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Austin Healey “Frogeye” Sprite

Published: 14th Dec 2012 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Austin Healey “Frogeye” Sprite
Austin Healey “Frogeye” Sprite
Austin Healey “Frogeye” Sprite
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Which classics still have the potential to get up and go? Classic Cars For Sale remembers the cars, the tweaks – and how to make a classic hot car!

These features are about tuning and improving a standard classic but, while there’s a massive amount you can do to a Frogeye, you need to also exercise care here. Originality is especially important with these cars, so don’t even think of making major modifi cations to yours, unless you can either reverse them or be prepared to make a loss when it comes to getting rid. The exception to this is under the bonnet – a larger capacity powerplant is okay as long as it’s an A-Series. It’s when you start considering K-Series engines and the like, that the car’s increasing value is compromised.

Get one now

If you’re handy with the welder, you’ll still be able to buy a project for £1500-£2000, but that’ll cost a fair bit in parts and will take a lot of your time to get to a roadworthy condition. If you want something you can use without having to put any effort in you can’t pick something up for less than £7000. The best cars can fetch up to £11,000 and we’ve heard of restos touching almost £20,000 but they have to be superb, and not to say original, for this money.

Rust is the main worry. The monocoque construction can corrode badly. Worst culprits are the rear spring mounting boxes behind the seats. There should be a gap of three inches or so between the top of the rear tyre and the wheelarch. If the gap is much less than this the rear spring box has almost certainly collapsed, which means major surgery. Sills and A-posts are rot-prone. Rear wheelarches and lower rear wings can rust badly, and, although repair sections are available, it’s not easy to make a good repair. Happily, the oily bits dept is simplicity itself.

Hotting one up

The diddy 948cc A-Series, drinking through twin 1.125in SUs, wasn’t a fi reball even back in its day, and, unless you’re only seeking a mild tune to make the Frog friskier, these will all have to be ditched in search of meaningful power; better still remove the original engine and keep it for when the car needs to be sold on.

The 1098cc engine is regarded sweet but the 1275 unit is lustier, has more potential, especially the head, and is more freely available. If possible, look for one stamped 12CC as it’s almost to Cooper S spec.

How far you want to tune the engine is up to you but 135bhp from a 1380cc A-Series is not unknown, although it’s a tad too racey for road use. But certainly a nice 1275cc unit, say bored out by 0.020 to for 1293cc and just duck into ‘Under 1300’ motorsport categories, can make a frisky Frog. The ultimate bore is 1425cc, but it’s tricky and expensive to achieve.

On all A-Series, the first route is better breathing with head, carb, exhaust (known as long centre branch) mods, which will see some 75bhp, and may prove ample for your needs. Go for a ‘Stage Three’ tune with an almost racing head, better cam (try Piper or Kent) and suitable re-jetting of the carbs – perhaps looking at a single 45 DCOE Weber – and 100bhp is on the cards. Install a better ignition, such as an electronic set up from Aldon, Lumenition or best of all, a 123 pre-programmed distributor. Duplex timing gear, which is always a smart swap even on standard spec engines, is mostly necessary.

With camshafts costing around £85 and cylinder heads £400 or so, it may be more prudent to opt for a fully reworked engine which can work out the most cost effective route, especially if your engine is in need of an overhaul; don’t waste money on tuning a tired engine. For example, Oselli (a real A-Series blast from the past!) sells Stage Two 1293cc exchange units for a not unreasonable £1800 touch.

Other roads to faster Frogs include supercharging and a complete kit is available but costs the thick end of three grand! A cheaper alternative worth trying is to fi t the unit from the current Mini and we understand adaptor kits are available. As the MG Metro was turbocharged, and ERA made a Mini Turbo, then this is a quite feasible fi t, but you really will need everything, including the high pressure fuel pump to make it work.

Even owners who are only after the mildest of make overs should invest in a spin-on oil fi lter, a £40 conversion that will improve the unit’s lubrication. Talking oil, fi tting a crankshaft oil seal kit to stop the notorious A-Series leaks is £90 well spent, too. Cooling needs taking care of, an uprated rad is a good step along with an electric cooling fan.

Any meaningful mods should be complemented with a proper session on a rolling road to make the best of the new set up. Happily, because the A-Series is so well known, there are shed loads of experts who know how to pull out any hidden horses.

As anybody who has driven a Midget or Morris Minor will testify, the celebrated Ford Type 9 fi vespeed conversion works really well, boasting better intermediates as well as longer legs. But, apart from being a £1600 outlay, some feel that it diminishes the special character the Frogeye enjoys, so you need to tread carefully here.

However, if you go for the full on kit from Midget experts Frontline Developments, the special gearbox casing employed does ensure that the gear lever fi ts exactly as before and requires no cutting about – an important point. Finally, boy racer antics – or perhaps a spot of auto-testing – can snap the driveshafts, but Frontline sells uprated types for £140 or so.

How Did It Drive?

Weighing little more than half a ton the Sprite is amazingly agile and zippy. Steering is light and sharp the nonservoed brakes are positive and effective if in good order and suffi ce for mild tune ups. The gearchange is snappy and the Frogeye is a fun car to punt around – and still return almost 40mpg. Thanks to a surprisingly rigid bodyshell the handling was some way ahead of its time and, care of those jolty quarter elliptic rear springs, it handles even better than later Spridgets, plus suffers less from axle tramp. The trade off is an even harsher ride although in terms of civility, the Frogeye has virtually nil, while boot space is only accessed from the cockpit. But, for the purist, that’s all part of the car’s charm.

Handling The Power...

Just conventional uprating of the dampers springs plus an anti-roll bar (various thickness are available) transform the drive but you can go much further and it’s worth doing so. Frontline has its own telescopic damper and wishbone conversion, which also adds some welcome extra negative camber, for around £500. Moving to the stern, again telescopics are the way to go (again it affects originality). If you stick with lever arms, which means a less jolty ride, then buy the best you can. Moss, for example, sells brand new quality units for around £85 a pop. Do invest in an anti-tramp kit to keep the rear axle from joining you in the cockpit or promoting rear-end steer, at under £190. A Panhard Rod costs about a tenner extra. Poly bushing, including the trunnions, makes the Frog feel kart-like and at less than £100 is a cheap upgrade; however refi nement, never a Frogeye’s forte, will suffer.

Later Sprites boasted disc brakes at the front, which are interchangeable with the Frogeye. If the swap has already been made, make sure the master cylinder from a later Sprite (Mk2) has been fi tted with a 3/4in bore. Master cylinders from the Mk3/4 Spridgets can be fi tted but it’s very involved as it means ditching the original heater assembly and modifying the bulkhead! The standard drum brakes can be made effective enough for most road needs by simply using uprated AM4/AM8 stuff, the latter is milder, easier on the foot. The best swap is discs of course along with EBC pads and it’s rumoured that Metro Turbo items fi t nicely. More elaborate mods include a 9-inch disc conversion and £650 WiIlwood calliper kit – discs extra! There’s even a kit for the rear, costing the thick end of £800, but this is only necessary for massive power hikes; a cheaper alternative are 8inch Wolseley/Riley 1500 drum brakes. Tyres? 5J are fi ne for most uses on 165/70s but you can go 175/65 on 14 inch wheels.

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