The Austin-Healey Sprite or MG Midget is a good choice as a usable classic and would be a sensible starting point for a novice classic owner as it is easy to maintain.
May 1958 saw the launch of the Austin-Healey Sprite in Monte-Carlo and the launch photograph was re-enacted by the Austin-Healey Club at the 2008 Classic Motor Show at the NEC, Birmingham, UK.
During the model life the Spridget developed steadily but was never a fast car in standard form. However the availability of inexpensive tuning parts made it a popular choice and gave it a successful competition record.
An Affordable First Classic or Small Sports Car for Everyday Use.
Sprite Mk I 1958 – 1961 948cc 43hp
The original “Frogeye” (or “Bugeye” in North America) had a rear-hinged one piece front end with headlamps set in cowls on the bonnet (hood). It was curvaceous and simple without even an opening boot (trunk) lid – the luggage compartment was accessed from inside the car. It used the front suspension, powertrain and rear axle from the Austin A35 saloon but with different rear suspension.
Sprite Mk II/ MG Midget Mk I 1961 – 1964 948cc 49hp
The MG Midget was a purely badge engineered variant hence the popular generic name “Spridget” to cover both models – the differences were essentially the badges and radiator grill. From this model the shape was squarer with fixed front wings (fenders) and a conventional hinged bonnet and boot lid.
Sprite Mk III/ MG Midget Mk II 1964 – 1966 1098cc 55hp
Along with the larger engine the Mk III was given front disc brakes.
Sprite Mk IV/ MG Midget Mk III 1966 – 1974 1275cc 65hp
At this point the larger 1275cc variant of the A-series engine was introduced. In 1969 both models were produced with larger rubber overriders as required in the USA. The licence for the use of the Healey name lapsed so that the Sprite variant was discontinued in 1971 but the Midget continued until 1974; this was the end of the A-series engine cars
MG Midget 1500 (Mk IV) 1974 – 1979 1500cc 65hp (50-55hp in USA)
The engine was upgraded to the 1.5litre Triumph engine. This model also had the US-Specification raised ride-height and the larger “rubber” (actually polyurethane) bumpers.
Tuning and Competition
As the Sprite has the same BMC/Leyland A-series engine used by the original Mini there has always been a strong shared market in performance parts which have therefore been generally affordable. As a result many will have had original engines replaced by a larger, or modified, version.
As a result the Spridget was always a popular choice for all levels of motorsport and remained a popular club racer well after it ceased production. Special versions of the Sprite were created for major sports car races such as the long-distance Sebring races.
These are amongst the most revered version of the Sprite and were raced by Stirling Moss, with his sister Pat Moss, and Graham Hill amongst other well known names with some success. British rally champion John Sprinzel developed special aluminium fastback versions and took his Sebring Sprite to racing and rally success including an outright win on the 1961 Targa Rusticana rally.
Buying and Restoring
The mechanicals are generally reliable as they are based on well-proven components and replacement is easy with most parts readily available. As with most cars of the period the big bug-bear is rust and there are few places that are immune.
Fortunately replacement panels and even bodyshells are available for most models. For more information and buying advice see Peter Hingstons: The Enthusiasts Guide to Buying a Classic British Sports Car.
Running and Maintaining a Sprite or Midget
Maintenance is easy as they are simple cars that pre-date electronic systems and access is generally good. Basic servicing and maintenance is within the capability of any reasonably practical owner and only needs a modest set of tools.
A Spridget isa good choice of a classic sports car for everyday use especially as they have good fuel economy by the standards of the day. However it should be borne in mind that they are much less secure than a modern car. Additional security measures will be required such as steering locks or after-market alarms and immobilisers.
Accident safety is also much poorer than a modern car with no crumple-zones or strengthened passenger compartments. They would not score well on today’s NCAP safety tests. At the end of the day it is not a modern car and expectations should be set accordingly.
All that said it would make a pleasant change from a capable, but bland, small hatchback and should be no more expensive to buy or run. The would-be owner needs to decide where lies the balance between safe and secure or fun and a smile on one's face.
First appeared on Suite101