The Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite is darling

Originally published at: The Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite is darling | Boing Boing


The happiest car of all time.


Also known as the Frogeye Sprite in the UK (and maybe elsewhere).

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I think that these vintage but high maintenance cars are great for the enthusiasts but if you are not a mechanic and want something vintage an electrified version be ideal.


I went to high school in the 80s with a kid who had one of these as his daily driver. Beautiful car. I picked up a little British car (1975 MGB) during the pandemic and it has been a lot of fun to tinker with and drive. I think the best part of owning a car like this is joining the local British car group and meeting up with old timers who share a passion for vintage machinery. I have met some very nice people since I bought my car.


IIRC, Murilee Martin was restomodding an Austin Healey Sprite (but not a bugeye) with Mazda running gear, so you can make one that looks lovely, but doesn’t break in interesting British Car ways, it just involves a bit of work.

Also, IIRC, the BMW K series twin cam head fits right on the BMC A series block, and just about doubles the power output. Man, I wish I had more money, time and spanners.


My brother bought an MG TD last year for a Lemons Rally, then had to buy a set of Whitworth wrenches to make it go. He ended up selling it because it’s not exactly a practical car if you live a freeway away from other people.


My friend in Kansas City owned a 1967 Bugeye Sprite. Her father was a well-known car dealer and collector in the KC area, specializing in British makes like Austin Healy, Morris-Minor, etc. I got to ride around in it a couple times.

1967 Morris-Minor:

This was a 1939 Ford DeLuxe.


Love these cars. Almost bought a similar MG Midget, ultimately had to concede not practical as an only car. That and I looked like a Shriner driving it. Those who think they need a big engine swap would probably be happier with a different car. A 1275, though, might be a reasonable upgrade ( this is what the Midget had ).


Happy Surprise GIF by SpongeBob SquarePants


That might be the case in America, but here in the U.K., spare parts are easy to source because they shared parts among a whole host of related manufacturers, Austin, Morris, Wolseley, Riley, MG; MG stands for Morris Garages, and was the performance marque. The early side-valve engines used in many of these cars is easily replaced with the later A-Series, which goes up to 1275cc, and which has huge tuning potential, it’s even possible to fit a bigger 1500cc engine from a Morris Marina, fuel injection systems are available to fit, they can be upgraded to disc brakes on the front, LED lighting, a five-speed gearbox, performance suspension…
To an American, these small, seemingly underpowered little cars look pretty inadequate, but it’s worth keeping in mind that on appropriate roads, ie. fairly narrow and winding, with few, if any overtaking opportunities, one of these can easily hold off bigger American cars with greater weight and poorer handling characteristics.
Just to add, I owned two 1954 Morris Minor Split-screens, like the green one above, the second one had a 1275 A-Series, huge front drum brakes from a 1500 Riley, shocks were upgraded to Koni’s, it had a van rear axle fitted after I twisted the ends off the half-shafts dropping the clutch a bit hard leaving a pub car park, and it had reclining bucket seats for added comfort.
All of the work carried out was by me and a mechanically inclined mate who also had a custom split-screen Minor, in a lock-up garage down the road with no power, basic tools, a set of axle-stands and a Haines manual. They really are pretty simple to work on.


That’s super cool :heart_eyes:

@MrShiv We only ever had the van version of the Morris Minor, but seeing that saloon version brought back some memories; including summer days driving down English and Welsh lanes, and Dad yelling, “DOWN!”. We all had to respond to that by sliding off the rear bench seat on to the floor, as there were no seat belts, and Dad wanted us ready to react in case of an accident.

@Adrian_Hillier My Dad got a little second hand car that proved to be a bit of a handful; breaking the speed limit without breaking a sweat. When he checked under the bonnet, he discovered it had a full, professionally done, Abarth Conversion. Dad decided it wasn’t the car for a family with tiny tots, and sold it on.


My Dad used to rally (back when there were lots of private clubs dotted all over the country) in a mini he and a friend had restored in the late 70s / early 80s, and they had an absolute blast with it.

I was on a US holiday with my parents a few years back, and in Leadville, Colorado - up there in the Rockies at a pretty thin altitude and with some of the most punishing winters you’d care to imagine - we saw this:

Can’t imagine the story of how it came to be there, and it was certainly a charming discovery! That said, my Dad took one and look and explained it would be a pretty tedious task keeping the rust at bay around there, and probably even more tedious driving it along such long, straight, empty roads.


If you want an electric one

I think the best colour for them was baby blue.


My automotive ambition was to own a Frogeye Sprite, but they’re now so expensive I think it’s out of reach (a nice one is £30k!).
What’s confusing me about MrShiv’s pictures though is this:

Looks like a normal car right? The thing is, Sprites were designed as a low cost sports car, so there was a lot of corners cut. (One of them was that the planned popup headlights were too expensive, so it had them just jammed onto the bonnet (hood), giving the car it’s charming ‘face’.)
The other obvious ‘feature’ is that they don’t have a boot (trunk) opening, instead you have to pull the seats forward and go cave diving.
Here’s an original:

So someone has modified that one up top (really nicely!) to add an actual opening lid. (I checked, and the boot lid from the Mk2 Sprite won’t fit without a lot of work apparently).

Damn it. I can’t afford a Frogeye. I don’t have a garage to keep one in, and I can’t afford to keep one running. But I’m still going to spend the rest of the morning looking for ones on sale…

(PS, when people keep saying “It’s an A-series engine”, they mean it’s the same engine as the original Mini, which means there’s loads of parts out there, and people have been hot-rodding them for decades. It’s like the small block Chevvy equivalent for the UK. Except for cars that are designed to go round corners.)


I’ve owned my 59 Sprite for almost 40 years. They are exceedingly easy to work on, pretty reliable when properly sorted (given the era), and parts are very easy to find from suppliers in the US and UK. I no longer enjoy driving it on the freeway though. Modern cars are too big, and the speeds are too fast. It is a blast to drive on secondary roads though.

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British Budget Batmobile.

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More expensive British Batmobile

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