Austin Healey named it the Sprite, but it is fondly referred to as the Bugeye or Frogeye due to its unique fascia. Coupled with its dimunitive size (137" long!), there's never any mistaking it for something else. Almost 50,000 were produced over the 3-year run and all are virtually identical.
A 948cc 4cyl Austin engine with twin SUs produces about 43hp and a 4spd manual puts the power to the ground. No rocket ship (about 85mph top speed, with the wind), the Sprite may be short on power but it delivers more smiles per mile than just about anything you can think of. And the thing is so small, the sensory onslaught so sweet, that you always feel like you're going a lot faster than you are.
Prepare yourself for a real vintage sports car experience: there are no creature comforts to speak of. If you're lucky the side curtains (w/sliding plexiglass on later models, a big improvement) might keep you dry during a rainstorm. A heater was optional. There is no trunk lid: you access the trunk from behind the seats. The only real cosmetic accessories are a hardtop (fairly rare, and definitely a plus) and wire wheels. Many examples sport upgrades such as a larger engine from a later Sprite or MG Midget, and disc brakes. That's fine--even desirable-- as long as it was done properly.
The biggest problem area is rust. The unibody construction is very vulnerable to rust and it can destroy the integrity of the car, so look closely at the rockers, door pillars, suspension points, floors -- the whole thing, really. There are no show stoppers on the mechanical side. Parts are no problem, either, and the Sprite is easy to work on.
Prices range from $6-8,000 for a good driver to maybe $15,000 for a show
car. There have been higher prices recorded at some auctions, but
they're the exception. Note the high percentage (see table) of cars that
sell at auction. We don't see any drastic future gains here, but as a
smiles per miles investment, this one's tough to beat.
(C) Copyright 1999-2020 VMR International, Inc. All rights reserved. This article first appeared in the March 2000 issue of Collector Car & Truck Market Guide.