Austin Healey Sprite (Bugeye)

Donald Healey designed the Austin-Healey Sprite as an open, small sports car. The car was introduced in 1958 by BMC (British Motor Corporation) as a rather small, low-cost open sports car developed for that market segment that was left open after the pre-war Austin Seven was taken out of production. So let’s take a closer look at the Austin-Healey Sprite (Bugeye).

The Austin-Healey Sprite used an updated version of Austin’s A-Series engine as well as a large number of other components used in already existing cars to keep the cost as minimal as possible.

The Austin-Healey Sprite was built from 1958 through 1960 and is in North Amerca better known as the “Bugeye” and in other parts of the world as the “Frogeye.” The car owes its nickname to the unique way the headlights are mounted, on the car’s bonnet in the pods. This feature was, in fact, one of the results of the many cost-reducing design measures. The original design of the car had retractable headlights and the pods were designed as rotating for lights-off times.

The extra mechanism that was required for this option, however, was seen as far too expensive for a small sports car intended to be very affordable. The headlights also had to be placed at a specific minimum height in order to meet strict legal requirements. So the pods remained where they were originally planned, resulting in a few bulbous headlights that were placed on the car’s bonnet like they were stuck in an “up” position. So more by chance that than by the car’s design, a great icon has seen the light of day. Learn more about the Austin-Healey Motor Company here.

So the Austin-Healey “Bugeye” was only built in the years 1958-60, though a few rare CKD (Completely Knocked Down, completely disassembled) examples are known to have left the factory in 1961 to be shipped all the way to Australia to avert taxes (when totally disassembled cars were imported, there were no taxes). All through the model’s production run, no significant changes were made and a total number of 48,987 cars were produced which makes it by far the most numerous of all cars ever built or designed by Healey. For the Sprite’s power, Austin’s 948cc A-Series motor was used that produced a mere 43BHP but no one actually complained over such a limited performance because the little car was just a lot of fun to drive. To learn about the 3000 Series, click here.

The headlights were not the only unusual treat. There is no boot or trunk lid, or an exterior way of opening the trunk. Instead, there was an opening placed behind the seats to deal with that. The car had also no door handles on the outside. All “Bugeyes” were, after all, roadsters that were fitted with curtains at the sides (mind you, this car has no roll-up windows) so if you wanted to open the door, you simply had to reach inside to get to the door handle on the inside. Information about Austin-Healey’s 100 Series can be found here.

The Austin-Healey Sprite came with very few options but that was changed with later models. The car’s front bumper was even an optional extra to order! Some other options were a tonneau cover and a heater, but the most desirable optional extra was perhaps the factory-produced, handsome hardtop. Strange but true is also that originally, the Bugeye didn’t come with a floor carpet. The car’s floors were instead covered by molded rubber mats that today are regarded as highly collectible items if presented in well-preserved condition. Practically all of these rubber mats, however, were replaced with conventional carpets over the years.

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