Ah, the joys of spring. I get to thinking of topless driving in my little Austin-Healey Sprite. These cars and the near identical badge engineered MG Midget (collectively known to hobbiests as “SPRIDGETS” or LBC’s Little British Cars) are one of the cheapest and easiest classic British cars to buy, fix, and maintain for the joy of classic car motoring. Note I include fix in there.. These cars, the newest of which are now approaching some 40 years of age, ALWAYS need work. That said, they were made to be simple cars easily and inexpensively repaired and maintained. Parts are still made for these cars to include major body sections for repairing horribly rusted or wrecked examples. The first of these were built in 1958 as the now treasured “Bugeye” (Frogeye for my UK folks) with a 948 cc engine making 43 red hot HP! My ’62 MK2 Sprite, shown here, came to me in the mid 90’s as a $200 basketcase….tho I never did find that stupid basket. Here is what my $200 got me.
Was a little rough. I’m still not sure what exactly possessed me to rescue this mess of a car. It was in a field not anywhere near Kersey Colorado and despite having sat outside like this for some undetermined time, had (and still does) solid rot free floors and body. All the rust visible on it was the result of the prior owner chemically stripping off the paint to do a restoration. I also got a multitude of boxes with lots of parts to fix the car. Even had some baggies LABELED with where those certain screws and bolts went! I dragged my new prize home and sorta messed with it on and off for 20 years before finally getting serious a few years back. I decided that If I wasn’t going to get it going, I’d be better off selling it to some other sucker. It had managed to get a bunch of dents worked on, some filler added to the worst spots, primer here and there, and a motor I’d only heard run one time back in like ’97 or so (sitting on the floor) installed. I actually got the motor hooked up and running, bought a master cylinder, got the brakes working and for the first time, actually drove it only to discover 4th gear just made very very expensive sounding grinding noises.
Removal of the transmission means removing the engine and trans as a unit. It doesn’t come out the bottom like many other cars. Inside, I found a messed up gear and shift fork for which I was able to purchase replacements from a local guy that specializes in selling parts for British car lovers (Suckers perhaps?) Parts in hand, I reassembled (which any good manual will aptly mention is exactly the reverse of the removal) the transmission and got it all back into the car. Sucesss! Now, I had a miserable looking but at least operable LBC.
It was at this point, I started getting serious about the bodywork. It’s a dusty messy job. but it’s wonderfully satisfying to watch shape up. Here is the primer phase.
It took some time. I did not worry about every little detail. I spritzed it with the paint I’d bought years before. I had done the underhood area years before. Now, it was time for paint on the body!
I also painted the entire contents of the garage yellow. Overspray is really a thing! Next time, I’ll paint the garage and hope some gets on the car. Now came the next part of car restoration that can be very irritating. Parts that formerly looked okay, now show 50 years of neglect and need to be shined up to match the shiny new paint. To add to the whole issue, I lost some things that were stored at my sis’ house when it burned. The biggest loss to me was the original seats. Fortunately, my sis and her family were fine aside of losing everything they owned a couple weeks before Christmas. My losses were trivial in comparison. I found some 3rd row seats from a Mercedes ML320 SUV at a swap meet for $20 and fabbed up brackets to use them. I love the look of originals but these will suffice until I can afford a set.
After the paint and installing various bits and pieces that had been in storage for ages, I started getting the car I’d wanted all along.
It’s still a work in progress…but it hasn’t kept me from driving it. I still need a small collection of things to really finish it (note trunk handle missing) and I have been slowly replacing the items I lost in the fire or never had to begin with. Here, I’m driving it near Woodland Park Colorado recently. I have put a tad over 1000 miles on it since I got it going.
I’d encourage most people to buy one of these cars that’s already in a running condition as they are super affordable. $3-5k buys an operable driving example. $10k will buy a solid restored one needing little if anything but normal care. Driving this car gives me a happiness that can’t quite be put into mere words. It’s the realization of much work and time. Time well spent.