V8-Powered Bugeye Sprite

v8-bugeye

We have been tempted to join the Nasty Boys before and this 1959 Austin Healey that Jim S just sent in has rekindled the flame. We know it goes against everything we stand for. The concept of preservation goes out the door when you shove a big V8 in a car that was originally designed to house much more humble propulsion. Hey, if Carroll Shelby could do it with a British car, why can’t we? Take a look at this project Sprite here on eBay out of Collegeville, Pennsylvania for $4,000 obo. Thanks for the tip Jim!

healey-hood-scoop

The hood scoop may not be the most flattering addition to Donald Healey’s affordable sports car, but neither were those headlights which were a cheaper alternative to the flip-up ones that it was originally intended to wear. Still, we are sure that all will be forgiven once you get behind the wheel. V8 power could be a lot to handle in a sub-1,500 pound car, but we are sure it makes for an entertaining ride.

v8-sprite-engine-bay

The seller claims that this Sprite did have a V8 installed at one time, but it has since been pulled. There is proof of the conversion, but no mention of what type of engine was installed and if it was ever drivable. A Rover/Buick 215 is an obvious candidate, but we have seen photos of a Sprite with a small-block Chevy. It was a tight fit, but the resulting burnout looked impressive. So the big question now is, do you put a four-cylinder back in or do you go all out and install another V8? Decision, decisions…

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Comments

  1. Dolphin Member

    There were photos and a brief story on a bugeye Sprite with a SBC V8 in it in one of the rod or sportscar mags back in the ’60s. It was white IIRC, so probably not this car. The mag didn’t do a road test, so you don’t know how it went down the road, but my guess would be that it was a tad under-tired for the power available.

    I checked the resto-mod section of the British V8 website and didn’t find either this car or the vintage white one I remember.
    http://www.britishv8.org/photos-austin-healey-conversions.htm

    I remember seeing a Series II Sprite with a Buick/Rover aluminum V8 compete in an autocross years ago, was very impressed. It had proper tires and uprated suspension, and it sounded and went terrific. I’m guessing that someone decided that the suspension, tires, and overall balance of this car in the eBay listing didn’t measure up too well, so pulled the engine for use elsewhere.

    • Connor

      If the v8 bugeye sprite you ate referring to is the one in the pictures at the bottom of this article, then I believe it was in hotrod magazine.

      Like 1
      • Connor

        Sorry not ‘ate’ I meant ‘are’

  2. Dave @ OldSchool in Alabama

    What ‘proof’ is there that it actually had a v8 installed..????

    . I don’t see ANY clearancing having been done for the exhaust, starter, etc, We have one stripped in the shop now, and no sbc will fit the way it is shown

    • Jesse Staff

      I could be wrong, but it looks like some panels have been moved. The shelf where the battery sits is gone and it looks like the angle was removed from those inner fenders. Here is a photo of a bare chassis for comparison. What do you think?

      • paul

        This is my point, there are a few in my Corvair club that have V8’s in these cars & the amount of structural unibody cut away to allow for this conversion is quite extensive & while I can admire the work that went in to it, I would never do this to a Corvair or anything else.

    • Dolphin Member

      Jesse is right. Who knows whether there was ever a SBC in there? But the engine bay is definitely all hacked up. There’s a big piece of angle iron that’s been added to hold part of the steering shaft out of the way, and all kinds of things hacked out. The shelf at the back of the engine bay on which the heater blower was mounted is gone. Google “Austin Healey Sprite engine bay” to see what it should look like.

      A ’58 Sprite was my first sportscar and my Dad & I pulled the engine + transmission out together with a rope slung under the engine and over a 2X4 resting on our shoulders.

      This car is now a POS. Someone would have to be nuts to buy this over a typical clapped-out Sprite that would sell for less than this.

      • paul

        Yes I used an old swing set with a thick wood dowel stuffed through the hollow metal tube & a come -a- long.

  3. DanaPointJohn

    Not worth anywhere close to $4K. Dream on!

  4. Joey K

    Ok – here is a radical idea – grab the V6 and Six Speed stick from a modern Camaro – produces almost 300 horses and is relatively small – combined with a stick – that’d be a fun ride at sub 1,500 pounds!

    • karl k

      late model ecoboost ford with 425 hp would be a ride for sure or small block lsx454 @770 hp would be better yet

  5. sunbeamdon

    I’m aging myself – but my honeymoon car in 1961 was a Stage 5, Sebring Modified, Bug Eye Sprite. My wife hated that car! Led me to Sunbeams with refined weather protection. I did all of the head porting work on my mum’s kitchen table (she was away teaching in Northern B.C.). That little bug ran well with new Semperits all around except when it rained! Car’s gone, but wife stuck around.

    The above car may be worth more dead than alive – salvage the grill, bonnet, doors – and what ever else you can! If incomplete wheel arch surrounds for a Mk II Tiger can get $8,900cdn ??!!

  6. sunbeamdon

    I should have said “When” not “If”

  7. Leo

    Best thing for this car is as a parts car. 4k is a pipe dream in this shape. I have one tgat is all apart but in great shape w a ton of new parts i might be getting rid of soon…

  8. katzenfinch

    If that bastardized engineless parts car is worth $4,000 then the intact one in my shed should be my ticket to early retirement.

  9. Brian

    My purist blood seems to be cooling down somewhat, especially when it comes to small European cars in rough shape that are nearly impossible to get parts for or the cost of an original restoration outweighs both the value of the car and the trouble of tracking the factory stuff down. Lately, I’ve been imagining an early 60s Ford Anglia 105e made into a convertible with something interesting for a power plant! This sounds like something (somewhat) of the same vein.

  10. paul

    Another idiot & for the record “Ol Shell “, when he did get done with the Ace it only resembled the original car, actually it looked more like an Ace on steroids with large bulbous fenders to house those large tires in front & even larger tires in the rear, even the 289 had larger tires then the Ace, not to mention the many upgrades to accommodate the added torque of a V8.

  11. Graham Line

    Looks like $2K for the story and $2K for the tired rolling shell. Best thing to do with quarter-elliptics and skinny tires is a 1400cc Nissan and a 5-speed. Looks original but keeps up with traffic.

  12. Jesse Staff

    Wow, tough crowd today! Guess Nasty Boys have never been conventional, so why should I expect everyone to jump on board? I do agree that the price is not realistic though. If you look hard enough, you should be able to find a Bugeye with the engine and tranny still in place for that kind of money. The listing does have the option to make an offer though, so I’m guessing the seller would accept significantly less than $4k.

    • Brian

      Jesse, I see your vision and I got your back on this one! One fewer 0 in the price, and I’d say its a go. This one is screaming for mods since it’s previously had them. The price would disqualify this one, but there is something out there somewhere that you can work your “mod magic” with on the cheap!

  13. Jim-Bob

    I say put in a V8-but not just any V8. No, I would want to put in the Hartley V8, which is two Hayabusa motorcycle engines mated together with a custom block and designed for automotive applications. It is very lightweight and probably weighs no more than the original 4 cylinder that came with it. If memory serves, it is also the engine in the Ariel Atom V8, which is the car that knocked the Bugatti Veyron Super Sports off the number one spot on Top Gear’s board. Behind that I would put a 6 speed manual transmission running back to a proper independent rear suspension. I would also upgrade the front suspension and the brakes as that engine puts out a serious amount of horsepower. Would it fit? Well, they have been used in Caterham 7’s before and I can’t imagine the engine bay is any larger in one of those than in a Spridget. I think it is build-able and the resulting car would have little to fear from sport bikes or Ferraris. If it did, help is just a turbo away. Just make certain that your life insurance is paid in full because your next of kin may well need it!

    • Jesse Staff

      Now that sounds more like it Jim-Bob. Great plan! Only problem is that the Bolt V8 costs $42k! Too bad. Fun to dream though. Here is a link to the Hartley site: http://www.h1v8.com

      • Richard

        Holy ****, that Bolt V8 is unreal! Glad you put up the link, I often wondered why nobody ever thought to build a tiny high-winding V8 before, now I know I wasn’t the only one thinking along those lines…..that would be an awesome powerplant for this ’67 Elva I stumbled across in Daytona several years ago (heck, even the Bolt 4-cyl. engines would be killer, too!).

      • Jim-Bob

        Yeah, the price is all that stops me from putting one in my spare Geo Metro along with an AWD system. I can just imagine delivering pizzas in a 1600lb car with 500hp and a 14,000 RPM redline. Plus, I can also see myself coming up against a Ferrari at a stop light and destroying him in a car that is the butt of oh so many automotive jokes (and yes, the pizza sign would be on the roof!)

  14. jim s

    since it has already been cut up i would put a RX7 motor/transmission in it. i have seen that swap and it was very fast on an autocross course and was street legal at the time.

  15. mike

    that’s just not right…rather have a well built 1275+ for power

  16. Robert Park

    Step one: Sazall the crossmember located directly below the dash, just in front of the seats. Hey, we can put anything we want in there now. Who cares that tweaks the car beyond repair! Run, don’t walk away from this mistake.

  17. John Allison

    If I wanted yard art I’d buy a Gnome! Hell of a lot cheaper and better lookin!

  18. MountainMan

    Holy cow… Burn the witch! Tough crowd is right. Looks like it has been altered under the hood for sure.. Small rover/Buick V8 is possible, maybe the seller could be mistaken and it had a V6? Anyhow I would only imagine the price is negotiable (even says OBO) unless somebody just has to has it and jumps at the 4 grand ask. This thing is worth money. 1800-2500 is my limit based on the pics. There are lots of possibilities for a power plant for this crusty lil jewel and wether the next owner uses a hopped 1275 with twin SU carbs or a wankle engine or a turbo fed Nissan four ….( I could go on but won’t) I’m sure if and when drivable again it will be fun, it will turn heads and it will inspire conversation

  19. Jim C

    The pictures from the August 1961 Hot Rod Mag article are of a friend of mine, Bob Knapp. Before moving to Monroe, NC, Bob lived in Calif. and was also very active in Salt Flat racing. He, Herda and Milodon owned the Autolite 999 streamliner that broke and held many records for its class. In 1964 it was the fastest single engine wheel driven car and was driven by Bob Herda.

  20. Scott Allison

    Well, despite all the buggered up crap this little car has endured, it’s still smiling!
    I think the grill is the thing that makes these little cars lovable.. Gotta love a car with a smiley-face!

  21. rolymo35

    Bin-thur-done-that, ! built a “stonkin” Rover 215cubic V8 MG Midget with all sorts of mods on the engine, suspension and wheels. Went to the dragstrip and did 13 sec straight off the trailer. Was an absolute “Hoot” at driving tests, literally killed the opposition (with fright). The car would have been very dangerous in the wrong hands so I converted back to 4cyl before selling. If I knew how I would put some photo’s up [any idea’s?]

    [any suggestions?]

  22. henry matthews

    I do believe when I was a kid there was an article in hot rod magazine about that sprite, could be wrong it might have been car craft its been so long.

  23. Jim C

    Henry,

    Hot Rod, August 1961

    Jim

  24. Rob knapp

    My dad Bob Knapp built that bug eye with a small block corvette engine in 1960. I remember stories of him racing with go carts at the Cow Palace, doing 2 block long burn outs in Palo Alto, doing donuts at stop lights. The car handled great. He sold the car to a Stanford student. He and his father signed a document not to exceed 70 mph because car was so light and could fly. The boy died in the car a few months later doing well over 100.

  25. Jim Collura

    There is also a good current article, “Bonneville Bob”, that was in the local paper in Bob’s hometown.

  26. Bob Minnis

    My recollection of engine size and dimensions from years ago showed that the smallest v-8 (narrow)was a 260-289 ford. This was one of the reasons Shelby went w that engine for the cobra. Not to mention the vast engine mods ford made available. Weights are also a consideration and again I think the engine was close in weight to the rover/Buick.

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