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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
2995 39950 GBP
  • 1959 AUSTIN HEALEY FROGEYED SPRITE. Cherry Red with Black Trim and Black Mohair Hood. Professionally Restored and seriously upgraded for a very well known BRDC racing driver, to his own exacting standards. 1275 Stage 2 Engine, CR Gearbox, 3.7 Diff, Disc Brakes, Uprated Suspension, Front Anti Roll Bar, Long Centre Branch Manifold, Etc. etc. Less than 3000 Miles since. Properly set up. Will sit at 85 MPH all day long and in outstanding order. Follow us on Twitter - @sherwood_resto

    • Year: 1959

    Last update: About 18 Hours Old

    • Mileage: 3000 mi

    For sale
  • Sherwood Restorations
    01636 812655
    see details
  • This delightful little Frogeye hails from the first year of production. It was comprehensively restored from 'barn find' condition by a previous keeper who, even valuing his time at a very modest £15 per hour, reckons the project, including parts and a professional repaint, totalled c.£44,000. Though back on the road by 2007, the Sprite has since travelled just 1,100 miles, so is understandably considered by the vendor to still be in 'good' order throughout. The refurbishment work included a number improvements to the original specification, including: 1098cc A Series engine; disc front brakes; SU electric fuel pump; alternator; later, stronger 'ribbed' gearbox; Minilite wheels; and wood rim steering wheel. 'WCD 482', which is believed to have had just three owners since 1973, is now offered complete with a seven-sided report on the restoration, plus photographic evidence; a Vehicle Condition Advice Report carried out by Classis Assessments in 2010 on behalf of the most recent purchaser.

    • Year: 1958

    Last update: 8 Days Old
    For sale
  • H & H
    08458 334455
    see details
  • Ultimate specification Frogeye Sprite with only 3500 miles since full nut and bolt restoration undertaken by Frontline MG 1460cc Full Race Peter May Engine with race spec 1.5 inch SU Carbs Aldon Distributor with Lumenition electronic ignition Front Mounted 11 row oil cooler High Flow Revotec Fan Red Top high flow fuel pump 7.5 inch competition clutch BGH Rally spec close ratio gearbox Rolling Road Tuned delivering 143BHP at 6800rpm 4.2 Ratio LSD with fine spline halfshafts with approximately 850 miles use only Taper roller front wheel bearings Double Hub rear bearing conversion Full Frontline front suspension conversion Frontline rear telescopic conversion Lowered 1 inch springs all round 11/16 inch anti roll bar with poly bushes Rear Traction Link 4 Pot front calipers with Mintex 1144 pads Rear disc Conversion Kit Large Bore master cylinder kit Braided aeroquip hoses all round with Dot 5.1 Fluid 6x 14 inch painted steel wheels with Avon CR28 turbo speed tyres Bespoke wiring loom with upgraded feeds for the period Lucas spot lamps Heated Seats trimmed in leather Retrotrip trip meter Rear body period reversing lamp All steel body with no filler Works style hardtop with side screens

    Last update: 26 Days Old
    For sale
  • Sussex Sports Cars
    01273 477 778
    see details
  • - Period modified with blown 1275cc engine and PEMA bonnet etc - Featured in Fast Car and Austin-Healey Owners' Club magazines - Shorrocks / Allard badging, Les Leston wheel, fresh MOT certificate First registered by Glamorganshire County Council on 22nd April 1960, `650 FTX' began life as a standard `Frogeye'. Reworked into its current guise by the decade's end, the two-seater appeared in contemporaneous issues of Fast Car and the Austin-Healey Owners' Club magazines. Exchanging its original 948cc engine for a supercharged 1275cc unit, `650 FTX' also gained a PEMA fibreglass bonnet, eight-gauge dashboard, rear wheelarch extensions and widened steel wheels. Laid-up from 1987-2009, it underwent various floor and wheelarch repairs plus general recommissioning before returning to the road. Sparingly used since entering the current ownership three years ago, the `Baby Healey' has only recently returned from France and is expected to possess a fresh MOT certificate by the time of sale. Pleasingly retaining much of its period paintwork plus a Les Leston wood-rim steering wheel and Shorrock / Allard badging etc, this appealing Supercharged Sprite is accompanied by numerous old bills, tax

    • Year: 1960

    Last update: 12 Days Old
    For sale
  • H & H
    08458 334455
    see details
  • (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

    Last update: 4 Months Old

    • Mileage: 484 mi

    For sale
  • Classic Showcase
    (760) 758-6100
    see details
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