The Austin-Healy Sprite: The Frogeye Sportscar

In 1958 Austin-Healy announced the introduction of a low cost, fun to drive, small car, the Mark I Sprite, more affectionately known as the Frogeye sprite. This small open sports car developed a huge fan base because of its affordability and its iconic and unique look. In 1958 Austin-Healy announced the introduction of a low cost, fun to drive, small car, the Mark I Sprite, more affectionately known as the Frogeye sprite. This small open sports car developed a huge fan base because of its affordability and its iconic and unique look. The Sprite was originally designed with large headlights that could be retracted when not in use, the flip up mechanism was removed to save on cost. This left the headlights perched on the bonnet between the front wings that lead to the frog eyed look. The body was styled by Gerry Coker and Les Ireland, but the technical issue of making an open top car rigid enough to drive well was solved by Barry Bilbie. Bilbie’s solution for making the car strong enough to handle the rigors of hard driving was to integrate the body in to the chassis making the Austin-Healy Sprite the world’s first uni-body automobile.

It stopped just short of being a full monocoque because the body integration stopped at the firewall. The frame rails extended forward of the firewall to support the one piece bonnet and wings that was hinged at the windscreen and lifted to allow access to the engine. The Mark I Sprite was never a powerhouse sports car in the tradition of American sports cars. The Mark I was powered by a 948 cc A-Series motor that was able to push the Sprite to a top speed of 133 km/h (82 mph) and a zero to 60 mph time of a leisurely 20.5 seconds. But what it gave up in power it gained in fuel consumption with a miserly 43 miles per gallon. Who wouldn’t want a cute sports car that got that kind of mileage today? The Austin-Healy Sprite went through several variations in its 13 year run. The Mark I “Frogeye” Sprite was built from 1958 to 1961.

From 1961 to 1964 the Mark II was produced with slightly more power due to larger carburettors, or an alternative 1098 cc engine, but it lost the iconic frog eye look by moving the headlights in to a more traditional location in the front wings. From 1964 to 1966 the Mark III was produced. This time with the 1098 cc engine but with an improved undercarriage and suspension. The final version of the Sprite, the Mark IV, was produced from 1966 to 1971. Again there were mechanical improvements to the car over previous versions, but cost cutting and direct competition from the identical (except for badging) MG Midget signaled the end for the Sprite. Even though it had a short lifespan in car year, the Austin-Healy Sprite earned itself a place in the hearts of car fans the world over. It was exported successfully to the United States and was even sold in Australia as a knocked down kit that was assembled in Australia. 50 years later, in 2008, a 50h anniversary celebration was attended by over 1000 Austin-Healy Sprites, MG Midgets and their Spridget offspring, a testament to the popularity of the car and its style.