Pick of the Day: 1960 ‘Bugeye’ Sprite, cheeriness on wheels

The little Austin Healey is a pint-size roadster designed for plus-size fun

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The Sprite wears a smile below its bug eyes

The Austin Healey “Bugeye” Sprite looks like the happiest thing on earth, a tiny piece of contentment in a troubled world.  With its pertly smiling grille, standup headlights and cheeky fenders, the Bugeye (known in its British home country as the Frogeye) makes its fun-times intent obvious to everyone who sees or drives it. 

The roadster is minuscule by American standards, with an 80-inch wheelbase, 130-inch length and 1,580-pound curb weight. The Sprite is also as basic as it comes, an inexpensive sports car designed for pleasant drives on country roads, and placing its occupants as near to nature as possible.

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The Pick of the Day is a 1960 Austin Healey ‘Bugeye’ Sprite that has been rebuilt and refurbished, according to the O’Fallon, Illinois, dealer advertising the wee roadster on ClassicCars.com.

“Try to wipe the smile off your face when driving! You can’t!” the dealer says in the ad.

The Sprite was created by the Donald Healey Motor Company to supplement the famed “Big Healey,” and priced to compete with the small, cheap sports cars that were swarming all over England and Europe.

As the story goes, the Sprite was originally meant to have headlights that swiveled into the body, giving it a starkly aerodynamic look.  But the automaker did the math and decided to produce the car with its headlights in the fixed upright position to keep costs down.  And thusly, an icon was born.

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“It was intended to be a low-cost model that ‘a chap could keep in his bike shed,’ yet be the successor to the sporting versions of the pre-war Austin Seven,” the seller notes.

The Bugeye was one of the first mass-produced cars with a semi-monocoque design, its abbreviated framework lying under stressed body panels.  There is no external access to the small trunk, and the entire front bodywork tips forward clamshell-style to get under the bonnet, as the British favor calling the hood (which is what the British call the convertible top).

The Sprite was designed to use the myriad of mechanical parts available in the British Motor Company parts bin, such as the sturdy 948 cc Austin A-series 4-cylinder engine that musters 43 horsepower linked with a crisp-shifting 4-speed gearbox.

“Our very cute Nevada Beige Austin Healy has a ‘purrs like a kitten’ newly rebuilt 4-cylinder engine,” the dealer says. “Plus, shifting a car has never been more entertaining than running through the gears in the newly rebuilt transmission.”

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The gas cap appears to be missing

The Sprite looks to be in very presentable condition, although oddly, the gas filler cap appears to be missing.  That’s kind of a weird oversight.

The Bugeye Sprite looks like (less-than) a ton of fun for the asking price of $19,500.

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To view this listing on ClassicCars.com, see Pick of the Day.

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Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.

7 COMMENTS

  1. I know these cars were used in SCCA racing quite prolifically in the day, and with much success. I wonder how many are left today?

  2. I have owned many bug-eyes in my youth, and the driving memories still bring a smile to my face! Nice article. Price: I sold my last mint condition example with front bumper in tact for $1200 in 1974. So, if everything has been multiplied by 10 since then, $20k seems OK…

  3. Whoops. The bugeye nose did not tilt forward like the one pictured. It hinged open like a regular hood. Rather inconvenient though so some people modified it to hinge forward. It’s easy to do and there are kits available.

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