The Austin-Healey Sprite is a small open sports car which was produced in the United Kingdom from 1958 to 1971. The Sprite was announced to the press in Monte Carlo by the British Motor Corporation on 20 May 1958, two days after that year's Monaco Grand Prix. 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 Sprite was designed by the Donald Healey Motor Company, with production being undertaken at the MG factory at Abingdon. It first went on sale at a price of £669, using a tuned version of the Austin A-Series engine and as many other components from existing cars as possible to keep costs down.

When the Mk. II Sprite was introduced in 1961 it was joined by a badge-engineered MG version, the Midget, reviving a model name used by MG from the late 1920s through to the mid 1950s. Enthusiasts often refer to these later Sprites and Midgets collectively as "Spridgets." The MG-badged version of the car continued in production for several years after the Austin-Healey brand ceased to exist.

The next upgrade was presented at the London Motor Show in October 1966.[9] Besides receiving the larger 1275 cc engine (which disappointed enthusiasts by being in a lower state of tune than that of the Mini-Cooper 'S'), the Mark IV and its cousin the Mark III MG Midget had several changes which were more than cosmetic. Most notable is the change from a removable convertible top, which had to be stowed in the boot, to a permanently affixed, folding top of greatly improved design, which was much easier to use. Separate brake and clutch master cylinders were fitted, as car manufacturers' thoughts began to turn to making their products safer.[10] On US market versions the larger engine sacrificed some of its performance from 1968 on, through the use of smog pumps and other modifications to comply with federal emission control requirements. 1969 was the final year the Sprite was exported to the US. At the same time reversing lamps were made a standard fitment and the cars' electrical system was switched to negative earth and powered by an alternator rather than a dynamo. This was also the first year that reclining seats were fitted.

A facelift was carried out for the 1970 model year (beginning in September 1969) after Austin-Healey (and MG) became part of British Leyland. These largely cosmetic revision were to update the appearance of the car (now 10 years old) and minimise the difference between the Sprite and Midget versions to reduce production costs; both cars now had the same cosmetic features, differing only in their badges. Alongside a new range of body colours, both cars now had the same grille, based on the plainer square-mesh design of the MkII-onwards Sprite but now finished in satin black with the addition of a chrome embellisher. The body sills were painted satin black with a chrome strip between them and the upper bodywork and the name "SPRITE" was applied in chrome capital letters on the sill just behind the front wheelarch (MG Midgets had their own badge in the same style).

1970 Austin-Healey Sprite Mark IV with revised grille and cast-alloy wheels
Slimmer bumpers were fitted, with those at the rear changing to two quarter-bumpers with the gap in the middle filled by a square number plate. Rubber-capped overriders were standard fitments front and rear. The seats were now a slimmer, flatter design with a more modern upholstery pattern. Some body colours could now be ordered with the option of the seats, door trim and floor carpets in beige rather than the standard black. 1970-model year Sprites were fitted with new cast-alloy looking ventilated wheels although they were still made of steel. However, the option for wire-spoke wheels remained. As launched the 1970 Sprites had their windscreen frames and windscreen wiper arms painted 'anti-dazzle' matt black as was popular on modern American muscle cars and rally cars of the era but these features were expensive to produce and unpopular with buyers so only a few hundred cars were produced before these reverted to the original polished metal appearance. In 1972, the rear wheel arches were remodelled to give a circular shape. This was known as the RWA version (Round Wheel Arch) and is the most popular and highly prized version amongst enthusiasts. The flat rather obviously fake "Alloy" wheels were dropped at this time and the "Rostyle" wheel, a narrower version of Ford's Cortina 1600E wheel but in painted silver and black, not chrome like Ford's iconic embellishment, were introduced. When the later 1500 cc version, using the Spitfire engine and all-synchromesh gearbox was introduced in 1976, the older square wheel arches had to be re-introduced as well as an increase in ride height and rubber shock absorbable bumbers, to comply with US safety and crash test requirements.[11] 22,790 Mark IV Sprites were made.


1966–1971: 1275 cc A-Series I4, 65 hp (48 kW) at 6000 rpm and 72 lbf·ft (98 Nm) at 3000 rpm
The Healey connection was discontinued in 1971, so the final 1,022 Sprites built were simply Austin Sprites.[12] This was a cost-cutting move of Donald Stokes', enabling British Leyland to stop paying royalties to the Donald Healey Motor Company.[13] There was no direct successor, as BL's extensive range already contained the MG Midget, which was identical to the Sprite except for badging, and the similarly dimensioned and priced Triumph Spitfire.

The Sprite (and its MG Midget sibling) have been successful club level race cars since their launch and continue to race in various events to the present day. International events were entered throughout the 1960s and surprisingly good results were achieved, including a 12th-place finish at Le Mans in 1965. The works cars began with use of a commercially available fibreglass-bodied Sprite (with a Falcon body) before utilising lightweight body panels of standard appearance. By the mid-60s, use was made of the wind-tunnel at Longbridge. Barry Bilbie (the chassis designer) utilised the results to produce a streamlined body, built in Birmabright alloy at Healey's Warwick workshops by Bill Buckingham and Terry Westwood. These cars were powered by BMC's Courthouse Green's tuned engines and eventually produced a reliable 110 bhp, which enabled a top speed of around 150 mph on the Mulsanne Straight. One-off gearboxes were also made at Courthouse Green, with MGB gearboxes modified with an externally mounted 5th gear and overdrive in some cases. BMC works entries recorded class wins at Sebring with drivers including Stirling Moss, Bruce McLaren and Steve McQueen, as well as competing in the Targa Florio and Mugello sports car races.

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