The Austin-Healey "Frogeye" Sprite is 60 years young

ER Classics Desktop 2022

In 1958, the illustrious Austin-Healey launched a new, affordable sports car. In the run-up to that moment, Leonard Lord and Donald Healey had regular contact with each other and foresaw a good future for a small two-seater. He finally came about after the designers first constructed two prototypes. The Sprite - recently celebrated in Leeuwarden during CLASSICSNL - was born. It was offered for 669 pounds, and was soon praised for its maneuverability. The sports car with the striking front was also loved for another reason. The first series in particular stood out in the eye thanks to the upstanding large round headlights.

Initially, designer Gerry Coker wanted to provide the Sprite with "Pop-Up" lighting, but due to cost and cosmetic considerations, it was abandoned. This way the car got its own face - without being originally intended - and the legendary nickname "Frogeye". The striking bodywork was equipped with existing BMC technology. The steering came for account from the Morris Minor. The Austin A35 donated the rear axle and front suspension and the transmission and the four-cylinder BMC A-series engine. That power source had a displacement of 948 cc. Thanks to the installation of 2 SU carburetors, the power increased from 34 DIN-PK to 42 DIN-PK.

Rare for a sports car: self-supporting body

The new car had a self-supporting body, and that was rare for a sports car in 1958. In fact, the Sprite was the first mass-produced sports car with such a construction. The front could be opened in one piece. No hinged flap was fitted at the rear. Luggage could only be placed by sliding behind the seats in the luggage compartment: a simple solution. The occupant compartment had a special entry, where the doors had to be opened from the inside. On the outside there were no door handles.

Basic equipment, many options

The suspension at the front consisted of coil springs with so-called arm shock absorbers. At the rear, the Sprite got the rigid rear axle of the Austin A35. Quarter-elliptical leaf springs and (again) arm shock absorbers completed the construction at the rear. The car was equipped as standard with steel rims with ventilation holes and wheel covers with the AH logo. And those who wanted to order spoke rims could contact the Donald Healey Motor Company. Those rims led to, among other things, the shortening of the rear axle. Various extras could also be ordered from the dealer, including a heater (which was not standard at the time!), Whitewalls, rev counter or hardtop. The equipment was simple from the factory, Austin Healey was keen to keep the weight of the car as low as possible.

Thankful object for sporty adaptation

There were also opportunities in the field of other technical adjustments, such as the installation of a more powerful brake system. The Sprite was - with its maneuverability, low mass and technology - a rewarding object for sporting adaptations, and also stood its ground in competition. For example, he was a welcome guest (and prize-winning guest) in the Preston Hill Climbs, and also participated in competitions such as the Targa Florio, the Monte Carlo Rally and the Alpine Rally.

Small 50.000 pieces

The career of the Frogeye was fairly short. From 1958 to 1961, a total of small 50.000 Frogeyes were produced in Abingdon in the UK. A number of them were exported to Australia as a kit, and assembled there in Enfield. Today, the Frogeye Sprite in good condition is a pricey classic, and is regularly used in historic rallies.

Sebring Sprite

A separate version was the Austin-Healey Sebring Sprite. The Sebring Sprite featured modified carburetion, Girling disc brakes, modified bodywork and a double-disc clutch coupled to a close ratio gearbox. The car was homologated by the FIA ​​on September 17, 1960 for participation in national and international competitions. After homologation, there was scope for the design of multiple bodies, FIA regulations allowed the use of 'special bodies' and a small number of Sebring Sprites were subsequently fitted with aluminum alloy and fiberglass coupé bodywork. John Sprinzel, who won the 1959 British Rally Championship, was one of those involved. He asked Williams & Pritchard, which specializes in racing and prototypes, to produce a number of coaches. Other manufacturers were also involved in the bodywork of this specific Sprite.

Tribute in Leeuwarden

A few weeks ago, during CLASSICSNL 2018 in Leeuwarden, the 60e birthday of the extremely sympathetic Sprite was considered. The Austin-Healey Owners Club Holland and Carrosso from Oldemarkt worked closely together in the run-up to the fair to give an impressive tribute to the Sprite. They succeeded exceptionally well in that setup. Visitors to CLASSICSNL were welcomed at the entrance by three beautiful Sprite variants from the first generation. Via a blue carpet (with anniversary logo, maybe!) The attendees were led to the stand of the Austin Healey Owners Club, where several Frogeyes and Austin-Healey family members were exhibited.

Dinky Toys box

Not only the Sprite MKI specimens present caught the eye, but also the way in which a beautiful "100" was exhibited was special. Visitors found it on a specially made Dinky Toys box, which was enlarged to 1 on 1. Magnificent.

Charming club: AHOCN

Also very charming: the hospitable reception by various members of the Austin-Healey Owners Club Nederland and father and son Visser of Carrosso. They managed to convey the love for the cuddly sports car in a natural way and made sure that they were among the tastemakers of CLASSICSNL 2018. The Frogeye showed - together with his family members - that the organization of CLASSICSNL had made the right choice to make the 60-e birthday of the Sprite one of the main themes. And the way in which Carrosso and the AHOCN filled in the anniversary matched perfectly with the image of the Sprite Mk1: exclusive in all modesty.



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