Miata-Powered Bugeye! 1960 Austin-Healey Sprite

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The Austin-Healey Sprite was a small open-cockpit sports car produced in the UK between 1958-71. It was marketed as the low-cost successor to the Austin Seven. The Mark I, the first-generation, was built through 1960 and would include the seller’s car, which has been treated to a modernization of the drivetrain from a Mazda Miata. In the States, these are often referred to as ‘Bugeye” Sprites although “Frogeye” is the more common term on home soil. Located in Morgan Hill, California, this looks like a parade-style car and is available here on craigslist for $15,000. Thanks, Otto Matic (cool handle!) for the tip on this one!

Designed by Donald Healey Motor Co., the production of the Sprite was handled at the MG factory in Abingdon. The cars got their nicknames for the placement of their headlights on top of the “bonnet” and inboard of the front wings. Originally, they were supposed to be retractable, but tight budgets eliminated that. The entire front sheet-metal assembly is a one-piece unit and hinged from the back, so it swings up to allow access to the engine compartment. The Sprite’s distinctive frontal styling harkened back to the American-made Crosley Super Sport of 1951. Production of the “Bugeye” Sprites would total 48,987 units.

The 948 cc OHV I-4 engine that produced 43 hp when paired with a 4-speed manual transmission no longer resides in the seller’s car. Instead, it has a more modern 1.8-liter from a Mazda Miata, though the seller doesn’t mention the vintage of that motor. And a 5-speed manual is there now to handle all the shifting. Additional upgrades include front disc brakes from an MGB and there’s a set of tube shocks in the rear.

It’s a good-looking car that has no doubt been restored cosmetically. The paint is deep aqua and looks good as does the interior. The odometer reads just 4,450 miles, but that’s because it’s rolled over once. Hagerty pegs the resale value of one of these sports cars at north of $20,000 in at least in Excellent condition, but we don’t know if the mechanical transplant helps or hurts the car’s value here. If nothing else, it may perform better than if it were left stock.

Auctions Ending Soon


  1. bobhess bobhessMember

    Nice clean installation. Balance should be about the same as with the original engine and the extra power should be a blast. Nice car.

    Like 7
  2. Running Bear

    I doubt you can recreate this build for the asking price. Looks like a nice build.

    Like 0
  3. CCFisher

    It may perform better than if if it were left stock? The least powerful Miata 1.i8 put out 129 hp SAE net, vs. the stock 43 hp SAE gross. I think it’s safe to say over 4 times the stock power would definitely perform better.

    Like 13
  4. Terrry

    I like this! An even better upgrade would be a later-model Honda S2000 transplant. A classic roadster with a great powerplant and not that much $$.

    Like 3
    • 370zpp 370zppMember

      I can think of a lot of places for a high revving S2000 engine to end up.

      Like 0
  5. Way2nutz

    Neat little transplant patient.

    Well, except for what has to be the most awkward shifter location I’ve ever seen. The pivot point is right at your elbow. Even worse than the AC Cobras.

    Like 2
  6. Walter

    Nice. No silliness like trying to shoehorn an LS in there but rather a drivetrain from the modern equivalent. I would have fully modernized the brakes but otherwise this is a really cool car.

    Like 4
  7. HoA Howard AMember

    1st, let me apologize to the folks in California,(’64 Ford post) I have family there, and they aren’t all money hungry jerks. While I DO believe the world, as we know it, will end starting in California, they do, for a number of reasons, sure know how to make cars nice( with exception to those wide whites) Perhaps it’s their bottomless pockets., but obviously, money makes it right.
    2nd, while many know, I bleed BRG, and have no problem with the stock configuration, I say this is about as cool as you can get. Looks sharp, without any detraction from the original, dependable, and probably a handful to control, unlike the A-H unit. Pretty cool. Nicest resto mod Bugeye I’ve ever seen.

    Like 4
  8. Claudio

    As a young kid i drove these things
    It was a love /hate thing
    They rode/drove like model T
    But looked so good
    The performance was ridiculous
    Really boring
    A company cavalier was better than this BUT
    This engine /transmission transplant must make it a totally NEW feeling
    I would love to test drive this little topless…

    Like 1
  9. Pat

    Having owned a bugeye, and now tool around in a Miata, I can attest to the performance being night and day. Just not sure if I could get comfortable with that shifter location. Other than that, the build looks really well done and it will probably surprise many MGs and triumphs with its performance.

    Like 0
  10. Keith E. Matheny

    WOW, I love it, couldn’t bend into one anymore, but, What about the diff?
    Saw a 2ltr. Duratek Ford in one like this some years ago, shortened 7.5 w/disk 3rd member and some stiffeners welded in. Just saying, and better ad copy, dang!

    Like 0
  11. Brian MMember

    I sure hope that the stock third member was replaced; you can destroy one with a 1098 or 1275cc BMC engine in place of the 998 stock unit. Failures were possible with the smaller engine too if one got too frisky in areas with dubious traction.

    Like 0
  12. Frank

    If I was only 5′ 4″ tall. Great idea and well done.

    Like 0
  13. 86_Vette_Convertible

    Many eons ago when I was young and a lot lighter a classmate had a bug eyed Sprite. It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t agile, but it was a heck of a lot fun to go out in. Biggest complaint I had then was if the driver wanted to take his girl along, no way could anyone else fit in the car, so when he let me ride in it it was batching only. You couldn’t even pick up a girl in it as a passenger.

    Like 0
  14. Clive

    The Mini, introduced the same year as the Sprite, is really the successor to the Austin 7. The 7 was introduced just after the First World War, as a four seater economy car, just like the Mini. In fact the earliest Austin Minis were badged as Austin 7.
    There were sporting variants of the 7, principally the Ulster and Nippy, both produced in relatively small numbers. Some Ulsters were supercharged and were serious little sports cars for the time. One won a handicap race on the prewar Brooklands (England) oval circuit at an average speed of over 83 miles an hour.

    Like 0
  15. bobhess bobhessMember

    You can build a link mechanism that will put the shift lever further forward. Using rod ends and a small solid shaft you can put it where ever you want. A lot of our race cars (SCCA) use that method in sedans to move the driver back for weight distribution, thus needing to move the lever back.

    Like 1
  16. Kelly

    I had one of these in the 70s and swapped in a Cortina 1600 drivetrain. Too much power. I couldn’t keep the rear from spinning and the understeer was terrible. The Miata may be better but it would need a good road test to be sure.

    Like 0
  17. bobhess bobhessMember

    Rear gears will take the horse power, it’s the axles that won’t. Competition, hardened axles are available and double rear bearing kits and rear disc brakes also.

    Like 0

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