Cheap Project: 1959 Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite

This is one of those moments where I am glad that there are a lot of miles between me and the location of a classic car. If I lived closer to Saint Paul, Minnesota, I would find it extremely hard to justify not bidding on this 1959 Bugeye Sprite. It has been listed for sale here on eBay, and bidding has only reached $519 in a No Reserve auction. For anyone on the search for a classic British sports car, this has to be a tempting proposition.

Beneath that rather drab green paint, which looks like it was applied with a paint-brush, it appears that the Sprite started life finished in a shade called Primrose. Whoever was responsible for the color change has done the car absolutely no favors. Apart from the awful color, there is plenty of rust for us to see in the Sprite. The floors are history (the owner makes references to Fred Flintstone!), while the front clip looks to also be pretty bad. We don’t get much of a look at the back half of the car, but so far, it really doesn’t look that promising. However, the frame itself looks like it might be solid, and if it is, there might be some hope for this old girl yet.

If you were hoping to look inside the Bugeye and get a glimpse of an interior that was just in need of a bit of TLC, I’m sorry to disappoint you. What you see is what you get with the Sprite, and what you get isn’t a lot. I was initially full of optimism about the dash until I spotted the dirty great hole that has been cut into it on the passenger side. It looks like this might have been the home for an aftermarket stereo, and that’s a crying shame when you consider that the rest of the dash and gauges appear to be in good condition. However, all is not lost with the little Sprite. A quick search of the internet reveals that it is possible to find a good dash, minus gauges, for around $250. In addition, a complete interior trim set, including a nice new set of covers for the seats, can be had for under $900. This is one of those classics where an interior restoration can be performed for surprisingly little money.

Now that we’ve had our good news, it’s time to resume our regular service. The engine for the Sprite is currently sitting on a stand, and it is locked. The owner has placed some Mystery Oil into the cylinders, so hopefully, it will do the trick of getting that engine turning again. Included with the car is two complete transmissions, so that’s a bit of a bonus. The rest of the mechanical components appear to be present, and the owner says that the little Sprite does roll and steer. He also says that there are some additional parts included, but doesn’t elaborate on what these are. However, he does emphasize the fact that he would like someone to rescue the car.

It has been said that the Bugeye Sprite has a face that only a mother could love, but this isn’t necessarily the case. It is possible today to buy a really nice example for around $16,000, but a pristine car will achieve figures above $20,000. That suggests that these are loved by plenty of people. It is pretty easy to buy project cars in better condition than this one, but you won’t find ones that are potentially cheaper. If someone does eventually take on the restoration of this car, then they will need to be dedicated, because it looks like it is going to be a big job. Still, there are four people who have been willing to bid on the car, so maybe there’s some hope for it yet.


  1. bobhess bobhess Member

    Adam… That rust on the right front tells you that the frame, which consists of the inner and outer rocker panels and the triangular box in front of the passenger foot well, is gone. Probably the same on the left side. Parts are available to repair this but the amount of welding to do so will require a bunch of time and money.
    Also, that cut out on the dash is the factory designated location for a radio and is stamped so you can cut the tabs and easily remove it. Nothing impossible on this one as you can get an entire chassis for around $2,800 if you are really into saving this car. If the hood isn’t damaged it’s worth more than the car.

    Like 6
  2. Dan

    Considering this example’s sad state and my inability to take on a major project at present time, I’ll pass. But who said it has a face only a mother could love? I love it, and I’m biologically incapable of being a mother!

    Like 4
  3. Bultaco

    Pretty much every structural panel for a Bugeye is available new, and most of them are flat or box sections, so easy to patch or fabricate. The dash is also an easy fix; simply weld in a panel and grind the welds smooth. I think the dashes in these were either covered in vinyl or black wrinkle painted (someone know for sure?) so any repair would be easy to hide. Mechanicals are dead simple. This one is worth saving if the new owner can do the work at home.

    Like 3
  4. bobhess bobhess Member

    Bultaco… dash was covered in vinyl matching the interior color in most cases. Don’t remember seeing any crinkle finish on them but I have used that on a couple other rebuilds. The vinyl covered the metal dashboard including the radio cutout. Hard to tell in the picture but it looks like you can see the cut black vinyl around the radio hole. And, I’ll repeat myself, with the amount of rust shown in the pictures on e-bay, you haven’t seen anything yet.

    Like 3
  5. BobinBexley Bob in Bexley Member

    Rule of thumb…if it runs you drive it until you don’t want to put anymore money into it. If it doesn’t run you put money into it until you grow tired of wanting to drive it.

    Like 1
    • Tom

      That is good!!!!
      Copied, pasted, hanging on the wall!
      Thank you!

      Like 2
  6. ccrvtt

    Several really nice examples on ebay for anywhere from $9,500 to $12,900. Seems like that’s just about what it would take to cut the rust and weld in new panels. Then you have the paint, the interior, the stuck engine, the brakes, wheels, tires, and say a half a year of labor. I love these LBCs but there’s a limit and this one’s well past mine.

    Like 2
  7. Del

    Another non running rusty Bug Eye and I
    unfortunately I am fresh out of dymamite

    Like 3
  8. Little_Cars Little_Cars Member

    As my handle suggests, I am predisposed to love this car and also to buy it. But it is no longer in the $500 range which is preposterous! Looking at the “floors” tells me the fore-aft reinforcements for the quarter elliptic springs are LONG GONE. No shots of the back of the car which is one big piece of body work without a trunk lid to break it up. Even the bonnet will need a lot of metal work. If this remains in the hundreds of dollars, perhaps the bonnet could be made right and donated to a later Spridget to create a Bug Eye clone. Bolt on, with a little fabrication, for any Sprite or Midget right up to 1979 model year.

    Like 1

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