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Ready To Restore: 1959 Austin-Healey “Bugeye” Sprite

I doubt that there has ever been a British sports car that has been viewed with quite the affection reserved for the Austin-Healey “Bugeye” Sprite. Its frontal styling seems to melt hearts, but the reality is that its distinctive appearance was borne more out of cost-cutting measures than any desire to create a classic sports car loaded with the “cute” factor. Our feature car is a 1959 Sprite that appears to represent a promising restoration project. It looks structurally sound, and it is one of the most affordable examples you will find in the market today. I have to say a big thank you to Barn Finder rex m for spotting the Sprite for us. It is located in San Mateo, California, and has been listed for sale here on Craigslist. You can take this promising project home by handing the owner $7,000.

When it was launched, the Sprite Mk I was one of the most affordable British two-seat sports cars ever built. The company achieved this feat by using as many pre-existing mechanical components as possible, making it a “parts bin special.” This attention to affordability extended to the car’s body and helps to explain how the Sprite received its “Bugeye” appearance. The design team intended for the headlamps to pivot upwards from a horizontal position in the hood in much the same way we saw decades later in the Porsche 928. That would have provided the little Brit with a lower and more sleek appearance. However, this system was deemed by management to be too heavy, too complex, and most importantly, too expensive to be included on a low-cost sports car. The compromise was to build the Sprite with the headlamps effectively in the upright position, giving the car a face that is hard to resist. Our feature car looks to be a promising project. The white paint that it currently wears isn’t original. There is evidence that it rolled off the production line wearing Iris Blue, so a color change has been part of this car’s history. This may have occurred at the same time that someone customized the hood by adding a vast collection of louvers. The quality of the metalwork looks pretty respectable, but whether it stays or goes will be a matter of buyer taste. If it is to go, that leaves the next owner with a couple of options to consider. They could hunt for a secondhand replacement, and their chances of success should be reasonably high. Some companies make reproductions in steel, but around $820 would secure one made from fiberglass. Beyond that and a lack of bumpers, the body appears to be unmodified. The panels look straight, and there is no visible rust. Confirming this last fact beyond doubt is difficult due to the lack of photos, but it seems promising. The glass is in good order, but the buyer will need to source a top and frame to make it an all-weather classic.

The owner supplies this single-engine photo and no interior shots. He admits that there are no seats, but it is unclear what remains of the interior trim beyond that. Powering the Sprite is a 948cc four-cylinder engine that should produce 43hp. That’s not a lot of power, and it finds its way to the rear wheels via a four-speed manual transmission. As you might imagine, the journey down the ¼ mile is anything but fast. It would take 21.5 seconds while keeping the pedal to the metal would see the car panting for breath at 83mph. Once again, we know little about the car’s mechanical health. The owner says that the engine turns freely, but it is unclear when it last fired a shot in anger. There is some indication that the Healey may have seen some competition work, so the engine could feature some performance upgrades. When you consider the questions raised surrounding the car’s rust-free status, interior trim, and the questions over mechanical health, that in-person inspection is looking pretty important.

The Austin-Healey “Bugeye” Sprite was designed to be an affordable sports car when it was new, and it remains that way today. Values have been increasing in recent times, but these increases have been slow and steady. Potential buyers can find some nice examples for around $20,000, but spotless cars can sell for sums beyond $30,000. One of the greatest attractions of these little cars as projects is the elegant simplicity of their engineering. They are a long way from being complicated, and a competent person should be able to complete many of the restoration tasks in a home workshop. If you are looking for an affordable DIY project car, this Sprite is worth a closer look.


  1. 86_Vette_Convertible

    I haven’t seen this many Bug Eyes Sprites as I’ve seen here as of late. Friend had one back in the late 60’s and it was a fun car.

    Like 2
  2. bobhess bobhess Member

    Must be some fetish painting the blue Bugeyes white or any other color other than the original blue. Of the 5 Bugeyes we have owned since 1989 four of them came from the factory light blue. The other one was red and was repainted in the original color before we got it. The ’60 race car we are now building was one of the blue ones repainted in the early ’70s with some god awful white enamel that requires a heavy grit sanding disc and grinder/sander to remove. Life is hard and then there are color changers.

    Like 3
    • Little_Cars Little_Cars Member

      I scraped the powdery white topcoat on my last Spridget off with a razor blade. :) In some areas, the previous owner hadn’t even prepped the metal. Original color – blue Teal! I like this Bugeye if only because I’ve always wanted to punch louvers in the hood to aid in cooling. You are right, though, price is slightly “elevated.”

      Like 1
  3. bobhess bobhess Member

    Forgot… 7K for what? Maybe 2K if the running gear is ok. Finding used seats is almost impossible and prices of new ones will water your eyes. California or not, buying one without knowing what’s underneath is not smart. Could be good, could not be. What the above pictures don’t show you is the 4 full buckets of body filler we ground out of the front end and on top of the welded seams in back.

    Like 1
    • AutoArcheologist AutoArcheologist Member

      The baby Blue Bugeye from the other day is in such good condition, I may be able to color sand it, buff and polish, do a leather/vinyl restoration on the seats and dash (already done the interior in our Jag and SL), get her running, finish off the brakes and drive her… I can wait on doing the engine swap and disc brake conversion… I didn’t pay $7000 for her either…
      This looks like a much weaker specimen for the same money…

      Like 3
  4. chrlsful

    King Midget? Nash Metropolitan? Reliant Robin? This has it all over the others? Surprised Scotty didn’t write it up rather than Adam…

    Like 0
  5. DayDreamBeliever DayDreamBeliever

    Someone had a lot of fun running the tool for popping louvers into sheet metal….

    Like 1

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