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Austin-Healey Frogeye Sprite: review and buying guide (1958-1961)

Austin-Healey Frogeye Sprite: review and buying guide (1958-1961) Classic and Performance Car
Austin-Healey Frogeye Sprite Austin-Healey Frogeye Sprite Austin-Healey Frogeye Sprite Austin-Healey Frogeye Sprite
Few cars look quite as happy as the Austin-Healey Frogeye Sprite, and thanks to its hugely lovable nature – owning one has been known to give any owner an equally large grin! On modern roads the Sprite looks absolutely tiny too, adding to its almost toy-like appearance.
 
While it’s fundamentally the same car as the later MG Midget, the Frogeye Sprite offers a unique character that is simply charming, not to mention a whole lot more distinctive. While values are higher, the Sprite remains a very strong proposition for the DIY enthusiast – which means it’s actually one of the cheapest classic cars to run and maintain.
 
Then of course there’s the fun that can be found sitting behind the wheel. This is not by any means the ultimate performance machine, but it’s low, lightweight and extremely direct. Its small size also makes brilliant on the UK’s smaller back lanes that can often feel too narrow in anything more moderna and powerful.
 
While the history of the model is interesting, you can thank the penny pinching at parent company BMC for its most distinguishing feature. Those headlights were originally meant to fold backwards into the bonnet when not in use (much like a Porsche 928) but during its development it was decided the system would be too expensive. This, and other cost-cutting measures meant that it was incredibly cheap in its day, but subsequent versions of the Sprite (featuring completely revised styling and a larger, heavier body) lacked the desirability of the original. 
 
As many as 49,000 were produced, around a quarter of which were right-hand drive. Numbers have reduced since, though as classics go it's still fairly accessible – around 1000 MkI sprites are still present in the UK alone. 
 

Which one to buy?

 
Over the Frogeye's three year life, very little changed in terms of performance and spec. However, many buyers have since tweaked the original formula either for cosmetic reasons or to update the driving experience. 
 
The most common modifications are centred around the engine. The standard 948cc A Series lump produced a tiny 43bhp – many buyers considered it underpowered even back in the fifties, leaving many searching for improvement. The simplest upgrade is to fit the larger carburettors from the MkII Sprite which liberates 3-4bhp, but slightly more comprehensive steps gain much greater performance. 
 
Engine swaps are common, with various later and more powerful versions of the A Series fitting easily under the bonnet. Often lifted from the MG Midget or MKIV Sprite, the 1275cc unit offers 65bhp and 72lb ft, boosting acceleration significantly. Due to the sheer number produced, the 1098cc lump is often used, too. 
 
Though neither disc brakes or wire wheels were available at launch, both are frequently poached from either the Midget or later Sprites. The brake disc upgrade is certainly a desirable feature – particularly if the engine has been upgraded. With the Sprite often used by motorsport enthusiasts back in the sixties, one of the most common weight saving measures was to replace the standard steel front clamshell for a fiberglass part. 
 
It’s worth remembering that the Sprite is tiny by modern standards – anyone over six foot tall will struggle to fit inside the cabin. The boot is only accessible from behind the seats – to improve rigidity (and reduce development costs) there is no bootlid. 
 
There were eight paint options available during the Sprite’s life, though not all of them at the same time. The most desirable shades now are Old English White (which remained throughout the full duration of production) and Iris Blue. 
 

Performance and specs 

 
Engine 948cc, in-line four-cylinder
Power 45bhp @ 5500rpm
Torque 52lb ft @ 3000rpm
Top speed 83mph
0-60mph 20.5secs
Fuel consumption approx 43mpg
Gearbox Four-speed manual
 

Dimensions and weight

 
Wheelbase 2032mm
Length 3493mm
Width 1346mm
Height 1264mm
Weight 664kg
 

Common problems

 
• Check for rust pretty much everywhere, but particularly on the sills, the floor and around the suspension mounting points. The Sprite’s advanced monocoque construction, the first mass-produced British car to feature this, does make repairs more difficult than its more simple rivals. 
 
• A lot of the the car’s potential value is in the body shell, so a thorough inspection is a must. An easy way to tell the general health of the body is to look carefully at the car’s panel gaps. Uneven gaps can mean that there are structural issues hiding beneath.
 
• If you can get the car on a ramp, a thorough inspection of the underneath would be extremely beneficial. One key area is the rear spring holder, which is quite difficult to repair. 
 
• Be cautious of thick underseal. This could be a sign of a fastidious owner, but it could also be hiding flaking paint and serious corrosion.
 
• Rust usually started attacking the Sprite just a few years after it was built, so almost all will have undergone restoration at some point. Inspect the quality of the workmanship, as a poor paint job could spell trouble in the near future. 
 
• Make sure that the bonnet, doors, and boot all open, close and generally feel positive when used. The large and relatively heavy front clamshell puts a lot of strain on the hinges, so check that these are in good shape.
 
• The Sprite is soon approaching its 60th birthday, so it isn't too surprising to see cars with worn or tired-looking interiors. Fortunately, both replacement and aftermarket parts are abundant and reasonably priced – a trim set including door cards, carpets and dashboard panel costs barely more than £150. The same applies to replacement hoods and seats. 
 
• Thankfully, there is very little in the way of trim to worry about on the Sprite, but check for condition of the chrome grille, windscreen surround and front bumper (if fitted)
 
• Under the bonnet there shouldn’t be much cause for concern. The A Series engine is a doddle to work on, with cheap parts and endless online resources and specialists offering help if anything goes wrong. 
 
• To check the general health of the engine, look at the condition of the oil, coolant and other fluids. Oil leaks come with the territory, but anything excessive should be cause for concern. Keep an eye on the oil pressure when the car is both cold and warm.
 

Model history

 
May 1958: Unveiled to the press in Monte Carlo, just prior to that season’s Monaco Grand Prix. Prices started at £669 
1959: Three of the five paint options were changed. Whitehall Nevada Beige replaced Primrose Yellow, Iris Blue replaced Speedwell Blue and Leaf Green replaced Dark Green 
1961: MkI was replaced by the MkII, which brought significant styling changes, ending the Frogeye’s production run 
 

Owners clubs, forums and websites 

 
• www.midgetandspriteclub.com – Large owners’ club for the Sprite and Midget
• www.austinhealeyclub.com – Owners’ club for the full Austin Healey range, including the Sprite 
• www.frogeyesprite.co.uk – Specialists that cover parts, spares, servicing, tuning and race preparation 
• www.ahspares.co.uk – Parts specialist 
 

Summary and prices 

 
With a decent number of Sprites still in existence, there tends to be a reasonable amount of choice on the market at any one time. Prices vary wildly from rolling shells at about £7000 to near-mint examples with engine and brake upgrades for £25,000. Clean, completely original models are now hard to come by. When they become available, prices range from £12,000-£18,000 for good examples, and a little more for the best.
Austin-Healey Frogeye Sprite Austin-Healey Frogeye Sprite Austin-Healey Frogeye Sprite Austin-Healey Frogeye Sprite
Last updated: 16th Feb 2017
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Austin-Healey Sprite
6950 41500 GBP
  • AUSTIN HEALEY FROGEYE SPRITE 1959 Manual Red Petrol 0

    £14,995 £14,995

    1959 Austin Healey Sprite MK I Frogeye. Burgundy with black upholstery and black side screens. Designed by Donald Healey in partnership with BMC, the MkI Sprite was launched in 1958 and proved such a hit that it spawned a whole new generation of imitators from rivals like Triumph and MG. Based around humble A35 underpinnings, it inspired huge public affection due to its lively road manners and cute 'Frogeye' styling – a happy accident that only came about because the pop-up headlights that the car was designed for proved too costly to mass produce and were changed at the last minute to the fixed pods that so define the car today. This charming Frogeye Sprite has been with its last keeper for 17 years and during this time he has rebuilt the car with all of the bills and invoices in the history file. The Healey has been fitted with the larger 1275cc engine which makes the car a lot more alert and sprightly than the 948cc engines and is really fun to drive on country lanes. The paintwork presents very well and the interior in super condition with no signs of wear. The black hood is in very good order as are the side screens. On test drive the car performed very well with a strong engine pulling well and a smooth gearbox. The car comes complete with a large history folder containing old MoT's and various bills and invoices along with a drivers handbook and original workshop manual. Absolutely any inspection is welcome. All major debit cards accepted. Delivery can be arranged.

    • Engine size: 1.275
    For sale
    £14,995 £14,995
    TA Classics
    Office 01604 593445 View contact number
    TA Classics
    Office 01604 593445 View contact number
  • AUSTIN HEALEY SPRITE MKI ‘FROG EYE’

    €41,500(£0) €41,500(£0)

    MOST PROBABLY THE MOST BEAUTIFUL RESTORED EXAMPLE IN THE WORLD Brand Austin Healey Type Sprite MKI ‘Frog Eye’ Color Cream Interior Blue Year of build 1960 Price € 41.500,- 1960 AUSTIN HEALEY SPRITE MKI ‘FROG EYE’ Most probably the most beautiful and most correct restored example in the world Restored as it has to be. Period correct with keeping an eye on details as they were created in the factory. Restored by 1 of the best Healey restoration companies in the world for much more money then the current price / value Comes with heritage trust certificate Offers charming looks and a lot of fun for a relatively modest investment If anyone in the British motoring industry had sports car credentials, it was Donald Healey. Driving an Invicta, Healey had won the Monte Carlo Rally outright despite encountering heavy snow. The man was a top driver, an entrepreneur, a fierce competitor and a terrific driver. After World War II, he set up his own business in Warwick, England, to manufacture his own line of Healey automobiles. The bodies and chassis were unique and drivelines came from Riley. The cars were well-designed and carefully-built. They were also quite expensive. In 1952 he interested

    • Year: 1960
    For sale
    €41,500(£0) €41,500(£0)
  • 1960 Austin-Healey Bug Eye

    $6,950(£0) $6,950(£0)

    1960 Austin-Healey Bug Eye The 1960 Austin-Healey Bug Eye shown here is made available in yellow with black interior. It comes equipped with a manual transmission, dual carburetors, solid wheels and with the soft top. An excellent candidate for restoration. For $6,950 If you have any additional questions Please call 310-975-0272 or email with any questions! We also welcome all international buyers. We can help with shipping quotes and arrangements.

    • Year: 1960
    For sale
    $6,950(£0) $6,950(£0)
  • 1961 Austin-Healey Bug Eye Sprite

    $21,750(£0) $21,750(£0)

    1961 Austin-Healey Bug Eye Sprite The 1961 Austin-Healey Bug Eye Sprite displayed here in light blue with navy blue interior is an older restoration. It is equipped with a manual transmission, dual carburetors, solid wheels with whitewall tires, rear luggage rack and includes the soft top. An extremely clean and presentable car which is mechanically sound. For $21,750 If you have any additional questions Please call 310-975-0272 or email with any questions! We also welcome all international buyers. We can help with shipping quotes and arrangements.

    • Year: 1961
    For sale
    $21,750(£0) $21,750(£0)
  • Austin Healey Sprite 1,1 Cabriolet

    €13,500(£0) €13,500(£0)

    Austin Healey Sprite 1,1 Cabriolet Equipment: Bemærk bilen står i Odense Meget fin lille sommerbil fin stand ældre men fin restaurering på danske plader ring for info

    • Year: 1964
    For sale
    €13,500(£0) €13,500(£0)
  • 1959 Austin Healey Frogeye Sprite

    £29,995 £29,995

    This stunning original RHD UK supplied Austin Healey ‘Frogeye' Sprite MKI was first registered on the 10th July 1959 and has had just four owners from new. The Frogeye spent many years off the road and in 2015 was subject of a total nut and bolt restoration. Since completion the car has covered just 775 miles, 150 of these on the rolling road and it was driven to us from the Wakefield area without hesitation. WXX 707 has had an absolute fortune spent on rebuild; £20,000 has been spent alone on parts before labour. Invoices and photographs are available to support this. £9,000 alone was spent having a brand new Wheeler and Davis Stage 3 bodyshell which includes a new steel bonnet, doors and rear wings. The engine was rebuilt by a race engine builder, John Toovey of Toovey Racing. The gearbox was stripped down and rebuilt by a South Yorkshire specialist and the car built up with a brand new interior, brand new weather equipment, new wiring and electrics. The Frogeye was painted in the ever popular Iris Blue and Dark Blue upholstery has been used offering a lovely combination. The Sprite MKI has a perfect, as new underside that has been professionally clear waxoyled at Rustbusters and

    • Year: 1959
    • Mileage: 775 mi
    For sale
    £29,995 £29,995
  • 1960 Austin Healey 'Frogeye' Sprite

    £18,995 £18,995

    757 BOJ was first registered on the 18th May 1960 and spent much of its early life in the Greater London area, based in Eltham, SE9 and later Bushey in Hertfordshire. By 1976 the 'Frogeye' was registered in the North West where it has spent the majority of the past 40 years, moving between Lancaster, Carnforth and the Lake District. We initially brought the 'Frogeye' in through part exchange for a Triumph TR6 in May 2015, collecting it up in the Lake District. We sold the car immediately to one of our regular customers in South Yorkshire and carried out a high level of preparation work to include new track rod ends, new radius arms, rebuilt brake calipers, new rear wheel cylinders, rebuilt rev counter and replacement ammeter, top hose, ignition switch and choke cable.

    • Year: 1960
    • Mileage: 4000 mi
    For sale
    £18,995 £18,995
  • 1960 Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite MK I

    POA POA

    (SOLD) Completed at the Austin-Healey Works in January of 1960, this Sprite MK I "Bugeye" was configured as a US market left hand drive example. Its early history remains unknown, but by the 1990s the Sprite was in Texas with an Austin-Healey enthusiast. Here it was treated to a meticulous restoration, and tastefully upgraded to a serious performance car. The original 948cc engine was removed in favor of a 1,275cc unit, and a supercharger installed to feed it, while Minilite-style alloy wheels, white-faced Smiths gauges, and a sports steering wheel were fitted to give the car an appropriately racy look. This beautifully presented Sprite offers much-improved performance, charming looks, and should be a fun companion on the backroads for a relatively modest investment.

    • Year: 1960
    • Mileage: 484 mi
    For sale
    POA POA