lack of a trunk lid was structural and to save weight. It was definitely a PITA to place and remove luggage, particularly on a rainy or snowy day.

      0

    • Dolphin Dolphin Staff

      No trunk lid, because these were incredibly cheap cars, and no trunk lid (or carpets or leather upholstery or other things) meant they could be affordable.

      How cheap? When I was at the NY auto show when the Sprite was introduced there were a couple of college girls talking to the official on the stand. They asked him How much?…with a bit of tension creeping into their faces.

      He said $1,895. The relaxation in the girls’ body language was obvious. I don’t know whether one of them bought the car, but lots of other people did.

      0

  6. Howard A Member

    Yeah, this one’s kind of a noodle scratcher. It’s right on the line of going either way. Obviously, there’s plenty of decent Bugeyes, rather than stick a ton into this one, but, it is kind of presentable, and for a budget Sprite, it could be done. Clean Bugeye’s go for mid-$20g’s all day long, so for a couple grand, ( and the farmer’s welder) you could have a cheap Bugeye. However,,,since people today, it seems, have a better access to a pile of cash, rather than the farmers welder, this will no doubt become a parts car.

    0

  7. Dave at OldSchool Restorations Dave at OldSchool Restorations Member

    ” See where they ( all) rust “…. inside the structural sheet metal unibody , from the bottom up. Sure, the panels are available, but there will be no place to weld them to.

    Bought my first one new in 1959, have had several, including the race car being restored now. When the cowl/sill joint is this bad, the cross members , forward floors and inner sills are pretty bad……….. I would pass on this one ( probably came from up North ) and watch for a 5k Southern or West Coast car, before I would put 3k into a rust bucket with a stuck motor

    5+

  8. Jimmy

    There once an early Willy’s Jeep sitting in a shed along the road to go to Lake Toxaway.

    1+

  9. Howard A Member

    Stay clear of this one folks, Lake Toxaway is in,,,shudder,,,TRANSYLVANIA County!!!! Awful risky this time of year.

    0

  10. David Miraglia

    too much rust, good as a parts car

    0

  11. Alan

    I don’t even think it’s a parts car. What parts, a steering wheel and questionable gauges?

    0

    • philthyphil

      good looking bonnet

      0

  12. david

    I bought mine in boxes. Only some surface rust as had been stored inside a heated building. Would not consider this one. As stated above, no place to weld to, and nearly no parts to sell that need complete rebuild. 948 engines and smooth case gear boxes readily available and thus worthless as most of us prefer the 1275/rib case

    0

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