The first Sprites, with chassis numbers beginning AN5, were built in 1958 to fill a gap in the market left by demise of the MG midgets, which were replaced by the larger MGA. The target was to produce a sports car for the price of a Morris Minor – around £600 – and this was acheived with the cheeky looking car, which rapidly became known as the Frogeye (UK) or Bugeye (USA) due to the headlights standing up on top of the bonnet.
Despite its small size, and low powered engine, the Sprite had considerable competition success partly due to its exceptional handling.
Although often overshadowed by the big Healeys, the Sprite offers fair performance and excellent handling with a smiles per £ ratio at least as good, probably better than its big brother.
Later cars had chassis numbers commencing HAN 6 etc, the H indicating Healey. MG Midgets used GAN, and the Austin Sprite AAN.
The design was revolutionary for a sportscar, as there was no separate chassis, the floor pan, sills and transmission tunnel providing the strength.
In 1962 when the Mk 2 was released, a new version, the MG Midget Mk1, joined the range. As there was no MG version of the Frogeye, the A-H was always 1 version ahead; for simplicity the details below always refer to the Sprite model.
The Mk 1 and Mk2 Sprite engine is the four cylinder 948cc version of the BMC A series which started life at 803 cc in the Austin A30 and was used in many BMC models through the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s including the Morris Minor, Mini, Marina, Maestro and continued in 1275 cc form until the last Mini was built in 2000. Later Spridgets continued to use this engine in 1098 and 1275 cc form.
Drum brakes were used on all four wheels until the introduction of the 1098cc Mk2 when discs were fitted to the front.
The Mk1 can be split into 2 versions; early cars which are distinguished by the 9 studs along the windscreen frame to secure the roof, and late which have a bar in the leading edge of the roof which fits into a slot in the windscreen frame. This change improved the seal and prevented rain leaking over the top of the screen.
At around the same time, the range of colours was revised, flexible side screens were replaced by perspex sliding windows, the rear shock absorbers mounted in a more upright position and extra stiffening added to the chassis.
The early Mk 2 was basically still a Frogeye underneath, but with a more modern body, the front styled by the Healey Company, and the rear by MG, which included an opening boot (trunk). A Healey prototype was built with a Mk2 front and Mk1 rear.
The late Mark 2 were upgraded to the 1098 (10CG) Engine in order to provide increased power.
The Mk3, retained the 1098 engine, but with larger big end bearings. This is known as the 10CC engine. Also, the quarter eliptic rear springs were replaced by more conventional semi eliptic ones, and improvements to comfort were made including wind up windows.
The next upgrade was the Mark 4 with the 1275cc engine, giving a further increase in power.
The final version was really still a Mk 4, but was sold as the Austin Sprite, due to the withdrawal by British Leyland of agreements with outside companies (eg Healey, Cooper). This is the rarest of all the variants with only 1022 being built.
Sprite production ended in 1971, with the MG Midget continuing until 1980.
All models are 2 seater, convertible with 4 speed gearbox.
- Mk1, AN5, Frogeye, 1958, 948cc, early (nine stud) windscreen.
- Mk1, AN5, Frogeye,1958-61 , 948cc, late windscreen. 49616 Frogeyes built in total.
- Mk2, HAN6, 1961-62, 948cc, ‘Spridget’, 24631 built.
- Mk2, HAN7, 62-64, 1098 10CG engine. Front disc brakes replace drums. 14097 built.
- Mk3, HAN8, 1964-66, 1098 10CC engine (larger main bearings), semi eliptic rear springs, wind up windows 25906 built
- Mk4, HAN9, 1969, 1275cc, 20357 built
- Mk4, HAN10 1969-70 Facelift model, including rear 1/4 bumpers inplace of full width, Rostyle wheels, reclining seats with headrest slots, 1411 built.
- Mk4, AAN10, 1971 Austin Sprite, 1022 built.