Monday, August 5, 2013

El Segundo Street Sighting - 1961 Austin-Healey Sprite

I've long been a purist about cars. Heavy modifications in my opinion usually ruin a classic car's looks, even if they improve its performance. This can range from simple wheel and paint choices to ridiculous engine swaps and severe cutting of the frame and/or body. The rarer the car, the more it bothers me. In the case of this Austin-Healey Sprite, I'm amused. The Sprite began as the Bugeye/Frogeye, a funny little roadster with round headlights that stuck up out of the hood and a happy-looking grille. The second-generation 1961 Sprite used much of the same body and underpinnings, but styling was more modern and conventional. A nearly identical MG Midget model was also offered, and soon handily outsold the Healey that spawned it.

The Sprite was never a quick car in a straight line. Acceleration was leisurely at best, courtesy of a 43 horsepower, 0.9 liter engine sourced from the Austin parts bin. (Mark II Sprites and beyond received a 56-horsepower 1.1 liter unit.) Its forte was handling, which it did well enough to be competitive in racing, thanks to miniscule size and featherweight mass. Top speed was around 85 mph. For this reason I don't think that the car's aerodynamics were much of a problem. Nevertheless, one owner seems to have decided the Sprite needed an update. I honestly can't tell what year it is, because the body has been altered so heavily with fender flares, customized taillights and an entirely new front end with modern headlamps. The interior is also redone, with new seats and a steering wheel that looks custom. The only clues to the car's age are the Mark I or Mark II dashboard and the original gauges (the Smiths tachometer seems consistent with a 1961 model or newer). The badge on the steering wheel center may be off of a newer car. The rear bodywork suggests a Mark I Bugeye Sprite, which had a rounder rear end and no trunk lid. Calling this car a 1961 covers the interim period between the Mark I and the Mark II, as I've seen both versions referred to as '61s. Further confusing the issue is the availability of fiberglass replica Sprite bodies in the 1980s from Banham, but those tend to look a bit off and I don't think this started as one of those.
It's interesting, I'll give it that. I've certainly never seen another one like it.

If any readers have more information on this car, please let me know.

2 comments:

  1. Looks like it started as a MKI Sprite.

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  2. Interesting.. but I hate it. who would do that? it looks like a Suzuki Cappucino.

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