Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bug-Eye Sprite
Restoration World 
Review #8
Seriously, has there ever been a more adorable car? 

And the Bug-Eye Sprite has a surprising 
and rather pleasant ace up it's sleeve.

The Austin-Healey MK 1 Sprite, built in the UK and Australia between 1958 and 1971, was never called Bug-Eye by the factory. 

That's a purely American nickname given to the car.

As I have warned readers before, the British invented the chassis-less runabout, and the sheet-metal of the Sprite does indeed take a lot of suspension stress. And in such a case, rust could be a real issue. 

But with the Sprite, I think, Austin-Healey may have spent a little bit of money on undercoating. I haven't found any Sprites with real rust problems.

At under a thousand pounds, I do not recommend the Sprite as a daily driver. 

Let me tell you why. In my experience, lightweight cars with skinny tires are very dangerous in the rain. And there is another factor that most people don't realize. American drivers simply don't expect a car to have low-to-the-ground and rather dim tail-lights in front of them. 

They are used to bright, high brake lights and turn-signals. I have been nearly rear-ended many, many times - and it's not fun at all.

Let's move on....

The engine - ranging from 948 cc to 1048 cc, depending on the year - produces about 50 horsepower with a 0 to 60 time of 20 seconds. 


A lot of owners switch out the motor for an 1,100 cc motorcycle engine, which I recommend. Double the power and reliability - and you can easily use an engine from a wrecked bike to cut costs.

Right up front, I'm going to tell you the two problems with the Sprite. 

1: A really nice one is kinda pricey, usually between 8,000 and 10,000 dollars. I have seen beaters and resto project cars go for 3K, though. If you plan on using the car at the track, start with a beater.

And 2: You won't be eating a lot of Big Macs, because you will no longer be able to drive your Sprite. 

I am 6'3" and 210 pounds, and I cannot get in this car. The only one I've ever driven was a pure racing version with a special seat. 

The car is small. 


The Sprite does indeed have an ace up it's sleeve, like I said. Actually two aces. The Sprite will average about 43 MPG, which is jaw-droppingly good - but that's not the cool part.

The cool part is something you would have to experience to understand. 

A Sprite, even in street-stock form will absolutely defy gravity at the track. It may not be as fast as a Cobra, but in the corners the Sprite has no equal...except perhaps a Caterham. 

The car will stick to the track like glue, easily pulling 1G in the turns. And you can't buy that today.

The MK 4 and 5 Sprites no longer had the cute headlights, but are still the same underneath, and may be much cheaper to buy. 

Joy Osmanski, a former NASA engineer and Academy-award winning actress, rates our potential restoration projects on a scale of zero to five. Joy is also an aerodynamicist and computer genius. Both Bill Gates and Lamborghini have her on speed-dial. 

Joy had this to say 
about the Sprite:

"The Bug-Eye Sprite is so cute I wanted to take it home and snuggle. Like totally! The car is adorable and fun to drive and I love the fact that it doesn't have door handles or a trunk....saves me so much on shopping!
But the Sprite is so tiny that I was constantly looking around, wondering if a bus or garbage truck was going to run me over. Can they even see me? Because of that, I gave it four stars. Sorry, cutie-pie!"

What is your favorite British sports car?

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