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Austin Healey Sprite

Austin Healey Sprite Published: 25th Nov 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Austin Healey Sprite
Austin Healey Sprite
Austin Healey Sprite
Austin Healey Sprite
Austin Healey Sprite
Austin Healey Sprite
Austin Healey Sprite
Austin Healey Sprite
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CAR: From 1958 Austin-Healey Sprite to…? OWNER: Jeremy Walton

In 2013 I sold my two classics. I had owned a 1958 Frogeye Sprite for three years and little over 4500 miles, moved on as a commission sale to fund body repairs on my 6 Series BMW. However, the 635CSi I’d had for 16 years to total 168,000 miles demanded more money spent on it. So the big Bimmer was sold for peanuts by autumn and partexchanged for a 2007 BMW 120d MSport, one that has served faultlessly, despite previous Bank Ownership and Trade Buy ‘No Warranty’ status. Baby BMW displayed 117,000 miles when purchased for £5995 in 2013 and now has 132,000 on the clock and going nicely.

I had not meant to be ‘classic-less’ but that was the way finances dictated. Happily I started to feel more optimistic about the contents of my bank account by late 2014, thanks to the reliability of that starter BMW so the longest search I have ever made for any vehicle commenced.

From UK to France and then Belgium, via Guernsey, I had researched, corresponded and less frequently inspected/drove. Finally, I bought my two-seat dream, just 40 miles from home!

Yes, it had to be a two-seater with manual folding soft top, but I bent those rules for much of the search. Plain common sense and Mrs Management showed a distinct preference for my wrapping all my car lusts in one vehicle rather than two. These more civilised classics were headed by Audi’s first edition TT Sport, this 238bhp ‘lightweight’ edition has back seats removed, but features a fixed, duotone, roof. I dallied with various recent straight six-cylinder Mercedes SL350s, but they have a folding steel roof and (nearly always) automatic transmission, which was not on this particular shopping list.

Once I swerved back on two-seat/soft top territories, a battle between ancients and modern classics developed. I decided to pay a lot more attention to detail; body condition for the oldies and crashed/stolen/ MoT history for modern classics, dating from the 1990s onward.

My attention concentrated on two very different moderns. I had always liked – and tested – the small, agile, formula of the third edition Toyota MR2. A respected colleague on this very magazine (canny Scot David Ross-ed) threw over an old Mini Cooper S in favour of the MR2’s practical menu of easy and accessible driving, versus the cold hours on the garage floor that classic Brit motors demand from their, usually, contented owners.

The second evaluation and inspection sessions were devoted to Porsche’s surprisingly cheap Boxsters in the £3000-£10,000 band. More about the Toyota later as it led directly to my final choice! On the Porker front, I was staggered that I could get a good spec 3.2S Boxster with leather seats and the optional threespoke steering wheel within the £5000-£8000 sector, especially as a trade-in via my 120d. Dealers almost seemed relieved to have the Bimmer in to replace Boxsters that had obviously been standing in stock for a winter while!

What stopped me doing a deal however were scathing comments on the earlier, cheaper models up to 2003 that interested me, particularly from an owner with a posh 2007/8 example bought through a Porsche main dealer. It led to some violently opposing forum comments on reliability (but they all agreed how big any bill could be…) and a first hand 3.2S inspection of a £6995 example.

The valuation of my BMW 120d at a large but shark-like used car operation was disturbing when they offered less than webuyany!

I knew the Boxster was a sweet drive back in the notorious 2.5-litre days of unreliability, but I just couldn’t face a test drive in an example that I could see ran on odd tyres and rusted discs plus layers of dust that betrayed its Jurassic occupation of a city forecourt. Besides, that big used car site cynically sent out a woman to deal with me – albeit with constant phone calls back to the hidden boss for values and model knowledge. I never liked the tattooed six-footer look either…The woman, not the car!


Next up I went to an known classic dealer – Valley Cars & Classics, not far from M4 junction 14 – in pursuit of a 1275 Spridget that wore glass-fibre panels but in the traditional Frogeye Sprite style. Subsequently, I did write a story about them for this magazine, but I now had gone as a potential buyer. So I drove and inspected not just that 1275 faux Frog but also a 1750 Alfa GTV that also caught my eye at these pristine rural premises. That 1750 Alfa, albeit in trad red and RH-D, rather than the £17,500 ex-Swedish example on offer at Valley Cars in LHD, was my first road test car experience and I do have the trad media soft spot for (some, not all) Alfa Romeos.

The Frogeye was a good idea and I liked it as a practical answer to many of the original snags, especially the lightweight bonnet that tilts forward, which beats hauling a heavy and clumsy steel item up onto wobbly props. But loved the Alfa drive more thanks to its five-speed ’box and all-wheel disc brakes plus that 1275 Spridget was under offer. Subsequently, I checked out the values and thought the price was a bit steep for a LHD GTV and so left without buying that Alfa.

Silly me as I did some more Porsche and Alfa price checking: when I returned to the Valley site saw that the white wonder had sold when the price dropped some £2000. UK RHD 2000 GTVs were mostly well over £20,000 by now and I had gone cold on the Porsche project! Although I did not want a Frogeye again in 948cc trim, I looked at them afresh together with 1275 Spridgets, or Frogs that now boasted the 1275 unit, preferably mated to a taller rear axle ratio and front disc brakes.

A succession of Spridget sessions intervened and failed in my eyes before I decided to look at a proper Frog again. More precisely, a trio. A dealer’s superbly presented late 948 model appealed. Complete with hardtop and hand-finished clamshell bonnet, at a hardnegotiated sniff over £13,000 it was a bit more than I wanted to spend at that moment. I acted too slowly and missed out (yet again!), even when offered again, after a sale fell through.

A friend of a friend, who had racked up more than 20 years with another late run 1960’s Frog that had been a Concours winner allowed a very thorough drive and inspection day. Sadly, this historically appealing Frog boasting paperwork back to the first (free!) service had not been protected under its show paint. That Frog’s £8000 lowest selling price did not balance with a precisely estimated additional quote of a ‘minimum £5000’ restoration bill.

Of the original 1960’s MGs and Sprites from £3000 project to £8850 shiners, I duly corresponded and even investigated a BRG-coloured Guernsey one-owner example. I found there are VAT advantages to restoration work on the island, but thought there was too much to do versus negotiated price at a pedigree classic dealer.

I inspected a fellow motoring writer’s 1275 car from the early 1970s with another recognised expert. Even without that expert co-inspection, I would have rejected bubbled paint and creeping boot rust. I had yet to see a Spridget without visible paint blemishes or saggy doors/ side sills, until I called at Moto- Build who had an excellently presented Sprite-badged example for £5995. By then I had cooled on more Spridget fare – will it ever return?

Summer 2015 displayed bright, chilly, days and I despaired of finding anything before softop prices escalated. The last of the MR2s dawned on my radar again, easily affordable and you could expect reliability. I got lucky as there was an opportunity to drive the 30-year run-out 2006 special edition MR2 that Toyota UK had retained. You’d be unlikely to find one in this sort of condition and spec, but I was impressed at the car’s agility and decent acceleration. BUT it just did not quite do it for me. More a civil saloon than dynamic sports ride. I didn’t like the interior overly, especially period, chav, white-faced dials.

Happily the story ends on a positive note as I remembered that I’d ordered a Lotus Elise in the run-up to its ’96 production and so started to look around at what I could buy in 2015. I actually bought a good one but that’s a tale for another time…

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