Call them ‘frog eye’ or ‘bug eye’ either way, this is the first version of the venerable Austin Healey Sprite. Our video this week is from when the car was still brand new to the roads in 1958. This old British Motor Corporation publicity video shows the still wet behind the ears, and tires in this case, Sprite driven at Silverstone by famed English racing driver Roy Salvadori.
The Austin Healey Sprite, here in the guise that would become known as the Mk I, was a marvel in its day. Cheap, quick (not fast), and easy to maintain. What it didn’t have in speed, power, or creature comforts it made up for in charm and smiles per gallon. These were, and still are, simply fun cars. These days though they are becoming much more scarce in solid, unmolested condition, and the prices are starting to reflect that.
As much as I have wanted a Mk 1 Sprite to tool around in, I have only ever had one example and it was never road-worthy. In fact, it was far from it. My purchase of the Sprite was my lone experience in buying a car sight unseen from a classified ad, and it taught me my lesson. I bought the car from South Carolina while living in Atlanta, Georgia. I saw the ad in a trade publication and made contact with the seller by phone – this was back in the dim recesses of history before email and text messaging were a thing. The seller assured me that the car was in reasonable condition with the no major rust and a decent engine and drive train. Even though I was living in an apartment at the time I figured that I could get the car back on the road so a deal was struck and cashier’s check was sent.
And then I got sick. Extraordinarily sick. I contracted some viral infection that knocked me out for longer than I can remember and nearly hospitalized me. And then it got worse. The Sprite got “delivered” in the middle of the night. Dropped off is more like it. Probably closer to ejected. No phone call, no knock on the door, nothing. My wife woke me up from my fever induced slumber one morning to inform me that I needed to come look at something. I struggled out of our apartment to the parking lot to discover the most dilapidated Sprite I had ever seen. If I hadn’t already been near death, my wife would have killed me.
As for no rust, the car had holes in it that I could put my entire hand, or arm, through. The engine, such as it was, was sitting on the passenger side floor board, it couldn’t sit on the driver’s side as there was no floorboard, with no head and seized pistons. There was not top of course, but no top frame either. Seats – none. Windshield – cracked. Tires – flat. Bondo – plenty. Well, you get the picture.
The apartment management was only slightly less thrilled than my wife. First, the Sprite went under a car cover. Then it got pushed back to the boat, RV, and extraneous crap parking lot. The heart-warming bug eye grin was still there though, so I loved the car even as I realized it was beyond my ability and circumstances. I sold it on to a local British car junkyard just outside of Atlanta and have missed it ever since. I put down the experience and cash lost to lessons learned, well learned, and never bought another car without looking at it first. I still buy junk sometimes, but it is due to my own blindness and folly, not lack of knowledge.
Still would like to have an early Sprite though. So instead, you get our video of the week and a story. Enjoy!