This entirely original Sprite is an icon in the British sportscar world.
Enthusiasts often lament the loss of the lightweight, frill-free sportscar. Yes, the Mazda MX-5 Miata still exists and, with a curb weight of 2,341 pounds, you could never accuse it of being portly. But when you compare it to the compact sportscars of yesteryear, the Mazda is positively rotund. The Lotus Elan, for example, tips the scales at a mere 1,500 lbs.
However, the subject of Jay Leno's latest video is lighter still. The world's biggest car guy has shed some light on his adorable 1959 Austin-Healey Sprite, a 0.9-liter roadster affectionately known as the "Frogeye." The British roadster doesn't present quite as well as Leno's other prized vehicles and there's a good reason for that.
Leno describes it as a preservation car. "We could have restored it and made it look brand new... but I thought it might be [kind of] fun to... see what 50 years of sitting in a garage does to a vehicle."
Despite the less than perfect condition, Leno explains his Sprite is a one-owner example. The British sportscar was stored in the '70s and only unearthed when the owner's son contacted the famed car collector. As such, it retains its patina - but that doesn't mean it hasn't received some TLC. "We carefully took out some of the dents [but] didn't repaint anything. Just tried to clean [it up]."
The 948cc motor had to be rebuilt, though It won't win you any drag races but, as Leno points out, that's not the point of the Sprite. "It weighs under 1,500 pounds. It's [got] about 40 horsepower. This was the most basic sportscar you could get... it's fun to drive just as it was intended."
On the road, the little Brit makes Leno smile as much as a supercar costing six-figures. The engine coughs into life, before setting off with a hearty thrum. "When I take it up in the hills, I'm not aware of how little horsepower it has."
With a healthy dose of transmission whine, the Healey soaks up the Californian sun as Leno points it toward the hills. The four-speed manual gearbox is a great source of pleasure for the former talk show host. "On the highway, it would just drone, but the constant shifting makes it fun [to drive]."
Unlike a temperamental Italian exotic, the Sprite hasn't proved to be difficult to maintain, with Leno noting parts have been extremely easy to come by, even in America. It's great to see a car collector really enjoying his cars (expensive or not) and appreciating the simply pleasures that make driving so fun.
In the grander scheme of things, the Sprite was often outshone by its more muscular sibling, the Austin-Healey 100. Recently, British luxury brand Caton revived the legend as the Healey by Caton, a one-of-25 hand-built piece of automotive jewelry that harks back to the heydays of British motoring.