These early, chirpy Sprites are as irresistible now as they ever were. But with the pound in the doldrums, is it still worth importing them?
Of the 48,987 MkI Sprites produced, fewer than 10,000 were built for the UK. Like many other British roadsters of the post-war years (Sprite production began in 1958) the ‘Frogeye’ found its biggest fanbase in the USA – where the name ‘Bugeye’ is more often used.
Like many other ex-pat cars from the era, many have already been shipped to European buyers looking for a rust-free example. But are there any left out there, and has our limp exchange rate ruined the viability of importing?
There’ll still a market for imports, reckons Gordon Elwell of Classic Revival, an established Frogeye specialist in Nottinghamshire (frogeyesprite.co.uk, 0115 966 3762). ‘ We’re not seeing as many being imported from the States as there were 15 years ago, but I wouldn’t say they’ve dried up,’ he says. ‘People are still doing it.’
The Sprite was a budget roadster in its purest form, but minor modifications are common, and many heavily-modded cars can be found in the USA. It’s not unheard of for the wheelbase to be extended to enable their owners to actually fit in them, while more subtle tweaks include glassfibre bonnets.
Headline-grabbing imports include the original press car, PBL 75, from Australia (where a few RHD Sprites were originally built from CKD kits, mainly during the later years of production) and an ex-works car with a history of racing at Sebring in 1959, complete with prototype four-wheel disc brakes. Cars with such high-profile histories will always be worth importing if you have the budget.
Closer to home, a few Sprites are sprinkled around Europe, especially in Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. Of the 22 examples listed on CCW’s website classiccarsforsale.co.uk, most are either recently imported (from the USA or South Africa) or are recently-restored UK cars. A few project cars have been imported from America in recent years, but for this to be worthwhile, you really need to know your Sprites inside out, and have confidence that the car is structurally sound – otherwise why bother?
Right-hand drive conversion can be performed at Classic Revival, and requires original RHD components such as the dashboard to be sourced (the steel dash has never been remade).
‘It’s a small market, but there aren’t that many very good ones around,’ says Gordon.
So if you have your eye on an overseas stunner, it just might be worth bringing it home.