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Project Bumblebee Update! Fixing Leaks

I recently wrote about my latest purchase, this 1960 Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite. There was lots of great feedback in the comments section, so I thought I better get out and fix something on the car that I could document for the site. As I’ve already mentioned, this car is fairly well sorted. From the paperwork I’ve been able to find, it appears it was given a mechanical restoration in 2013 and while the previous owner did lots of maintenance since then, there are a few issues that clearly hadn’t been addressed. The worst of these problems is the cooling system, which had a few leaks going when I bought it. As I’ve driven it more, the worse one of the leaks has gotten, so it was time to fix it anyway!

It didn’t take much investigating to figure out where the worst leak was at. Most British roadsters from this era have a heater control valve so that on hot summer days, you can close the valve to keep hot coolant from going into the heater core. It’s a simple and effective solution, but these valves have a tendency to leak as they get old. Removing the valve and replacing it with a brand new one is typically viewed as the easiest way to fix the problem of a leaky heater valve, but where’s the fun in that? So, I decided to try fixing my valve rather than replacing it. I figured it would save me close to $30, plus be a fun learning experience. Since this is very much a project that is specific to cars equipped with the BMC A-Series engine, I’m not going to go into great detail about how to do this fix yourself, but it was actually super simple and cost me just $0.38.

Most of the Sprite and Midget support forums make it sound like a very difficult task and that it’s easier to just replace it, but after doing this job, the only reason I would replace mine is if it was damaged beyond repair. As you can see, it’s a simple valve that’s composed of 4 primary brass components. My car came with two spare valves, so I took one apart to figure out how they are constructed, what fails, and how to fix it. After taking it apart, I quickly found the failure point. At the top of the valve is an o-ring that’s entire job is to keep coolant from going out the top of the valve. Between age, heat, and being opened closed repeatedly, the o-ring falls apart. A trip to the hardware store and I found what I needed to fix it. All that was required was a 3/8 in. x 1/4 in. x 1/16 in. o-ring!

My initial plan called for replacing the o-ring in the spare valve that I had already disassembled, but after inspecting the one currently installed in the car, I discovered that it has a later style valve. I removed the top half of the valve, just as I had done with the spare, and found that while it’s improved, it still uses the same basic design. I gave it a good cleaning, put some dielectric grease on the o-ring, seated the o-ring, and tightened it back up. I reinstalled the top half of the valve, tightened the hose connecting it to the heater core (which seemed to be the other major source for my coolant leaks), cleaned up all the coolant pooled up on the cylinder head, and finally topped off the coolant. With it all back together, I opened the valve and started the engine up. After letting the engine come up to temperate, there weren’t any signs of leaking! I will have to give it some more time to make sure it’s going to stay sealed, but I think it should be good to go. And, if it develops another leak, I now know how to fix it.


  1. Big_Fun Member

    Terrific update, Josh, er, Joshua! This is inspiring to us all. The weather is getting to the point where the rain, and the street cleaners, is making the last of the sand dropped from the municipality snow plows dissappear.
    Sweat equity, and we all learned something.
    Please keep the updates coming – and a video link to show your driving escapades is fine, too. Attach a GoPro to your windshield, press record, and start your engine!
    We look foward to watching…

    Like 10
    • Joshua Mortensen Staff

      I had actually wanted to do a video of it today, but it snowed off and on all day. I drove Bumblebee in it and it did great, but visibility isn’t the best with the convertible top on, so I figured a video wouldn’t have turned out that great. Once it warms back up I will definitely do a driving video!

      Like 6
  2. George Duran

    Great article, as an old mechanic I think it’s great to be able to fix something rather than replace it.
    The landfill definitely needs more trash 🗑️. These days you should be able to buy more crap from china on the internet, then have it directly delivered to the landfill instead of agrivating yourself!

    Like 8
  3. bobhess bobhess Member

    You are hooked now Joshua. Once you get started on the “fix ’em a little bit at a time” trail you will never get off of it. It’s a lot of fun. Enjoy! BTW, keep the roll bar. Had a tire fail on a curve one night on my new MG Midget and flipped it. Had a hard top that saved what was left of my hair. Car was repaired in 4 weeks and on the road with much better tires with more air in them.

    Like 3
  4. Howard A Member

    1st let me say, that’s a dying art, my friend. In my heyday, I never threw anything away. Coming from a farm background, more than once, a trip to the “junk pile”, yielded just what I needed to make a fix.
    2nd, with the utmost respect, what’s all this fuss over a British heater, those words in itself are contradicting. This should be the least of someones issues when it comes to British roadsters. Besides, one has no business driving one in conditions that would warrant a heater anyway, even though I did it for years.The heater merely defogged the windscreen, keeping warm was up to you. Oh yeah, a hat, scarf and mittens were what was needed, and I probably would have plugged the heater off. That core will probably leak anyway, eventually.
    Don’t get me wrong, I love British roadsters and so refreshing seeing one that doesn’t have a LS motor, but I learned there are short cuts to owning and enjoying one, and plugging off the heater would be one. Keep us posted, eh?

    Like 2
    • Joshua Mortensen Staff

      It was pretty cold out this morning and I stayed toasty. With the top and sidescreens on, the heater keeps up just fine. I’m sure if it was windy or I was traveling at higher speeds, I’d want to wear my heavy coat and hat, but for my daily commute the heater has worked great so far.

      I inspected the heater core shortly after buying the car and it looks to have been replaced fairly recently, so I’m not concerned about it leaking. For the time being, I’m going to keep the heater hooked up and if something goes wrong with it, I’ll fix it and keep on going!

      Like 4
      • bobhess bobhess Member

        Was in Michigan with my MG Midget and we had no trouble keeping warm during the long winters. Admit the hard top helped,especially when we were pulling skiers on the lake surface. That was good fun until we wiped out a guy’s fish shanty.

        Like 1
  5. Mountainwoodie

    Great little story, Josh. Great little car. The wife’s first car as a young Navy wife. But..and I have to say it. Minilites…….on a…..I don’t know.

    Like 1
    • bobhess bobhess Member

      I always thought they looked pretty good on a Bugeye.

      Like 2
      • NICK OWEN

        amen…bought 61, stage 5, iris, new…minilites also nice @ 62 lotus super 7, $80 for set. 1979…be blessed, grateful, prepared, nik

  6. Kelly Breen

    Keep the updates coming. If have If have 1500 and reading your adventure is inspiring.
    If I wrote the article it would be about how I skinned a knuckle(s), cut myself, pinched a finger or burned myself.
    Oh and every now and then I get a jolt.
    Riveting stuff. So much better when you write it.

    Like 1
  7. matt

    When I would drive my MGA in the wintertime while I was at Wright-Patterson, I would have my military horse blanket coat over my legs and a heavy coat on to try and keep warm. A losing battle on most days…but I was stubborn – – – and cold !
    That was a 58, when we were in my buddy’s 67 AH Sprite – new at the time, we would actually get a bit warm., roll up windows are much better than side curtains !!

    Like 2
  8. V8roller

    Leaks… friend of mine had a Bugeye in the 60s.
    The soft top let in so much water he drilled holes in the floor for it to drain out.

  9. John

    One rule to keep in mind with these little heater valves – do not go out and close them when the motor is still hot. I think I can still find the scars to back up this advice.

    Very pretty little car. Are those real Minilites or Panasports? either way, very nice.

  10. chrlsful

    these/other Brits but mostly fiats/alfas of the 50s/60s were what I restored in my teens’n early 20s. Back then “R&R” did not mean remove/replace but remove repair.The girls/women in the fam were crafty (food, our clothing, home furnishings). Dad’n I thought of the rest as our territory and were ‘handy’ rather than crafty. Never left the place for stuff, just kept workin. A trip away meant 50 stops (rare enuff, do it all, its gunna B a while). The O would have been in a pile w/a lota others (“Bring the flash light”).

    I left the place, earned pretty good so got away from hands on (no space or equipment, no time but $). Now back at it – I missed the whole puter and FI updates. Old but not too old to learn, I’m back at the beginning again.

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