When it comes to pure-bred English Roadsters, most people tend to think of MG and Triumph. The British Isles were home to numerous smaller sportscar manufacturers in the 1950s and 1960s, though, catering to customers with a more eclectic taste. Lotus, AC, Morgan, and Austin-Healey come to mind.
The collaboration between Donald Healey and Austin's Sir Leonard Lord resulted in production of the "big" Healey and, later, its smaller sibling, the Sprite. While the earliest models of the Sprite were nicknamed Bugeye (or Frogeye) due to their unusual headlights, Sprites built after 1961 benefitted from a more contemporary-looking body treatment, which even included an opening trunk lid. Since the Sprite quickly made a name for itself on the track, virtually owning SCCA's H/Production road racing class, its popularity never waned.
Nevertheless, excellent original surviving Sprites are very hard to find today, since so many were raced, used, and abused. Last spring, a fine example was sold at auction in Florida for $17,500.00 plus fees, confirming the status of the Sprite as a sports car icon.
The low-mileage 1968 Austin Healey Sprite Mk IV presented here, VIN *-HAN9U-73806G*, is one of the last Sprites imported to the U.S. and must be one of the finest survivors of its kind in the World.
It is a one-family-owned vehicle. The son actually inherited the car five years ago from his father, who purchased it new on September 18, 1968 at Peninsula British Cars, Inc. on Camino Real in Palo Alto, California. It has always been treated like a favorite child; it's unrestored and ready to be shown, featuring all the traits a serious collector could wish for in a British Roadster.
Amazingly, the Sprite still features its irreplaceable 1968 black-and-yellow California license plates, as well as the original selling dealer's license plate frames, front and back. In 38 years, this car has never left the Golden State.
You might be aware of the fact that original black license plate California cars are members of a quickly vanishing species, since their fabulous looking, historical plates are NOT part of the California "Year of Manufacture" program, which only allows owners of cars made in 1962 or earlier to add old-style license plates, even if the car did not originally come with them. Unfortunately, once a 1963-1969 black plate is gone, there is no legal way to reinstate it. Since most pre-1970 automobiles have either been junked or were exported to other states and countries, genuine California "black plate cars" are uniquely pedigreed classics.
Another highly desirable--and equally unusual--occurrence: after four decades, this Sprite retains its original Driver's Handbook, neatly completed "Passport for Service" booklet, accessory brochure, A-H Club folder, and radio instruction sheet. The original, temporary 1968 DMV license and dozens of past California registration cards complete the car's historical records, firmly establishing its exciting provenance.
Having been driven sparingly, just about 1,800 miles per year on average, for a total of 69,013 actual miles, and never been exposed to inclement weather, the Sprite presents itself immaculately clean, and that includes its engine compartment.
The potent 4-cylinder power plant develops 65 horses from 1275 cc and runs like a well-oiled sewing machine. There are no oil leaks to report, no nasty smoking habit, either.
Befitting a California car that was always garaged, Healey's body is in fantastic condition. The paint is simply too perfect to be 38 years old; we assume that the car has been repainted once, in its attractive, original Primrose Yellow color. The finish is smooth and very glossy, without any dings, dents, rust spots, or bubbling. Door and hood fit is excellent; this Sprite has ever been in any accident. Brightwork is pit free and superbly preserved as well. Remarkably, the weatherstripping is still pliable.
Stock, painted steel wheels with chrome dog dish hub caps have been fitted with DUNLOP tires of the dimension 165 SR 13.
The black convertible top is brand spankin' new: we've just had it expertly installed last week. Sun visors are also new.
A wonderfully preserved hardtop accompanies the Sprite. It can turn the Roadster into a good-looking, weather-tight Coupe within minutes.
However, the Sprite is best enjoyed topless, the factory tonneau cover installed as needed. With the limitless blue sky above and the engine humming below the bonnet, you'll be eager to tackle the winding road ahead, whistling a happy tune.
Your place of work and worship: the traditional British sportscar cockpit, replete with Banjo wheel (in mint condition), stubby shifter topped with real bakelite, and classic, white-on-black SMITHS gauges.
The Sprite may look small, but only on the outside. Fact is, even tall pilots will have enough room to find a comfortable driving position on the low-mounted black bucket seats, tested here at Californiaclassix with a 6'5" driver. Matching black door panels and carpeting are in excellent condition.
Ready for a test drive?
So are we, but before we take off, there are two other areas of interest to inspect: trunk and undercarriage.
Spacious trunk looks toothbrush clean. There's no rust to be found anywhere. Original spare and jacking equipment (in the bag) are included, as well as a shop manual for the do-it-yourselfer.
Click on any of the above images for a full-size view
The delightful views above will be most important to the serious enthusiast, as they show a 100% original, untouched, rust-and-damage-free undercarriage. In fact, we have never come across a Sprite that was as clean and tidy underneath as this one.
Lack of factory-applied rust protection doomed legions of Sprites. Not so here! By limiting his car's use to sunny days only and always providing dry storage, a caring owner was able to miraculously preserve his beloved Sprite factory fresh.
Let's take the Austin-Healey through its paces now!
August 7, when we took all of these pictures, was another sunny day in Ventura, just right for a fun trip in a convertible. The Sprite starts, runs, drives, shifts, handles, and stops great. There are no rattles; all lights and gauges work, except for the back-up lights, and the car runs cool.
By the way, the fog lights were dealer-installed, straight out of the 1968 accessory catalogue.
From behind the gorgeous steering wheel, all is well. It's a uniquely exhilarating feeling to pilot a featherweight British sports car; the Sprite, weighing only 1,519 lbs, is a prime example. Here's a genuine, old-school Roadster, albeit a very reliable one, with practical features such as two tops, roll-up windows, and a trunk, ready to be enjoyed in the 21st Century as an environmentally friendly fuel sipper.
Returning home, we are utterly impressed with the Sprite. It's a thoroughly modern vehicle, fully equipped to keep up with today's often hectic traffic. No wonder Sprites are so popular on the race track: they're nimble, quick, and lots of fun to drive.
We doubt you could find a finer Sprite MK IV if you tried. A car is original only once, they say: here's a prime example of a legendary, very collectible sportscar that has survived four decades, unharmed. It's rust free, features low miles, a great color combination, comes with books, manuals, and period accessories.
Save yourself the cost and headache of a restoration and purchase the best original there is!