Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite

Bugeye is born

The Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite as it was known in America was born in 1958 as a bargain basement sports car that was designed to be cheap to sell, and so had to be cheap to build. In order to achieve this BMC (the owner of Austin) raided its own parts bin and used mechanicals from its existing model line-up to keep costs as low as possible.

Donald Healey was brought in to do the design work and the Sprite family was born and survived for over twenty years in Austin Healey and its MG Midget derivative form.

Only the first Sprite carried the unique Austin Healey Bugeye name and look, later models were more conventional. But that unique look didn't stop almost 50,000 of them selling in the Bugeye's three year life, before it was replaced by the Austin Healey Sprite MKll in 1961.

And to confuse things the Austin Healey Sprite Mkll became the MG Midget MKl. And that numbering difference continued until the Austin Healey badge was dropped from BMC's line-up in 1971 and the MG Midget continued on alone.

Austin Healey and MG

Over 350,000 of the complete model line-up were built in its twenty plus year life, with only the MG Midget 1500 outselling the Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite.

Using the ubiquitous A-Series engine found in so many other BMC cars meant that the Austin Healey Bugeye was also highly tunable, as many owners found out, as a thriving after-market tuning industry set up to keep them all happy.

In fact, Healey themselves offered items like wire wheels, disc-brake conversions and a Shorrocks supercharger to boost performance. And in later years it wasn't (and still isn't) uncommon to find the Austin Healey Bugeye fitted with the 1275cc A-Series engine (made famous in the Mini Cooper S).

Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite by Derrick Rowe. A public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite by Derrick Rowe. A public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

Spartan Bugeye fun

The Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite might have been pretty spartan but its nimble handling, cute looks and easily improved performance made it highly popular with a great number of people. In standard it could hit 80-85mph and get from 0-60 mph in just over 20 seconds. And still get over 40 miles to the imperial gallon.

At just over 11' 6" it was physically quite a small car which but still managed to supply adequate space inside by having no windows on the early cars. Sidescreens were introduced as options in April 1959. But by having no wind-up windows the door interiors could be left hollow allowing extra elbow room. And the low weight and minimal complication made it faster, and cheaper to maintain.

The Austin Healey Bugeye look came from production cost cutting as the car had been intended to have pop-up headlights until the idea was shelved to save money and they were incorporated in to the bonnet, creating its unique look.

Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite

An Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite by MartinHansV via Wikimedia Commons. A public domain image.
An Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite by MartinHansV via Wikimedia Commons. A public domain image.

Austin Healey Bugeye tech spec

The Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite came with a 948cc water-cooled four-cylinder ohv engine, which kicked out 42.5 bhp at 5,200 rpm.

A four-speed gearbox was standard as was rack-and-pinion steering and all-round drum brakes.

A Bugeye weighed in at 1,328lbs.

As with all figures I would use these as 'ball park' rather than 'set in stone' figures.

Austin Healey produced just under 130,000 Sprites in total in thirteen years of production.

Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite Video

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