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Austin-Healey Sebring Sprite replica

The Austin-Healey Sebring Sprite was a modified version of the Austin-Healey Sprite which gained recognition by the governing body of motorsport, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, as a separate model in its own right. The car featured Girling disc brakes as well as engine and chassis improvements, and after its homologation on 17 September 1960, FIA regulations permitted the use of 'special bodies'. Some Sebring Sprites were subsequently fitted with coupé bodywork in aluminium alloy and glassfibre, the most strikingly attractive examples being those devised by well-known race and rally driver John Sprinzel, who had won the 1959 RAC British Rally Championship. Sprinzel commissioned the coachbuilders Williams & Pritchard, renowned for their racing and prototype bodies, to produce it. The name 'Sebring Sprite' would become a generic term for any Sprite with disc brakes, and later for any Sprite with coupé or fastback bodywork.

Sebring 1959 Class Domination

For the celebrated long-distance race at Sebring, Florida, in March 1959, the BMC Competition Department entered three Austin-Healey Sprites in the 12 Hours Grand Prix d'Endurance. The cars were prepared by Donald's son Geoffrey Healey at the company's Cape Works in Warwick, and were fitted with Dunlop disc brakes on all four wheels as well as wire wheels (and tyres) from the same company. Larger twin 114-inch SU carburetors gave the engines more performance and special twin-plate racing clutches took the drive to straight-cut close-ratio gearboxes. The cars were raced by Hugh Sutherland, Phil Stiles, Ed Leavens, Dr Harold Kunz, Fred Hayes, John Christy and John Colgate Jnr. Despite setbacks, the Sprites managed to finish first, second and third in their class, and their success in this premier sportscar race, which was part of FIA World Sportscar Championship, gave valuable publicity to BMC in the important North American market.

Sebring 1960

Because of increasing safety worries about the speed differential between the smallest and largest-engined cars, a separate four-hour race for 1,000cc cars was organized at Sebring in 1960. Stirling Moss drove a Sebring Sprite to a class win and second overall in this event. In the twelve-hour race, John Sprinzel drove a special glassfibre-bodied Sebring Sprite built and entered by the Donald Healey Motor Company to another impressive class win, finishing 41st overall.

Sprinzel's Sebring Sprites debut at the London Racing Car Show

Before developing the Sebring Sprite coupe, John Sprinzel had founded the prominent tuning firm Speedwell, in which future world champion Graham Hill would subsequently play a major role. Sprinzel left Speedwell at the end of 1959 to set up the Healey Speed Equipment Division for Donald Healey, but not before developing a sleek, alloy-bodied Sprite coupe, the Speedwell GT, designed by aerodynamicist Frank Costin and built by Williams & Pritchard. Leaving the Healeys to set up his own tuning and race preparation concern at Lancaster Mews in December 1960, Sprinzel launched his Williams & Pritchard-bodied coupe to immediate acclaim at the Racing Car Show in London. Sprinzel Sebring Sprites were soon being built for racers Ian Walker, Cyril Simson, Andrew Hedges and Chris Williams, and for BMC works rally driver David Seigle-Morris. Sprinzel's personal Sebring Sprite bore the registration number PMO 200, and he campaigned the car at Sebring and in international rallies as well as races throughout the 1961 season, culminating in an outright win in the Targa Rusticana rally at the beginning of 1962.

Sebring 1961

No less than 7 Sebring Sprites contested the long-distance races at Sebring in 1961. Five Healey-prepared BMC works cars were driven by Ed Leavens, Briggs Cunningham, Dick Thompson, Bruce McLaren and Walt Hansgen. There were also two of John Sprinzel's striking coupes, piloted by one of the top-rated Grand Prix drivers of all time, Stirling Moss, together with his sister Pat Moss, Britain's most successful woman rally driver. The Sebring Sprites finished in six of the top eight places in the 4-hour race for one-litre GT cars. In the 12-hour race, Sebring Sprites were driven by Ed Leavens, John Colgate, Joe Buzetta, Glenn Carlson, Cyril Simson and future F1 driver Paul Hawkins to strong performances, finishing 2nd, 3rd and 4th in class and 15th and 25th and 37th overall.

Sebring Sprites

Over the years, the cars were sold to privateers who raced and rallied them. In later years, the Sebring Sprite became a prized possession and the object of veneration within the Austin-Healey fraternity. Enthusiasts sought out the cars, sometimes discovering them in advanced stages of deterioration. Today, the cars are cherished classics that can be driven to and from competitions just like the originals were in their day. One such car is the "Lumbertubs" Sprite. Built by brothers Brian and Ken Myers in 1963 on a MKI bare Sprite chassis, Lumbertubs is named after the lane in which they lived. The car was built to the same homologated specification of the Sprinzel Sprites. The alloy roof was crafted by Alan Thompson who was working for Aston Martin at the time. The fibreglass front end was made Williams & Pritchard, the same coachbuilders responsible for the Sprinzel cars. The car appears on page 176 of John Sprinzels excellent book Spritely Years and in the register at the back of the book. In 1965 ownership was passed to Peter Webster, who fitted a 1650cc Ford and used it with some success in sprints/hillclimbs. In 1967 the engine was changed for a 1498cc Cosworth, developing around 130 - 140 bhp, with a Cortina GT gearbox. It is known to have won the 1600cc class at the St. John Horsfall meeting at Silverstone on 24th June 1967 with Peter driving.

Replica Sebring Sprites

Because there were so few original cars, very few Austin-Healey fans ever had the chance to admire the Williams & Pritchard coachwork, designed and commissioned by John Sprinzel. Sprite restorer Brian Archer embarked on the production of a faithful replica to enable this remarkably beautiful design to reach a wider audience. Over a period of twenty years, nearly a hundred cars have been built using Brian Archer's reproduction bodywork, many finished to an extremely high standard. Raced and rallied by Martin Ingalll and other drivers, Brian Archer Sebring Sprites have achieved a distinguished record in historic competition. Since Brian Archer's untimely death in 2008, his business partner Andrew Forster is carrying on the tradition with the support of a devoted and ever-increasing band of Sebring Sprite enthusiasts.

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