First Year Bugeye: 1958 Austin-Healey Sprite

The Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite might not be a hard-edged sports car, but it makes up for its general lack of performance by being one of the most charismatic cars ever built. The owner of this 1958 Sprite found it hidden away in a barn. It had occupied that spot since the 1980s, but it has now been revived and brought out into the light of day. It is a solid little classic that needs some restoration work, but it looks like it should be a straightforward project. Located in Washington, Connecticut, you will find the Sprite listed for sale here on eBay. The owner has set the auction to open at $6,500, but there have been no bids. However, 64 people are watching the listing.

The Bugeye Sprite’s styling is distinctive, and it is one of the most instantly recognizable cars ever built. Its designers had intended for the headlights to pivot upwards from a horizontal position similar to the later Porsche 928. However, not only was this design deemed to be too expensive by the company, but the mechanisms were too heavy and complicated to be fitted to a lightweight and low-powered vehicle like this. Therefore, the headlights remained mounted in the distinctive upright position, giving the car its well-known nickname. This Sprite has been sitting since the 1980s, but it hasn’t suffered unduly because of this. The Red paint looks pretty tired, and a repaint will go on the “to do” list. The panels wear a few minor dings and dents, but most of these should be easy to fix. There is some rust present, but none of it appears to be structural. There is a small spot in one rocker, along with one near the driver’s side rear wheel opening. The owner says that he hasn’t located any other problems, but since it is an old car, there are no iron-clad guarantees that there isn’t some hiding somewhere. The frame for the soft-top is present and could be reused. Some of the trim and chrome would benefit from a refresh, but the windshield looks to be in excellent order.

The owner says that there isn’t much of the Sprite’s interior left, but what is there could be reused. The seat covers don’t look bad, but I think that the foam is starting to sag. If I were replacing the foam, I would probably invest in a trim kit to return the interior to a factory-fresh state. Buyers can find these for around $1,100, and a kit in that price bracket will include all of the upholstery, foam, and carpet to have it shining like a new pin. The kit won’t include any dash components, but the buyer could restore this without the need for replacement. Therefore, getting the interior up to scratch should not be expensive, and the new owner should be able to complete the work in a home workshop.

Austin-Healey intended to produce the Sprite to sell at the lowest price possible. That meant that they focused on utilizing as many existing mechanical components as possible. This included the 948cc A-Series 4-cylinder engine. The company tweaked the motor slightly from standard form, but the power output remained a modest 48hp. Those horses were fed to the rear wheels via a 4-speed manual transmission. Performance figures are all that you might expect in a car with such low power. If you point it at the ¼ mile, the journey will take 21.5 seconds. However, if you’ve never spent any time in a Sprite, you will find them quite deceptive. Because you sit so close to the road, speeds feel far faster than they actually are. The previous owner had occasionally fired this Sprite into life while it was in storage, and the current owner has gotten it to a point where it runs and drives. However, it recently blew a wheel cylinder, so the brakes will require attention as part of the process of returning it to a roadworthy state.

There are a lot of reasons why cars like the Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite make an excellent project car. Chief among these is that their simple engineering and construction methods make them a prime candidate to tackle in a home workshop. If the buyer felt inclined, they could strip the vehicle back to a bare frame and do a thorough job of it. They wouldn’t require any special tools beyond spanners, screwdrivers, and pliers. Because they are so small, they also don’t need miles of workshop space during the restoration process. When you add the ready availability and affordability of parts, that has to make this an attractive proposition for anyone considering their first project build.

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Comments

  1. bobhess bobhess Member

    There’s rust to be fixed but it looks to be minor. With all the basic pieces in place you have a good starting place in restoring this car as you drive it. One note: Our radical 948 race engines put out 100 hp. You can build a good 60 to 70 hp dependable street engine and have a car you can go anywhere with. Converting to a 1275 engine is another way to get power but if this engine is in good condition might as well play with it.

    Like 12
  2. Terrry

    Who cares if you measure its quarter mile times with a sun dial? It’s a Sprite! If it doesn’t go for over 10k it’s also a steal.

    Like 11
  3. 86_Vette_Convertible

    Back in 1968 I had a classmate that owned one of these. It was a fun little car to ride in and was my first experience with a clamshell hood, something I’d not seen before. The most impressive one I had a chance to see IIRC had a Ford 289 transplanted under the hood. Never got a chance to ride in it but it sounded and looked very impressive.

    Like 5
  4. Little_Cars Little_Cars Member

    Yesterday, I put 90 miles on this car’s younger brother, a 1974 Midget. The exhaust note can sound pretty impressive when you convert to a straight pipe from manifold to muffler, then add a Harley Davidson resonator at the end. A sweet and powerful sound, especially when upshifting.

    Like 3
  5. Scuderia

    I had a first year sprite a number of years back. A number of items are unique to the ’58. Windshield snaps, soft side curtains, bonnet bracing etc. Great handling little car but it is a little car with no power or brakes to speak of.

    Like 3
  6. Flybywire

    Bought a 1960 Bugeye Sprite in 1968 for $200.

    As an aside, sellers should reference Hemmings values and assess the value of their vehicle based on condition because all too often, they are way overpriced.

    Like 2
  7. Billy Houck

    Whenever I see a Bug Eye, This song comes to mind:
    https://mudcat.org/@displaysong.cfm?SongID=9204

    Like 1
    • Scuderia

      3.3??? more like 13.3 downhill with a tailwind :) Never heard that song, pretty funny.

  8. bobhess bobhess Member

    Scuderia…. disc brakes on the front makes all the difference. Spent 20 years racing a Bugeye with discs up front and the drums in the rear. Switched to discs on the rear of one of our cars and and the difference was noticeable but not earth shaking. The later model spindles and caliper brakes will give you everything you need for brakes.

    Like 3

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