Barn Racer: 1959 Austin-Healey Sprite


Twenty-seven is an interesting number. Not as fascinating as some, perhaps, but it is both a perfect cube– rare enough– and a number raised to itself, which is even more unusual in the broad sweep of the integers. But for our purposes today, the strangest thing about twenty-seven may be its appearance in a barn in Wyocena, Wisconsin. Advertised here on Craigslist, this right-hand drive 1959 Austin-Healey Sprite might not be race-ready, but at $5,000, trailer included, it might go pretty fast. Many thanks to Gunter Kramer for the tip!

The first generation of the Austin-Healey Sprite was a bare-bones sports car. Not only did it forego exterior door handles, but it didn’t have interior door handles, either; the latch is operated by means of a cord inside the door itself. Other amenities that you will not find on a Sprite include a top and a boot– the tiny luggage area containing the spare tire and tool kit is accessed by folding the seats forward. This latter omission is less a matter of keeping costs in line than providing structural rigidity: the Mark I Sprite is more or less a unibody from the firewall back, and the engineers couldn’t cut a hole for a trunk lid without the body flexing.

Billed in its time as the “sassy little brother to the Austin-Healey 100-Six” and spartan by design, the Sprite is a natural choice for a race car, and it made appearances on behalf of both privateers and the factory team, winning its class at Sebring in 1959. The little 948 cc inline-four, when paired with twin SU carburetors, managed 43 bhp at 5,200 rpm and 52 lb.ft. of torque at 3,300 rpm, rocketing the car from zero to sixty in just over 20 seconds and providing a top speed in excess of 80 mph.

But the numbers alone don’t tell the story of the Sprite. It’s rare to hear a bad word about the car from anyone who’s ever driven one. There’s just something about them that puts a smile on people’s faces. There’s a lot missing with this particular example, including the title, but there is a lot of extra here, too. From the spare parts to the trailer to the modifications like the tilt-forward front end, this is a car with a story. How cool would it be to hear more of that story, and maybe write another chapter or two?

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Comments

  1. bobhess bobhess Member

    Bunch of SCCA racing history here. In the early ’60s, when these cars were first put on the race tracks, it was required to have a single roll bar hoop, tape the headlights, install a seat belt, and go. As things evolved, you could take the windshield off and put a smaller wind deflector in it’s place, had to put rear support tubes on the roll bar, and cover the headlights with aluminum covers. Shortly after, a “Petty” bar, named after Richard Petty’s design for his stock car and going from the middle of the rear hoop across and down to the front of the passenger compartment to keep the hoop from coming down on the driver was required. Around this period the fuel tank, hanging from the trunk floor in the rear, was to be substituted with a fuel cell as a rear end hit would result in fire. Along with that, fire extinguishers were required as well as fire proof driving suits. This car looks to have gone through that process of growth. Our first Bugeye race car, #49 bought in 1989, was built by Joe Huffaker Sr. in 1966 in San Francisco and shows the level of increased safety for the drivers with the front hoop added to the roll cage. Engine modifications in the ’80s upped the horsepower and reached the peak for the 948 in the ’90s by reaching the 100 hp mark. The cars are still being raced today all over the country as evidenced by us going to Sebring next weekend with our blue 13 car along with 4 others that we know of. Not the fastest race car on the planet but more fun to drive than most cars. Featured car here would be a great Vintage candidate.

    Like 10
  2. gbvette62

    That’s a really neat find. Brings back great memories of Randy Canfield decimating HP fields back in the 70’s & 80’s, in his dark blue number 41 Bug Eye. He was one of the best, if not the best, SCCA amateur racer ever.

    Like 5
  3. Wil

    It is a piece of racing equipment, with a trailer. The price is not justified as “firm”. The only claim that can be made is “ started before it was crashed.

    Like 1
  4. JOHN LYON Member

    traded my 57 bsa 650 on a 59 bug drove every day winter and summers found shopping malls not open at that time blue law and autocrosses to be loads of fun on sundays north of boston one of the best was salisbury beach removed windshield and bottom of seat in must of ben 7 or 10 locations (parking lots ) great memories jl

    Like 4
  5. Robert baime

    27 is the age several rock stars including Janice Joplin died.

  6. Kelly Breen

    I have heard it said that driving a mkI Sprite is the most fun you can have with your pants on.

    Like 2
  7. Terry

    Just imagine how much fun it would be with your pants off.

    Like 4
    • John

      Probably fun driving any car lol

      Like 1
  8. JagManBill

    As a vintage racer myself and having built several cars, this is a neat starting point. That said, it and (from the looks of it) the trailer look like they will both need restored before use. Me thinks $5k is a bit strong for the package.$3k might be a far better starting point unless the car has really good history.

    Like 3
  9. RogueG

    Yes these cars did come with a soft top, and a factory hard top as an option. The spare bonnet looks reasonable, and with a wink mirror installed, it can’t have been a huge time since it was last run. Storage has not been kind to it.

    Like 1

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