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

Austin-Healey Frogeye Sprite Austin-Healey Frogeye Sprite Austin-Healey Frogeye Sprite Austin-Healey Frogeye Sprite There are few cars more distinctive and charming than the Frogeye Sprite. Its slightly gawky but undeniably cute face offers a unique character, a quality furthered by such dinky proportions.

It remains a desirable classic today, and not just for the looks: whether your preference is for a weekend toy or for something to tinker with, it’ll be many enthusiasts’ ideal car – it’s fun to drive, cheap to run, and parts supplies remain plentiful.

If it wasn’t for penny pinching at parent company BMC, its most distinguishing feature might not have come to be: 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 spec

Engine 948cc, Inline 4
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.

• Almost all will have undergone restoration at some point, so inspect the quality of the workmanship, and overall alignment of the body panels.

• 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.

• 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.

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

Key clubs and websites

• midgetandspriteclub.com – large owners’ club for the Sprite and Midget (or Spridget, as they’re affectionately known together).
• 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 (£6000) to near-mint examples with engine and brake upgrades (£22,000). Clean, completely original models are now hard to come by. When they become available, prices range from £12-£15000 for good examples, and a little more for the best.

Words: Alex Ingram
Austin-Healey Frogeye Sprite Austin-Healey Frogeye Sprite Austin-Healey Frogeye Sprite Austin-Healey Frogeye Sprite
Last updated: 2nd Oct 2015
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Austin-Healey Sprite cars for sale

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Austin-Healey Sprite
13950 13950 GBP
  • 1972 Austin-Healey Sprite

    POA POA
    Leominster, Herefordshire, HR6 0DE
    Auction Date: 02 Mar 2016
    RESERVE PRICE
    • Engine size: 1.3
    Auction Date: 02 Mar 2016
    Brightwells
    01568 611122
  • Austin Healey Frogeye Sprite Tifosi Rana

    £13,950 £13,950

    Based on a 1979 MG Midget 1500 this car was restored and rebuilt by marque specialist Halls Garage using a Tifosi Rana bodykit into a Mk1 Austin Healey Frogeye Sprite lookalike . The conversion was featured in an article in the Midget and Sprite Club magazine As new body shell with all new sills etc Rebuilt engine with new clutch Dual circuit brakes Frontline uprated front and rear suspension 5 Speed Type 9 Gearbox conversion by BGH Geartech Genuine Minilite wheels Retrimmed interior with comfortable bucket seats Fully wind up windows and unmarked soft top Personalised number plate Radio Cassette Large history file with many old MOTs and with all invoices from the restoration in 2013/2014 Original Tifosi paperwork and handbooks

    For sale
  • Austin Healey Sprite Mk 1 Frogeye

    POA POA

    POA Austin Healey Frogeye Sprite Launched to the motoring press by BMC in Monte Carlo on 20 May 1958, just before that year's Monaco Grand Prix. It was intended to be a low-cost model that "a chap could keep in his bike shed", yet still being the successor to the sporting versions of the pre-war Austin Seven. The Sprite was designed by the Donald Healey Motor Company, with production being undertaken by Austin- Healey. It first went on sale at a price of £669, using a tuned version of the 948 cc Austin A-Series engine and as many other components from existing cars as possible to keep costs down. The Sprite was made at the MG sports car factory at Abingdon and it was inevitable that the success of the design would spawn further marks and an MG version known as the Midget, reviving a popular pre-war model name. Endearing itself to generations of motoring enthusiasts, and commonly known as the ‘Frogeye’ it retains the same charm today as it did some fifty seven years ago when first launched. First registered in April 1959 with 3 previous owners between 1973 to date. Wonderful and most original well looked after motor car with the same family for the last 35 years. Used sparingly and

    • Year: 1959
    • Mileage: 41000 mi
    For sale
  • 1959 Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite

    POA POA

    (SOLD) This Austin Healy was known as Bugeye Sprite because of its distinctive headlights appearance. The headlights mounted on top of the centre bonnet, which hinged from the back in one piece together with outer mudguards.

    • Year: 1959
    • Mileage: 28003 mi
    For sale
    Classic Showcase
    (760) 758-6100
  • 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
    Classic Showcase
    (760) 758-6100
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