Your classic: Austin-Healey Sprite Mk1

| 15 Oct 2020
Classic & Sports Car – Your classic: Austin-Healey Sprite Mk1

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What you drive says something about you, whether you want it to or not.

I must be suffering from some form of multiple-personality disorder because my car history is best described as ‘chequered’, although it is way short of ersatz Gower Street car dealer Buckley.

When I started driving, classics were just old cars. Exceptions were Italians ending with ‘i’ and certain British exotica.

My first car was a Triumph 1300, which was slow but comfortable and was followed by an Imp – the most fun you can have with your clothes on. Then I became ambitious and bought a Lotus Seven from a scrapyard and rebuilt it… it cost £750!

Classic & Sports Car – Your classic: Austin-Healey Sprite Mk1
Dressed to impress at the Goodwood Revival

Following a succession of company cars interspersed with other Lotus (Excel and Elise), I took the plunge on a Jaguar Mk2 3.4 10 years ago.

Once it was sort-of finished the itch started, so I began looking for another classic to keep it company.

My wife Liz agreed with me that something two-seated and drop-topped would be nice for the summer. Also, something with lighter (and cheaper!) parts would be sensible. I’m not getting any younger, you know.

A wide-ranging search resulted in my most recent acquisition: a Mk1 – but an Austin-Healey Sprite, not a Jag.

From leather, wood and straight-six sophistication I’ve ‘progressed’ to 948cc, 44bhp and no synchro on first.

Fortunately, I’ve reached the age where performance isn’t everything – and I have a modern for that, anyway. Isn’t it a joy?!

Classic & Sports Car – Your classic: Austin-Healey Sprite Mk1
Classic & Sports Car – Your classic: Austin-Healey Sprite Mk1
Lightweight 73.5mm pistons from MED are fitted (left); cam timing

Unencumbered by fripperies such as a radio and seatbelts, I instead revel in double-declutching, balancing choke and throttle from cold, and non-cancelling indicators.

Plus, of course, the yellowish glow of sealed-beam headlamps. I can pretend it’s ’65, rather than being 65.

It’s not a perfect example, but that’s part of the fun; gradual improvements keep me away from watching Eastenders.

However, the conspicuous lack of grunt meant the only thing I was likely to beat was the synchromesh.

Yes, it had the original smooth-case gearbox, with all that entails. The search therefore began for upgrades.

Classic & Sports Car – Your classic: Austin-Healey Sprite Mk1
In goes the 1380cc A-series, taken from a later Mk3 Midget and fettled to owner Colley’s perfect spec

Long story short, a donor Mk3 Midget was sourced and its engine went in – not before I rebuilt it, bored it to 1380cc with a high-torque cam, 1.5:1 roller rockers, a ported head with big valves and hardened exhaust seats together with compression raised to 10.2:1 (all from MED in Hinckley in Leicestershire).

Accompanied by the rib-case ’box, and with the 4.2 diff replaced by a 3.9, the specification seemed interesting.

Along the way a few adaptations needed to be made, such as a Minor thermostat housing, hydraulics to the clutch slave and blanking the water-temperature-gauge orifice in the head.

The Midget exhaust manifold is different, so I needed to use the appropriate downpipe and purchase a 1275 single-box silencer.

The good thing is that by restoring a lot of the Midget’s ancillaries, the whole installation looks standard.

Classic & Sports Car – Your classic: Austin-Healey Sprite Mk1
The Healey at home with its Jaguar Mk2 3.4 stablemate

The first crank, with plugs out, resulted in 60psi oil pressure and a compression test revealed 150psi in all four.

It was no use putting it off; I was going to start it for the first time. Bingo! Healthy noises all round. One or two unwanted extra ones (manifold to downpipe joint) were easily sorted, as were the carburettor settings.

It hadn’t all been a waste of time and money.

I am now blessed with a non-matching pair of classics, both usable and both adorable.

The Sprite puts a smile on other people’s faces, too, and I am certainly not alone in thinking they make a great combination: two other people in our village have both Mk2s and Frogeyes.

Now, which to take to the Goodwood next time?


Factfile

  • Owned by Jonathan Colley
  • First classic Lotus Seven
  • Dream classic 1940s Chevrolet ‘Fangio’ coupe

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