Classic Sports Car
RUN BY Malcolm Thorne OWNED SINCE October 2016 PREVIOUS REPORT November 2020
It often amazes me what people have tucked away. After reading my previous report, Frank, a friend of a friend, got in touch with the offer of some parts that had been gathering dust for almost 50 years. “I’ve got a couple of Armstrong adjustable dampers, a Weber carburettor, special Lockheed disc brakes and a few other bits and pieces,” he said. “Oh, there’s an engine, too.”
It transpired that the spares were from a hot 1960s Sprite Frank had run when he was working in Birmingham during the ’70s, and the more he told me, the more intrigued I became. “It was an 1100cc, but not the usual longstroke rubbish,” he said. “This was a short-stroke unit that would sing its heart out to 10,000rpm instead of running the bearings at half that. The fella who owned the car before me bought it from the Healeys in Warwick.”
Anyone familiar with A-series engines will now be feeling a twinge of excitement, because oversquare 1100s are rare birds indeed. “What happened to the rest of the car?” I asked, thinking I was on the brink of an epic barn-find. “Wrapped it around a lamppost in Dudley one Friday night after a few too many in the pub,” was the answer that dashed my hopes. “I salvaged all the good bits, the rest went to the crusher. I’ve realised I’m never going to use any of it, so if you want the parts, they are yours.”
Naturally I accepted, and a week later a handwritten list arrived in the post – ‘I’m 87, I’ve not gone digital yet’ – of exactly what Frank had got stashed away. Most notably, this included an ‘XSP type 2173 engine – last run c1974, not seized but possibly home to mice’, so I appear to have bagged myself a BMC Formula Junior race unit. Quite what I’ll do with it has yet to be seen, but first I need to get the thing from Sussex to Spain, which is easier said than done at present. Frank has also promised to dig out some photos, which I’m hoping to include in a forthcoming book on the subject (if anyone out there has pictures of factory Sprites in competition, please get in touch).
Whether my particular Healey deserves such covetable gifts as Frank’s dusty cache is, of course, open to debate. Aside from being a bit of a mongrel (and thus probably not the right candidate for a potentially valuable works engine), the little bugger has been rather testing my patience of late.
The trouble began on an early morning trip to the next village for provisions: the Healey ran like a dream on the way there, but was utterly devoid of electricity when I tried starting it to come home, with not a tick from the fuel pump or so much as a dim glow from the lights. Later investigation revealed a fully charged battery and an engine that burst into life, so there’s a duff connection somewhere.
The car has repeated the same farce three more times, although since the first episode I’ve avoided pushing it home (note to self: flat and empty roads notwithstanding, a mile and a half behind an expired Sprite is purgatory, not robust exercise). Wiggling every wire I could find revived the electrics twice, but the third time I had to resort to a tow. The Healey obviously hates me, because in spite of many hours of methodical examination I’ve still yet to find the cause of the problem.
The time spent battling with the Prince of Darkness also means my efforts to smarten up the body have ground to a halt. Instead of a fresh coat of racing green, the Sprite is now looking worse than ever, with the dubious metallic blue now joined by various patches of primer. Maybe that’s a blessing, though, because talking to Portsmouthbased Matt Ward, the owner of a pre-production facelift MKIV in the same Bronze Yellow as mine first wore (Lost & found, March) got me questioning my choice of colour. Leylandised ‘HAN10’ Healeys such as mine and Ward’s are rare machines (only 1411 were built), so maybe I should embrace the ’70s look and reinstate the original hue. The jury is still out, but the idea is growing on me.