Austin Healey Sprite: Essential History and Features

The Austin Healey Sprite is one of the sleekest sports cars ever made, famous for its endearing appearance that makes it look like Kermit The Frog. It’s a small sports car that was meant to appeal to those who could not afford the bigger Healey cars.

Austin Healey Sprite

Launched in 1958, the Sprite came with impressive bodywork and was powered by a reliable engine. If you’re looking to add this classic sports car to your collection, continue reading our complete guide below, where we cover all that you need to know.

What Is the Austin Healey Sprite?

The Austin-Healey Sprite vehicle is a small open sports car with the body style of a 2-door roadster. It was produced from 1958 to 1971 in the United Kingdom. The sports car was first announced to the press by British Motor Corporation in Monto Carlo.

It was announced two days after the Monaco Grand Prix was released. The car was meant to be a low-cost model that anyone could keep in their garage yet still offer as much power as other sporting vehicles from Austin Healey. The Sprite was designed by the Donald Healey Motor Company, and the production was down by the MG factory in Abingdon.

The Sprite went on sale first for £669 and was powered by a tuned version of the Austin A-series engine. The company also made use of components from other cars to keep the costs down.

The sports car came in different generations, including Mark I, Mark II, Mark III, and Mark IV. Sprite was also released with the Midget in 1961, which was a badge-engineered MG version. Car enthusiasts usually call the Sprites and Midgets “Spridgets” as they come together. The Sprite was discontinued in 1971.

  • Background of the Austin Healey Sprite

The Austin-Healey Sprite story began in 1952, when several British car makers, including Austin, Wolseley, MG, Morris, and Riley, merged to become the British Motor Corporation. The merger allowed several British car brand names to survive, as they would have quietly disappeared. But this also meant that the brands merged their designs.

Background of Austin Healey Sprite

This meant that British Motor Corporation made some identical car models, but they just came in different grilles, trims, and name badges. This was when Austen-Healey Sprite was created, and it was first developed as a unique model in Mark I. From Mark II to Mark IV, the models were badge engineered.

The Austin-Healey partnership happened at the London Earls Court Motor Show of 1952. Austin was trying to get the right car for the company to build and export to the United States and make a lot of money with a sports car. Healey also wanted to create a sports car on available Austin parts. Thus, the partnership began.

The Austin Healey 100 was first released, and it was a beautiful, high-performance car. Despite this, the car was too expensive, so the company needed a budget model that would sell in much greater numbers. In the end, the team made a smaller sports car with unibody construction.

Mark I

The Austin-Healey Sprite Mk I was released from 1958 to 1961 and designed by Donald Healey. The Sprite was affectionately nicknamed the “bug eye” in the US and the “frogeye” in the UK. This is because its design had prominent headlights in front, mounted on top of the bonnet. This made the car look like a cartoonish frog.

The purpose of the design was for the headlights to be retracted, with the lens facing up when not in use. A similar design was used in the Porsche 928. But the design was too expensive, so the company deleted the mechanism. The headlights were permanently fixed in an upright position, giving the car a cute feature.

The Bugeye Sprite chassis design broke the record as the first volume-production sports car to make use of unitary construction, and the sheet metal body panels took most of the structural stress. The front sheet metal assembly, including the wings and bonnet, was a one-piece unit, and it allowed easy access to the engine compartment.

The Mark I entered major international rallies and races when it was released. The BMC Competitions Department entered the Alpine Rally in 1958 and won. The Austin Healey Sebring race marked the entry into the US market after it won the 12-hour race at Florida. Due to the affordability and practical design of the car, the Sebring Sprite was developed into a solid competition car.

  • Engine Power and Performance

The Sprite was powered by a 948 cc 0.9-liter A-Series I4 engine. The engine was impressive enough to give you 43 horsepower at 5200 rpm, while the torque was 52 pound-feet at 3300 rpm.

Engine Performance of Mark I

When the car was tempted, it could go from 0 to 60 mph in 20.5 seconds while a top speed of 82.9 miles per hour.

  • Dimensions

The wheelbase of the Sprite Mark I was 80 inches, as it was a cute and compact car. The length of the car was 137 inches, while the width was 53 inches. The height was 47.2 inches with the bonnet up.

Mark II

Austin-Healey Sprite Mark II is the second generation, and it was released between 1961 and 1964. The Mk II was announced at the end of May 1961, with the same engine but with larger carburetors. It also came with a close-ratio gearbox.

The bodywork of the Sprite Mk II was completely redesigned, and the headlights were changed to a more conventional position on the wings. Both sides came with a full-width grille and conventional bonnet. At the rear, the styling elements were replaced with that from MGB, giving it a modern look.

The model was also updated with a boot lid and squared-off rear wheel arches, giving the car good rigidity. So the second generation was less eccentric and nicknamed a square-bodied Sprite. It was 100 pounds heavier than the previous release.

Austin-Healey also released the Midget in 1961, which was an MG version of the Sprite Mark II. By 1962, the Sprite and Midget came with the same engine, which was a 1098 cc engine. The front disc brakes were introduced as an option, and there was a stronger gearbox to handle the power.

  • Engine Power and Performance

The Sprite Mark II was powered by a 948 cc 0.9-liter engine, but by 1962, it was updated to a 1,098 cc 1.1-liter A-Series I4 engine. The first engine featured 46.5 horsepower, while the latter offered an impressive 56 horsepower.

Engine Power of Mark II

The car was tested, and it went from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 20 seconds, and the top speed was 85.8 miles per hour.

  • Dimensions

The wheelbase of the car was 80 inches, similar to the previous generation. The length of the car was 130.1 inches, while the width was 53 inches. Then the height is 48.25 inches with the roof up.

Mark III

From 1964 to 1966, Austin Healey released the Sprite Mark III, which was also marketed as the MG Midget Mark II. Both cars were similar except for some minor trim detailing. The engine was a 1098 cc unit, but it came with stronger block casting, and the crankshaft main bearings were increased.

The Mark III was designed with a curved-glass windscreen, with wind-up side windows and hinged quarter lights. Exterior door handles were provided with separate door locks for the first time too. The car could be secured with a soft-top roof for added protection. The dimensions of the car included a wheelbase of 80 inches, while the length and width are 136.2 inches and 55 inches.

The rear suspension of the car was changed from quarter-elliptic to semi-elliptic leaf springs, which offered a more comfortable ride. There were 25,905 models made. Also, the slight changes between the Sprite and Midget allowed them to compete with another sports car, the Triumph Spitfire.

  • Engine Power and Performance

The Sprite Mark III was powered by a 1098 cc 1.1-liter A-Series I4 engine, and it came with 59 horsepower and 65 pound-feet of torque.

Mark III Engine Performance

The crankshaft main bearings were increased to two inches.

Mark IV

The Mark IV, also known as the Austin Sprite, was the final addition to the collection. It was available from 1966 to 1971 and was first revealed at the London Motor Show in October 1966. It also came with more notable changes rather than subtle updates. The dimensions of the car include a length of 137.5 inches while the width is 55 inches. The wheelbase is 80 inches.

One change was the removable convertible top being permanently affixed. It was now a folding top with a great design. There was a separate brake and clutch master cylinder fitted to make the car safer for use. The Mark IV for the American market had less performance, with smog pumps and other changes to comply with the federal emission laws.

By 1969, Sprite was no longer being exported to the US. But there were still some updates like reversing lamps, reclining seats, an alternator, and more. By the 1970 model year, there was a major facelift. It came with a range of body colors, body sills that were satin black, and a chrome strip between them.

It also came with slimmer bumpers and rubber-capped overrides as standard fitment on the front and rear. The seats had a flatter and slimmer design, with a modern upholstery design. Some body colors were added, with the option of the seats, floor carpets, and door trim in beige.

  • Engine Power and Performance

The engine of the Sprite Mark IV was a 1275 cc A-Series I4 engine, which featured 65 horsepower and 72 pound-feet of torque. It was the most powerful engine released by this car brand.

Frequently Asked Questions

– How Much Is An Austin Healey Sprite Mark I?

The average price of a Sprite Mark I is $19,182. It depends on the quality of the car, so it’s important to check for scuffs and rust before you accept the price. The most expensive Sprite that was ever sold has a recorded sale of $165,000.

– How Many Austin Healey Sprites Were Made?

There were 129,347 Austin Healy Sprites made throughout its run. There were 48,987 Mark I units made, while the Mark II featured 31,665 models. By Mark III, the number of Sprites made was 25,905, and the fourth generation featured 22,790 Mark IV Sprites.

– What Is the Rarest Austin Healey Model?

The rarest Austin Healey model was the 100S, which was released for racing alone. It came with a lightweight aluminum body, Dunlop disc brakes, an aluminum cylinder, and a smaller grille. It also features a plastic windscreen, which reduced the weight by 200 pounds.

– How Fast Is the Austin-Healey Sprite?

The Austin-Healey Sprite goes as fast as 82.9 miles per hour. The Mark I model could go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 20.5 seconds. The speed of the later models differed based on their engine options. Fuel consumption was also 43 miles per imperial gallon.

Is the Austin Healey Sprite considered a muscle car?

The Austin Healey Sprite, although stylish and agile, is not typically considered a muscle car. When discussing the evolution of American muscle cars, the Sprite’s compact size, lightweight design, and modest engine power distinguish it from the iconic V8-powered beasts that defined the muscle car era.

Conclusion

The Austin Healey Sprite is one of the iconic British sports cars from the 1960s, offering a quirky appearance and racing capabilities.

Here’s a rundown of our review of this racing car:

  • The Sprite is a small open racing car that was released by British Motor Corporation from 1958 to 1971.
  • Austin Healey was a brand under BMC, which was created when multiple British car brands had to come together in a merger.
  • The Sprite was meant to be a budget alternative to the Austin-Healey sports car, which was expensive.
  • The Sprite was released in four generations, which were Mark I, Mark II, Mark III, and Mark IV.

All the Sprite models had a wheelbase of 80 inches, but the other dimensions were different.
If you’re interested in adding a British sports car to your collection, you can’t go wrong with the Sprite model. It offers a thrilling ride as long as it is well-maintained.

5/5 - (14 votes)
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