2018 marks the anniversary of a lot of classic cars, and the Austin-Healey Sprite is celebrating its 60th anniversary. Created in 1958, the Sprite was billed as a high-performance compact car that would appeal to a wide audience. In addition to being affordable, the Sprite boasted a memorable design that earned it the affectionate nickname of ‘frogeye.’ We’re looking into the history of the Sprite to commemorate its anniversary.
The development of the Sprite came about through a meeting between the Managing Director of the British Motor Corporation Leonard Lord and Donald Healey. Both men identified the need for a small two-seater that followed in the footsteps of the pre-WW2 Austin Seven Nippy.
The new vehicle was presented as a sports car, featuring a lot of existing components. The front suspension, gearbox and rear axle came from the Austin A35, while the rack and pinion steering came from the Morris Minor. The Sprite was set to be the world’s first mass-produced sports car to employ unitary construction techniques, as it would have featured retractable headlights. However, these features were deemed too expensive.
This led to the headlights being permanently fixed, giving the Sprite a cute appearance. Gerry Coker designed the body, getting the car ready for its 1958 debut.
When the Sprite was released, the PR department proclaimed “today the Austin Motor Company makes motoring history with the announcement of a completely new small and inexpensive sports car.” Priced at £669, the Sprite could be afforded by the average person and road tests were found to be favourable.
The press heaped praise upon the Sprite, with Motor Sport saying “at the price this latest product of Donald Healey and the Austin Motor Company is a vehicle of many merits and no vices.” Autosport were also complementary. “Every credit is due to the manufacturers for instigating what will undoubtedly prove to be a new era in the popularity of small capacity, open car motoring.”
The public were impressed with the Sprite as well and the model became popular in the UK and US. The Sprite continued to be produced until 1971. By that time, Austin-Healey had revolutionised the British sports car market.