1959 Austin-Healey 'Sebring' Sprite Evocation
To be sold by Silverstone Auctions at ‘Race Retro’ on Saturday 23rd February 2019 at Stoneleigh Park, near Coventry (CV8 2LZ). For more information please contact classic car specialist Joe Watts 00 44 (0) 7779 082707.
Lot number: 325 - Estimate (£): 16,000 - 19,000
(+buyer's premium of 15% including VAT @ 20%)
- Bought by our vendor in 1990 and prepared for Rallying with regular success
- Laid up for 10 years until 2006 when it was rebuilt as a 'Sebring Sprite by the late Brian Archer
- New fastback, bonnet, roll cage, Bill Richards engine, CR box, discs, alternator etc
- Several years sprinting & hill climbing. Won the Phil Meek Handicap Trophy in 2010
- Engine fully rebuilt by Race Techniques in 2013. Not raced since
The Austin Healey Sprite was conceived during the early months of 1956 at a meeting between Austin's Leonard Lord and Donald Healey, to fill a gap in the market left by the demise of the MG TD and TF Midgets, which had been replaced by the larger MGA. The go-ahead was given for Donald Healey to design a small, inexpensive and fun sports car capable of filling the gap in the existing market. The target was to produce a sports car for the price of a Morris Minor - around £600. Primary responsibility for the project lay with Geoffrey Healey, son of Donald, with the chassis designed by Battle Bilbie and the body styled by Gerry Coker, the designer of the Austin Healey 100. The design had to be simple and inexpensive to produce - and this was certainly achieved with the new 'Sprite' which with its cheeky looks and smiley face rapidly became known as the Frogeye
Those of us with grey hair will remember the days when Club Motorsport was just that, a bunch of enthusiasts using their day to day transport for Autotests, sprints and hill climbs. The gradual addition of big-bore exhausts, lowered springs, an extra carburettor or a skimmed head made all the difference to your times and an extra 8bhp on top of the original 42 was significant. The nimble Sprite naturally fitted well into this lifestyle and readily responded to the growing number of performance parts advertised in magazines like Car and Car Conversions. However, no matter how your Frogeye went and handled, or how smart it looked, your world would have been turned upside down by the arrival of John Sprinzel's simply beautiful Sebring Sprite.
The Sprinzel Sebring Sprite Coupé was introduced to the world at the London Racing Car Show in January 1961, and whilst only six examples were originally produced, two of these were raced at Sebring in 1961 in the hands of Pat (S221) and Stirling Moss (PMO 200) thus enhancing the marque's pedigree. Lots of attempts were made, in period, to give the Austin Healey Sprite a competition advantage, some less than successful and some like Lenham and WSM did very well, but none ended up as revered as the John Sprinzel cars.
Archers Garage located in Oldbury, nr. Birmingham has been long associated with British Sports Cars and re-created the pretty, streamlined hardtop and bonnet in the early nineties from an original Sprinzel car. Their work includes routine servicing of customers' cars, production and assembly of Sebring Sprite body sections and, occasionally, complete cars. Brian Archer had wanted to re-produce John Sprinzel's very pretty streamlined Sebring Sprite for some years and was finally able to do so in the early 1990s. The hardtop from the original WJB 707 and a good Sebring bonnet were the basis for the creation of the moulds, and from these many fibreglass replica parts have been produced and marketed for 20 years. Incidentally, Archers are the only company to have gained John Sprinzel's approval.
This is the story of a Leaf Green, Austin Healey Sprite dating from 1959 that had been leading the sort of normal life that Frogeyes do until one day in 1990 it became part of a new family.
In our vendor's words,
“Our family bought “Kermie” in 1990 after one of our daughters fell in love with Frogeye Sprites at a race meeting in Silverstone. The car was rebuilt for rallying, competing in all manner of events. Starting from Berlin in 1992 we were in a class winning position in The Monte Carlo Challenge, when, high up in the Savoy Alps, the engine blew up…big time! Later, it went on to finish 2nd overall in the Speed Sport Night Rally Championship in Wales and even took to the forests in the Historic section of the RAC Rally!
After a slight “contretemps” with a Devon wall, whilst competing in The Bristow Rally, “Kermie” was tucked away at the back of the garage and forgotten for 10 years. In 2006, “ Sebring” Sprites were a feature car at The Goodwood Festival of Speed and it was there that I met the late Brian Archer (Archers Garage Ltd).
Over the next couple of years, the car was totally rebuilt by Archers Garage and transformed into a Midnight Blue “Sebring Sprite” with a new fastback, bonnet, roll cage, competition engine (Bill Richards Racing), close ratio gearbox, disc brakes, alternator etc. Very sadly, as the car was nearing completion, Brian became ill and passed away. Kermie is, therefore, the last “Sebring” to have been prepared by Brian.
In the second half of its life with the family, we enjoyed several seasons sprinting and hill climbing with the Austin Healey Club managing, no less, to win the Phil Meek Handicap Trophy in 2010. In 2013 the engine was again rebuilt by Mike Parry of Race Techniques in Cheltenham, but as I got distracted by other things (!) we have not run the car in competition since.”
After many years in International Rallying and racing sports cars and single seaters, our vendor is rather reluctantly hanging up his racing boots and the family have other interests so Kermie needs to find a new family.
Looking splendid in Midnight Blue, the Healey is road registered (994 DTA) and will be freshly MoT'd prior to the sale. After its 2013 rebuild by Race Techniques, the car has not been used in anger so the engine is effectively zero-hours although, on a subsequent visit to the rolling road, the little 998cc A-Series generated a healthy 60bhp and the appropriate print-outs are in the substantial owner's file. Having been run at 'National' level during the last few years the safety-related equipment, roll cage, seats, fire systems, fuel tank, and harnesses all conformed to the regs, however, potential purchasers are advised to check their suitability and currency. The substantial History File covers nearly three decades and includes dozens of invoices, the car's Heritage Certificate, the V5, the current MoT, and some wonderfully evocative photographs.
Special bodied Sprites and Midgets from the sixties are now properly back in fashion with dedicated races at Goodwood and a number of prestigious classic events, and it wouldn't take much to develop 'Kermie' into a full-blown circuit racer. Or perhaps the car's next owner may prefer to use it doing what it was designed for, with an occasional sprint at Curborough or a Saturday on the hills at Shelsley or Prescott followed by a trip to the pub on Sunday lunchtime.
Whatever Kermie is used for, the car will always carry a little piece of the DNA of three men who so influenced British sports cars and grassroots motorsport in the early sixties, Donald Healey, John Sprinzell and Brian Archer.
Registration: 994 DTA
Chassis Number: AN524345
Engine Number: 8G10/R/J6585
Number of cylinders: 4
Year of Manufacture: 1959
RHD/LHD: Right Hand Drive
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