Baby Blue Bugeye: 1959 Austin Healey Sprite – Sold!
We love the simplicity of the original Mk 1 Austin Healey “Bugeye” Sprites. In our humble opinion, this restored baby blue over black 1959 example listed in August 2020 on Craigslist in Williamsport, Pennsylvania is the prettiest we’ve featured to date. The current caretaker is asking $14,500 for their fully restored example and a check of the Hagerty Insurance Online Valuation Tool confirms their asking price falls between the #2 “Excellent” appraisal of $20,500 and the #3 “Good” estimate of $12,900.
Austin-Healey produced its entry-level Sprite sports car from 1958 to 1971. British Motor Company (“BMC”), contracting with Don Healey at that point, launched the car in late May 1958 in Monte Carlo, two days after that year’s Monaco Grand Prix. It was intended to be a low-cost model and spiritual successor to the sporting versions of the pre-war Austin Seven. While Donald Healey designed the Sprite, BMC’s MG factory at Abingdon handled production.
The Mk1 Sprite quickly became affectionately known as the “frogeye” in the UK and the “bugeye” in the US, because its headlights were prominently mounted on top of the bonnet, inboard of the front wings. The car’s designers had intended that the headlights could be retracted, with the lenses facing skyward when not in use; a similar arrangement was used many years later on the Porsche 928. However, cost cutting by BMC led deletion of the flip-up mechanism, giving the car its most distinctive feature. This gave the car its appeal as a result of its much loved cute appearance. The car’s distinctive frontal styling bore a strong resemblance to the defunct American 1951 Crosley Super Sport. In total, BMC produced nearly 50,000 Mk1 Sprites between 1958 and 1961.
The problem of providing a rigid structure to a small open-topped sports car was resolved by Barry Bilbie, Healey’s chassis designer, who adapted the idea provided by the Jaguar D-type, with rear suspension forces routed through the body shell’s floor pan. The Sprite’s chassis design was the world’s first volume-production sports car to use unitary construction, where the sheet metal body panels (apart from the bonnet) take many of the structural stresses. The original metal gauge (thickness of steel) of the rear structure specified by Bilbie was reduced by the Austin Design Office during prototype build, however during testing at MIRA (Motor Industry Research Association) distortion and deformation of the rear structure occurred and the original specification was reinstated. The two front chassis legs projecting forward from the passenger compartment mean the shell is not a full monocoque. The front sheet-metal assembly, including the hood and fenders were a one-piece, rear-hinged unit that swung up to facilitate access to the engine compartment.
Healey sourced the 43 brake horsepower, 948 cc overhead valve engine from the Austin A35 and Morris Minor 1000 models and upgraded with twin 11⁄8 inch SU carburetors. The rack and pinion steering was derived from the Morris Minor 1000 and the front suspension from the Austin A35. The front suspension was a coil spring and wishbone arrangement, with the arm of the Armstrong lever shock absorber serving as the top suspension link. The rear axle was both located and sprung by quarter-elliptic leaf springs, again with lever-arm shock absorbers and top links. The wheels were 13″ fitted with either 520X13 crossply tires or upgraded with 145HR13 Pirelli Cinturato radial units. There were no exterior door handles; the driver and passenger were required to reach inside to open the door. There was also no boot lid, owing to the need to retain as much structural integrity as possible, and access to the spare wheel and luggage compartment was achieved by tilting the seat-backs forward and reaching under the rear deck, which resulted in a large space available to store soft baggage.
We came across this older video from specialist restorer bugeyeguy.com who provides a brief buyer’s guide on what to look for when buying one of these classic sports cars:
In addition to the color combination, we’re impressed with appears to be a quality restoration based on the pictures. However, with the limited description and no pictures of the under hood or chassis area, we strongly recommend a thorough in-person inspection prior to committing. Good luck with the purchase!
Here’s the seller’s very brief description:
“Classic 1959 Austin Healey “Bugeye” Sprite. Restored (see pics) & Stored. $14,500 firm. Email through craigslist.“
Do you have a Bugeye Sprite story you’d like to share? Comment below and let us know!