Bugeye Beauty: 1960 Austin-Healey Sprite

“So you see, that was where the trouble began. That smile. That damned smile.” This 1960 Austin-Healey Sprite is located in Sequim, Washington, and listed here on Facebook Marketplace for $7,500.

BMC originally intended the Mark I Sprite to fill the niche left vacant at the lower end of the sports car market as the MG TF ended production and its successor, the MGA, was firmly ensconced at well over L800. In order to keep costs down, the Donald Healey Motor Company produced a design that had far fewer curves than the MGA and used as many off-the-shelf parts as possible. That they succeeding in creating such an instantly recognizable and remarkably capable sports car is a testament to both skill and luck. For example, the headlights were originally intended to swivel down, lying flat with the glass up when not in use. If this had been implemented, the car might have been the first sports car to feature pop-up headlights since the PUIs. But the bean counters at BMC nixed the idea, leaving the lights permanently in the up position and giving the Sprite its perpetually surprised-and-happy look. This unique headlight arrangement also gave the Mark I its nicknames: “frogeye” in the UK and “bugeye” here in the US.

That same eye towards economy both drove innovation and placed profound limitations on the car. Although the Sprite didn’t have a chassis, per se, it also wasn’t completely monocoque construction. Rather the chassis kind of ended halfway through the car, leaving the rear of the convertible in need of rigidity. Designers solved this problem by eliminating the boot lid; storage, including the location of the spare tire, can only be accessed by folding down the seats. Designers cleverly eliminated the need for locks by having neither windows nor exterior door handles. The engine was a tiny 948cc inline-four that also powered the Austin A35 and the Morris Minor. Yet in this application it was fitted with twin SU carburetors, pushing its output to a staggering 43 bhp and 52 lb.ft. of torque. Though this might not seem like much in light of modern standards, this car is tiny, weighing in at a little over 1,500 lbs. As a result, the Sprite was capable of speeds in excess of 80 mph and could accelerate from zero to sixty in about 20 seconds.

Not bad for a car with an MSRP of $1,795. Now, taking into inflation into account, that would be around $16,000 in 2021 dollars, putting this example’s $7,500 price tag into perspective. Sure, it’s not right off the showroom floor; it seems to be missing its front bumper, and it hasn’t run in thirty years. But who can resist that grin?

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Comments

  1. bobhess bobhess Member

    7,500 might seem a bit high but if the underside is rust free then there isn’t a lot of heavy lifting to get this car on the road. Underside shots would help in deciding if this car was worth it or not. Looks pretty good on the surface. Now back to scraping off the old paint and undercoating on our ’60 Vintage race car build.

    Like 5
  2. AutoArcheologist AutoArcheologist Member

    Oh boy.. I have one in pieces that is in VERY sorry shape… My wife just saw this and had me make an offer… I’ve got a bunch of parts.. so.. fingers crossed.

    Like 22
  3. DelBoy

    Stunning wife there AutoArcheologist? Has she got an unmarried sister? Asking for a friend! Wanted one of these back in the 70s. They were priced at around £300 for a runner. Saved £20 a month but their prices kept rising heading into the summer months by £40 a month. Never did achieve that dream.

    Like 5
    • AutoArcheologist AutoArcheologist Member

      All her sisters are married..LOL
      Yes, I do have a great wife.. she also encouraged me to get the 280 SL, Brigitta, several years ago. The MB is, and this car will be, in my wife’s name… we bought the little Bugeye today.
      The car is a 2 owner car, originally from Wisconsin migrated out to Washington state. The second owner has known the original owner for about 30 years, always been stored in a heated garage, no rust, hasn’t run in 20 years, but after some Marvel Mystery was set in the cylinders, she turned over with ease. Was repainted about 30 years ago, just before it was parked, it had a new stainless exhaust installed and a bunch of new parts purchased.
      I think we got a good buy on her as I’ll have her running not too long after she arrives here in CT.

      Like 6
  4. BimmerDude Member

    I had one of these in the 70’s…briefly. We had arrived in California from the East Coast and my then-wife’s friend had the same blue as a basket, or cardboard boxes case kind-of car. I bought it for about $50 and transported it to the street in front of the house we were rent-sharing. I got the engine running but did not have the time to continue and a guy from San Jose responded to my ad. He showed up with a trailer that was designed for the wheel track, told me this was his third Sprite and he would either set it up for his SCCA hobby or part it if it was not solid.

    I like to think that it had a happy life autocrossing, or perhaps enjoying Laguna Seca or Sears Point track, both close-by.

    Like 1
  5. angliagt angliagt Member

    I remember looking at one like this for (IIRC) $400.
    I passed on it.
    Who knew?

  6. angliagt angliagt Member

    I remember looking at one like this for (IIRC) $400.
    I passed on it.

  7. bobhess bobhess Member

    Congratulations AutoArcheologist! Give some pictures when you get it on the road. I too have a great wife. Courted her in a ’55 Austin Healey 100 and we hit over 70 cars bought when we bought our Chrysler Pacifica in February. It’s role is to pull the autocross car to events and get us out of town during hurricane threats. Note early picture of previous tow vehicle. Enjoy your new toy!

    Like 2

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