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Fascinating History: 1959 Austin-Healey “Bugeye” Sprite

Older British sports cars offer potential buyers an engaging ownership experience. Not only are they typically fun to drive, but the simple engineering principles mean they are ideal for an enthusiast wishing to be hands-on when the subject turns to maintenance and restoration. This 1959 Austin-Healey Sprite is a perfect example of the breed. It is an original and solid survivor with a known ownership history. It has no significant panel issues, allowing the buyer to choose between restoration or preservation. The Sprite is listed here on eBay in Auburn, California. Bidding sits below the reserve at $4,450, but there is time for the situation to change.

Austin-Healey released the Sprite in 1958. The Mark I, which remained in production until 1961, earned the nickname “Bugeye” for its distinctive headlight arrangement. This was a compromise setup because the original design featured headlights that pivoted flat into the hood, as eventually seen on the Porsche 928. However, BMC deemed the feature too expensive, leaving the Sprite with a face that was distinctive and endearing. The history of this Sprite is fascinating, with it finding its way to the first owner in California via Paris, France. They retained the car for forty-two years, eventually parking it for what appears to be decades in a dry barn. The second owner revived the Sprite in 2001, returning it to active service before placing it in hibernation The seller purchased it, planning a restoration. However, various circumstances saw the process stall before it started, and they have decided it needs a buyer who is willing and able to do it justice. The Sprite is in “as-found” condition and hasn’t been polished or detailed since emerging from hiding. Its original Iris Blue paint has accumulated chips and marks, but it may present acceptably following a dose of TLC. Rust is limited to a few minor external spots, with the underside structurally sound. The second owner refreshed some parts, with the wheels powdercoated and some exterior trim pieces replaced. The top is in good order, as are the windshield and side windows.

The second owner didn’t limit their attention to the Sprite’s exterior, with the interior retrimmed to present well. They replaced the original wheel with a leather Momo, but it is otherwise as it left the factory. There are a couple of potential shortcomings, but the first task would be to treat everything to a deep clean. That will reveal whether the carpet is dirty or faded and whether replacement is justified. There is slight wear on the outer edge of the driver’s seat, but a pair of slipcovers would prevent further deterioration without costing a fortune. The dash is excellent, and the gauges have crystal-clear lenses.

The Bugeye followed the typical trend set by other British sports cars from the period. Its creators dipped into the parts bin for drivetrain components, leaving their new models with engines of humble origins. The 948cc A-Series four used for the Sprite also saw service in the Morris Minor 1000 and the Austin A35. The company added twin SU carburetors, unleashing 48hp and 52 ft/lbs of torque. This was fed to the rear wheels via a four-speed manual transmission, while rack-and-pinion steering made the Sprite feel direct and precise when changing directions. It is hard to imagine any manufacturer producing a new model today with such modest power and torque. However, modern safety standards and buyer demand for luxury means they are unlikely to create one tipping the scales at a mere 1,477 lbs. The Bugeye wasn’t a jet over the ¼-mile but could hit 83mph on the open road under favorable conditions. The seller confirms the original owner converted the Sprite to front disc brakes using components from an MG Midget. Otherwise, it is mechanically original and unmolested. The previous owner treated the engine to a rebuild, with documentation confirming the process included new pistons and other components. The brakes were refreshed, as were the cooling system and electrics. The Sprite doesn’t currently run, but the engine turns freely. The seller believes that flushing the fuel and cooling systems would help with a straightforward revival and that a thorough inspection may be all that is required to return this classic to its rightful place on our roads.

The ownership history of this 1959 Bugeye Sprite adds nothing to its potential value, but it demonstrates that some classics have fascinating backstories. This solid survivor has attracted twenty-seven bids, and it is easy to see why. Returning it to active service should be easy, and the lack of rust makes it ideal for preservation. However, it could be made to “pop” without costing a fortune. Both paths are tempting, but which would you choose?

Comments

  1. Avatar photo bobhess Member

    Since I’m in the last few months of finishing up a down to bare metal rebuild of a ’60 Bugeye I’d vote to completely restore the car. The light blue color seems to follow me as 4 out of the 5 Bugeyes I have owned started out with that color and were repainted in different colors. The first one I drove was the same color. This car looks to be as rust free as they get and deserves a complete do over to save it if for nothing else. Picture shows an easy way to restore a Bugeye.

    Like 7
  2. Avatar photo Dan

    Weird looking but fascinating car that needs TLC. I’ve seen these fetch more than $30k at auction for dialed-in examples. Seeing the shape this one is in, the total investment to bring this to a #2 should be no more than $30k and this can still be enjoyed.

    Like 1
  3. Avatar photo John Cork

    Spend a few bucks and start enjoy driving this go cart. You may spend years doing a total restoration when you could be driving this jewel.

    Like 4
  4. Avatar photo Ted

    This looks like a great car! GLWTA!
    I still own my first car, a 1959 Bugeye Sprite! Back in 1977, I saw an add for it in the foreign car section of the local newspaper. I was 20 and I was begging my parents to buy it. My mom was against it. She knew the grandmother of the seller and happened to speak to her and mentioned that I wanted to buy but it. God bless that tiny Italian grandmother as she told my mom to let me buy and enjoy it!
    The kid I bought if from poured a lot of money into it. He sold it to me because another buyer wanted it for racing. It was fun to drive, like a big go cart! I sat low to the ground, so even going at a slow speed was like the feeling of speeding!
    I bought another Austin Healey two years later, a 1961 Mark II, triple carb roadster. Sadly, life got in the way of enjoying them as I bought an old house and sank money into that on going project! Both cars have been sitting in storage for 45+ years! I have been thinking of selling them both, or putting some money into restoring them to enjoy for a few years.

    Like 6
    • Avatar photo scott uehlinger

      Hey Ted, if you ever want to sell that Bugeye, call me at 610 751 7089. I have a 63 Sunbeam Alpine, but have always loved the Sprite! Scott U.

      Like 0
  5. Avatar photo Joe Parsons

    I bought a 1959 Bugeye in 1966, when I was in college. It was barely running, and I paid $150 for it.

    I turned it into an H-Production racer, although I used it more for autocrossing, where it excelled.

    I registered it for the street and was able to get one of the first personalized license plates with six characters in Rhode Island: BUGEYE.

    It’s the most fun car I’ve ever owned.

    Like 4
  6. Avatar photo Paul R.

    My sister’s first car was identical to this one, light blue , ‘59 Bugeye.
    We lived in Montreal and it was her daily driver , summer and winter !
    She had a couple of accidents , the second one she was rear ended by a transport truck in heavy traffic , fortunately going slowly.
    The truck driver simply said, I did not see her, I did not know there was a car between me and the car I thought was ahead of me.
    My Dad put his foot down and the little car was turned in for something more substantial.

    Like 4
  7. Avatar photo shelbydude

    From 1956 through 1962, California licesnse plates had black numbers on a yellow background. From 1963 to 1969, California-issued license plates featured gold numbers on black a black non-reflective paint with an embossed state name. So, the plates on this car were not likely the original issued plates.

    Like 1
  8. Avatar photo Craig Baloga Member

    Great cars! I bought and did a light restoration on a BRG 1959 Sprite….loved every minute of the ownership.

    Sold it to “The Bugeye Guy” on the east coast, and the car is now in North Carolina; I am sure it’s being enjoyed on some twisty roads!

    👍🤓

    Like 2
  9. Avatar photo Mark Ruggiero Member

    Was in the foreign car fixit biz waay back in the day, lived in the little town of Magnolia MA. There was a girl who had one, lived up the street, insisted on putting on eyelashes and a smile on the grill. I (with ulterior motives) offered to take it to shop when it needed whatever. Always felt a fool driving that goofy Sprite. I was driving a Mk2 myself at the time, all that bonding came to naught, bonding-wise anyway. Alas, motives do not always come true…

    Like 3

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