Some automotive academics believe all the best car designs have a recognizable face. If that is the case, few cars have a cuter one than this little fellow, with that ear-to-ear grinning grille and those wide-open, slightly astonished eyes.
Of course, it is those trademark bulging peepers that prompted the nickname “Frogeye,” by which everyone now recognizes this engaging little character. So much of the Frogeye’s character was borne of necessity. The Donald Healey Motor Company and Austin had already teamed up with the Austin Healey 100. In 1958, its little brother, the Sprite, was born, a spartan sports car designed down to a price and based on the engine and running gear of the Austin A35 sedan, with a bit of Morris Minor too. Yet the Frogeye really was a sports car and had a sweet raspberry exhaust note to prove it.
At just under 11 ft 5 in (3.5 m), the Frogeye is not quite as small as it looks. Its pert looks were only part of the car’s cult appeal; for with its firm, even harsh, ride it had a traditional British sports car feel. A nimble performer, you could hustle it along a twisty road, cornering flat and clicking through the gears.
The Frogeye’s low stance aided flat cornering. Ground clearance was better than it looked: just under 5 in (12.7 cm).
Bumpers with overriders were a sensible and popular extra.
The Austin-Morris A-series engine was a little gem. It first appeared in the Austin A35 sedan and went on to power several generations of Mini. In the Frogeye it was modified internally with extra-strong valve springs and equipped with twin SU carburetors to give 50 bhp gross (43 bhp net). By today’s standards it’s no road burner, but in the late Fifties it was a peppy little performer.
Rear-hinged alligator hood gives great engine access and makes the Frogeye a delight for tinkerers.
THE FROG’S EYES
Donald Healey’s original design incorporated retracting headlights like the later Lotus Elan, but extra cost ruled these out. As it was, the protruding headlight pods created a car with a character all of its own. The complex one-piece hood in which the lamps are set is made up of four main panels.
Sidelights doubled as flashing indicators.
Sprites put up spirited performances at Le Mans and Sebring in Florida, making club racing affordable to ordinary enthusiasts.
The design has a classic simplicity, free of needless chrome embellishment; there is no external door handle to interrupt the flowing flanks. In 1961 the Frogeye was reclothed in a more conventional skin, and these follow-on Sprites, also badged as MG Midgets, lasted until 1979.
It is not so much a trunk, because it does not open; more a luggage locker with access behind the rear seats.
The Frogeye fits like a glove. Side curtains rather than wind-down windows gave some extra elbow room and everything is within reach for the sporty driver—speedo on the right and tachometer on the left.
Stubby gear stick was nicely positioned for the driver.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Austin-Healey Sprite Mk1 (1958–61)
BODY STYLE Two-seater roadster.
CONSTRUCTION Unitary body/chassis.
ENGINE BMC A-Series 948cc, fourcylinder, overhead valve.
POWER OUTPUT 43 bhp at 5200 rpm.
TRANSMISSION Four-speed manual, synchromesh on top three ratios.
SUSPENSION Front: Independent, coil springs and wishbones; Rear: Quarter-elliptic leaf springs, rigid axle.
BRAKES Hydraulic, drums all around.
MAXIMUM SPEED 84 mph (135 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 20.5 sec
A.F.C. 35–45 mpg (12.5–16 km/l)