Buoyed by the success of the Austin-Healey 100, partners BMC and Donald Healey came up with a clever new concept. The innovative 1958 Austin-Healey Sprite was designed to appeal to increasing numbers of youngsters with good incomes who were excited by the idea of open-top motoring but couldn’t afford the expensive roadsters driven by their well-heeled elders. It proved to be an inspired thought.
This time the Sprite’s major ‘donor’ was Austin’s well-proven A35, with help from the Morris 1000. The engine acquired twin carburetors and the body was simplicity itself, with no external boot access or door handles. Trim was minimal and the one fancy element – pop-up headlights set into the bonnet lid — was soon abandoned as too complicated. However, fixed headlights substituted, giving this neat little sports car its characteristic appearance and quickly earning the nickname ‘Frogeye Sprite’ (‘Bugeye’ in America). The front end, wings and all, was hinged to fold forward and give access to the engine compartment. This was also the first production sports car to use integrated construction where body panels provide the vehicle’s structural strength.
These nippy little cars were ideal competition material and were campaigned by the MC Competition Department, almost immediately securing a class win at the 1958 Alpine Rally. Many privateers appreciated the Sprite’s competitive qualities and the ultimate development was the Sebring Sprite built by Williams & Pritchard under the direction of rally champion John Sprinzel. This was accepted by the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) as a separate model in its own right.
Many Sprites are still driven for pleasure or in competition today, maintaining that early intention that they should be the most accessible of sports cars. The early Frogeyes’ are considered more desirable than later Mk II, HI and IV evolutions with more conventional styling.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1958 (until 1961) ENGINE: 948 cc Straight Four
Top speed of 83 mph (133 km/h), 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 20.5 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
MG with their Midget subsequently imitated the ‘junior sports car’ idea and the two junior sports cars are referred to collectively as ‘Spridgets’ (both were built at the MG factory in Abingdon). Triumph also jumped on the bandwagon with their 1962 Spitfire.