Austin Healey Sprite
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3
few sports cars were more endearing that the Austin Sprite. It earned the nickname of "Frogeye" due to its pop-eyed headlights and somewhat gaping grin. It captured the hearts of 3000 Healey enthusiasts all over the world being a rather chirpy character on the road with a top speed of 135 km/h.
Assembled at Abingdon, it was based on a simple but sturdy steel unit construction shell the Sprite had immense character, acceptable performance, direct steering
and good handling, all for a very (at the time) purchase price.
The Sprites 948cc engine was the BMC A-Series, which developed 43bhp at 5200rpm making the Sprite good for a top speed of 85mph. The front suspension
was borrowed from the A35, while the steering
rack, back axle and brakes
were borrowed from the Morris Minor.
The distinctive bodywork
featured bulbous headlamps, and the car was quickly dubbed the "frog-eye" by the motoring public. With the headlamps attached to the bonnet, it would hinge up together with the front wings from the scuttle.
To save costs the designers did away with an external boot system, making it necessary to tilt the driver and passenger seat forward to gain access to the rear compartment. But, at £667 when new, it was considered extremely affordable and there was virtually no sports-car competition at that price point.
The Sprite Mk. II and Mk. III
Naturally the car sold very well, and after 48,999 cars had been built, the "frog-eye" was replaced by the Sprite Mk. II in mid-1961
. The Mk. II Sprite received considerable modifications, particularly to the body work. It was now a far more conventional looking vehicle, featuring squared up front and rear styling, a normally opening bonnet, and a far more convenient boot-lid.
Those that have read the Morris Garages article on this site would know that it was a "badge-engineered" version of this car that was sold as the MG Midget. The first of the Mk. II's retained the 948cc engine, but in the autumn of 1962
this was replaced by 1098cc derivative. In 1964
came the Mk. III, now fitted with window winders on the doors, and a half-elliptic (instead of cantilever) leaf spring rear suspension
- and naturally a more powerful engine.
The final major change came in October 1966
, when the de-tuned version of the Mini-Cooper S 1275cc engine, with and a 95mph top speed, was made available. But strangely it was the MG that was gaining in popularity - the "Midget" outselling the "Sprite" consistently every year. This remains the only time (that we are aware of) that a badge-reengineered car has outsold the original!
After the formation of British Leyland in 1968 the days of the Austin-Healey were numbered. Two years later, in 1970
, the last Sprite was manufactured after a total of some 79,338 Mk. II & III's had been built. Instead of wasting already manufactured body shells, a further 1,022 "Austin" only Sprites were manufactured in 1971
, but unfortunately the "Healey" name was no-longer.