Sprite 1958- 67

Classics Monthly - - Marque Guide -

BMC in­tro­duced the MkI Sprite in 1958 and this low-cost sports car was im­me­di­ately nick­named the Fro­g­eye due a pair of rep­tile like head­light pods mounted on top of the car’s rear hinged one-piece bon­net assem­bly. The Sprite's styling had been car­ried out by the Don­ald Healey Mo­tor Com­pany. De­sign­ers Gerry Coker and Les Ire­land orig­i­nally in­tended the cheeky look­ing Sprite to be fit­ted with re­tractable head­lights, but cost con­straints im­posed by BMC re­sulted in the com­plex flip-up mech­a­nism be­ing deleted.

Sprite pro­duc­tion took place at the MG plant in Abing­don and this uni­tary con­structed sports car utilised as many parts as pos­si­ble from the ex­pan­sive BMC parts bin; such as its A35 and Mi­nor de­rived front sus­pen­sion set up. At the rear, a pair of quar­ter-el­lip­tic springs and lever arm top links soaked up the bumps and clev­erly trans­ferred all the rear sus­pen­sion forces into the Sprite’s sturdy floor pan. Power came from an up­graded 948bhp A-Series en­gine fit­ted with a pair of 1” SU car­bu­ret­tors and the MkI Sprite’s one-piece bon­net made ac­cess to en­gine ex­tremely easy.

Like its larger 100- 6 sib­ling, crea­ture com­forts were ba­sic – there were no ex­te­rior door han­dles on the Sprite and the lack of an open­ing boot lid re­quired the lug­gage area to be ac­cessed from be­hind the seats. How­ever, what the Sprite lacked in com­fort it made up in the per­for­mance stakes, as with only 43bhp on tap the light­weight Sprite had a more than ad­e­quate top speed of nearly 83mph.

The MkII Sprite came on the scene in 1961 with the head­lights po­si­tioned in a more con­ven­tional po­si­tion at the end of each front wing. An open­ing boot lid in the restyled rear end was a huge im­prove­ment and me­chan­i­cal up­dates in­cluded a pair of larger car­bu­ret­tors that in­creased power out­put to 46.5bhp. The badge-engi­neered MG Midget now joined the heav­ily re­vamped Sprite and in Oc­to­ber 1962 the Sprite re­ceived a use­ful boost when the 1098cc A-Series en­gine was in­stalled. Power was now up to 65bhp and a stronger gear­box was in­tro­duced to deal with the ex­tra torque.

In 1964 the MkIII Sprite was in­tro­duced, with the main im­prove­ments be­ing to the in­te­rior trim. Wind up win­dows and open­ing quar­terlights now re­placed the draughty re­mov­able side screens and the rear sus­pen­sion was mod­i­fied to in­clude semi-el­lip­tic leaf springs. The fi­nal in­car­na­tion of the Sprite was the 1966 in­tro­duced MkIV, the most no­table change be­ing the adop­tion of a fold­ing soft top that could be stowed be­hind the rear seats. BL dropped the Healey con­nec­tion in 1971 and the fi­nal batch of cars were badged as Austin Sprites.

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