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Austin Healey Sprite Mk1

 


How it began

      XLK 375 was made in Sept 1959, it was finished in Leaf Green and first registered on 20th October '59, it came to live with us almost 59 years later in August 2018.  

      I was 9 years old when this little Healey Sprite was made - around the same time as my birthday in fact - which was 4 years before JFK was shot, 8 years before we saw colour TV from the BBC and 10 years before the first manned moon landing.....and the Quarrymen were still a year away from becoming the Beatles!  

     My Dad had a Morris 8 Series E back then, I remember the reg number of it like it was yesterday: GKA 213, a good Liverpool reg if ever there was one. I remember my 9th birthday too because an aunt bought me a Dinky model of a J Type Royal Mail van which for some inexplicable reason remained one of my favourite "Dinkies" for years, along with a Leyland Octopus lorry. Dad had taken a job as a long distance lorry driver in the early 50s and he drove one of those so I got rides in it sometimes - fond memories of another life in a different place.  

    After visiting several classic car meets during the summer of 2018 I started to hanker after something British and classic to keep the Eunos RS Roadster company in the garage. Being a lover of the A & B series engines and having had Minis, Midgets and MGBs as a younger man, I'd looked at them all with a covetous eye before eventually moving on to the GT6 which although a Triumph was for a short time top of my list, but....  It was after one local Sunday morning classic car meet where I'd spotted a lovely old Frogeye Sprite that I started to seriously consider one, a recurring thought which never went far away during the following weeks, so eventually the decision was made and the search began in earnest.

    I'd been after an Isle of Wight Frogeye which caught my eye almost by accident (Google "I.O.W Frogeyes" if you're not familar with them) and it was this which put me in touch with Midget / Sprite specialist Mike Authers who was advertising it on his website for the owner on a commission basis . It promised to be something rather special, which it turned out to be after some research but sadly in the end the paperwork didn't quite back up the provenance claims, due in part to a DVLA cock up so I reluctantly had to let it go..  

     Mike is the proprietor of "Mike Authers Classics" which lies between Oxford and Abingdon. He's been running his business there since the early 1980s so he's a veritable mine of information where Sprites and Midgets are concerned. We exchanged quite a few e.mails during our discussions, which subsequently revealed his obvious and genuine passion for these great little cars. Mike doesn't just sell Spridgets, he lives & breathes them!

     It became apparent that there was something I wasn't happy with regarding the I.O.W car's documentation so I'd finally let my head rule and decided against it. It was at that point Mike mentioned he had a factory original but modified Frogeye in stock which he thought I might be interested in.  He sent me a few photos of it which the previous owner had given him, these had been taken during its restoration quite a few years ago so the shots weren't wonderful but they showed how well the job had been done.  With it being an older restoration and a bit more modified than I really wanted I wasn't too interested at first but he followed up a few days later with some up to date shots he'd taken at his garage, and they fired my interest enough for me to make the journey south to see the car.



Test Drive and Buying

     After finding the farm building that Mike works from and the initial introductions were done with we moved into the garage.  And, there it sat - the object of my desires, a lovely little blue Frogeye all ready and waiting for me to go meet it, it was already smiling so things looked promising. Someone said in a recent classic car mag article that going for one of these things is just like buying a puppy - they weren't wrong!  

 

 

The car is definitely not one for the purist but I've never been one of those anyway so it really doesn't matter. Just as well really because it has a cheeky wee bonnet bulge as well.   

       First impressions were good and it looked to be a remarkably rust free example, so after a quick look over it we decided it was time to take it for a run and Mike fired it up.... Blimey!! This thing is loud! The air rattling through the Weber carb intakes sounds glorious.  I sunk down into the surprisingly comfy passenger seat as Mike steered us out of his garage and negotiated the long farm track which took us to the road at the end of it. There's some nice countryside around here, perfect for sportscars and with the old site of the MG factory at Abingdon nearby this area was also the testing ground for a lot of MGs back in the 40s and 50s so the place has history. The Frogeyes and later Sprites were all assembled at the MG factory in Abingdon (as were the big Healeys as well) so it's a fitting place to find a Sprite / MG dealer right on the doorstep.  

     Out on the road the temp gauge showed normal and the oil pressure was looking good so Mike put his foot down a bit and this demure little and it is very little, tiny in fact car turned into a rattling, spitting & snorting missile.  The roar through the Weber sounded incredible, it was hilarious honking along this little country road in a 59 year old car at what felt like a totally insane speed probably no more than 40mph but such was the noise from it, that it felt absolutely manic! 

     Soon it was my turn, so Mike pulled into a little lay-by and I climbed into the driver's seat, no clunk click needed here due to the age of the car, it does have 3 point harnesses fitted but we left them hidden behind the seats just because we could, it was akin to one of those rare rebellious moments when I rode motorbikes without wearing a crash helmet.

     Moving off it becomes evident how incredibly light this car is, the unassisted steering is very quick and ultra responsive with lots of feel from the road coming back through the steering wheel, especially after stepping out of a modern car with electronic power steering.  It feels odd and dated at first which is to be expected due to its age but it's something you get used to I'm sure

 


        The brakes are awful by modern standards, with the brake pedal having to be really stamped hard upon to scrub off any speed in comparison to the Fiesta ST180 I drove down here in - and even the 25 year old Eunos Roadster brakes feel light years ahead. No servos here though which makes things very .....erm ..interesting!  This one has been uprated to disc brakes up front as well to replace the old original drums but they're still pretty dire. 

      

     We're back at the farm all too soon, me with a big stupid grin on my face and Mike asked if I wanted to run it up onto the lift so I could have a poke around underneath, so I accepted the invitation. The underside of this car is amazing! It's as clean as the top and it's all the same colour no underseal here to hide any horror stories and it's all clean, apart from the odd dribble of old Waxoyl. There's the usual 'A' series engine oil leak from the back of it, no rear oil seal was fitted there on an A series engine so they all leak a bit, but most owners look upon it as a "rolling oil change". The old saying about British cars is: "If it hasn't got an oil leak then there's none in it" 

    Time to talk money, I was definitely not letting this little monster slip through my fingers but Mike wasn't for budging on price,  I thought it was a tad overpriced given the work that needed doing to tidy it up and bring it back to standard spec, but after seeing the condition of the underneath I really did want it, there can't be too many around as solid as this....and it was smiling at me for gawd's sake!!. The solid condition of the shell makes this car a viable and relatively easy project and finding another one as good would be difficult, so in the end he knocked a bit off the asking price which offset the cost of transporting it back to Lancashire and we shook hands on the deal. 

     I do have plans for it, which include turning it back to more standard spec but retaining a 1275 engine. It won't be this 1275 engine though because it's got a lot of expensive gear on it so it'll be quite saleable and I'll build a nice standard engine from the proceeds - and that will probably include putting it back onto twin S.U carbs. First though I intend to have a bit of fun with it as it is for a year or so  because it does snarl a lot and it makes me smile!   

    
Comes complete with an original log book

 


Nerdy Stuff

     This is a copy of some of the receipts I got with the car, it's mostly engine items so there are missing purchase records relating to the body restoration but it's had lots of s spent on it. 



      This list has now been significantly added to since I acquired the car

        The day after buying the Frog I was mooching through some classic car insurance websites and a few had it listed as a Sebring Sprite which prompted a delve into the Interweb, where I found these pics of it in a past life. These will have been taken around the time that the previous owner bought it in 1997 at a guess, but this looks more like an Ashley hardtop and front end than a Sebring. This Sprite could have some competition history given a few clues such the tuned engine, how stripped out it is, the oil catch tank and having no coolant additives in it etc. It's also got a lot of holes in its history where it doesn't appear to have been taxed for many years, which may suggest some track use, there's very little history for it before 1997.  Its condition hints that it's rarely been used on UK salted roads as it still has the original floor pans so I'm going to try and find out what I can about it. 

 

 


The previous owner with the Frog but not sure what year this is.  

 

The Shell restoration

      The photos below are the ones that came with the car and show the  shell restoration, the paperwork that also came with it would suggest (up to now) that it was carried out between 1997 & 1999. 


 

 

 


           Above: Looking from the rear - note the the small "hookeyes" at the front of the floor, these were fitted by the factory and according to Mike Authers were used to pull the cars along on the production line and XLK 375 still has them. On replacement Sprite floors they're missing so these are almost certainly original floor pans. The rest of the car seems to have had comparatively little welding done during the shell restoration so it was far from a "basket case" beforehand by the looks of it


 

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