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Dedicated to the memory of the late Brian Archer who fulfilled his dream to re-create John Sprinzel's Sebring Sprite Coupé

Mike Wylie

Mike Wylie

Sprinzel and David Wylie
John Sprinzel & David Wylie, (with Adrian Boyd in background).

 

 

 

505BZ-20

A comparison between different Speedwell screens and door frames at Goodwood.

505 BZ ~ Speedwell GT

"Just as mainland enthusiasts remember registration numbers of all the great road registered cars in racing and rally lore, so in Ireland there are those who will readily recite the numbers of all the Works cars, and others that came to race or rally in Ireland.   Many ex-works Minis and Escorts spent more than their share of time rallying in Ireland, and some were more famous than others, but always remembered by registration number.

505 BZ is a strange anomaly in that it was a car that did not achieve a particular outstanding victory, but rather, a special fame in Ireland that can be ascribed to two significant factors; the virtuosity of its then youthful driver, and the outstanding prettiness of the car itself.    Adrian Boyd had gained overnight fame by winning the 1960 Circuit of Ireland International Rally at the age of 19, navigated by his former school pal Maurice Johnston, in a more-or-less standard ‘Frog Eye’ Sprite.   They are still on the record books as the youngest crew ever to win an internationally rally.    Such was their modesty and maturity that the Belfast Daimler agent entered the same youthful pair for the 1961 Circuit in an SP250, and they were leading when the rear axle failed, a weakness in this model that was later rectified.

After a previous six-month competition life in England, the Speedwell was re-registered in Northern Ireland and replaced Adrian’s Frog Eye Sprite so that he could continue to be competitive in all the other motoring events in the local calendar and these included racing, hillclimbs, autotests and rallies, all using the same car in those days of less specialisation, particularly evident in Ireland.  The Speedwell was soon put to good use in local events, in preparation for the R.A.C. International Rally in November, but as it had been fitted from new with the Healey Works wire wheel and Girling disc brake conversion, and the Speedwell GT was only homologated for competition with standard steel wheels, and Riley 1.5 drum brakes, a new glass-fibre Sebring bonnet replaced the aluminium original, and 505 BZ was entered as a Sebring Sprite in the 1961 R.A.C. Rally.

The under-hung and inverted rear springs were changed back to their standard position to give extra ground clearance for rallying, as can be seen by comparing the two racing pictures.   The original aluminium bonnet, of a design also by then available to the buying public from Speedwell in glass fibre as ‘The Monza’, went on to have a life of its own fitted to the Frogeye of Adrian’s next younger brother, Derek.   That Sprite (888 CZ), with the alloy bonnet still fitted, later passed to John Watson who developed it for racing, thus sowing the seeds of his subsequent competition career.

Unfortunately an ‘off’ as a result of the effect of fumes from a leaking petrol can, a hazard in a car with no separate boot, brought the RAC Rally adventure to an early close, but examination of results from the early months of 1962 go a long way to explain the legend.   On the 6th January, driving 505 BZ, Adrian won the Armagh Motor Club’s rally and on 24th February he won the Mid-Antrim M.C’s rally.   On the last weekend of March he was third in the Circuit of Monaghan and was second in class to Peter Johnston who was driving the ex-Chris Williams Sebring (52 LPH), in the Circuit of Ireland held over the Easter weekend.   On 2nd June he won an Armagh M.C. driving test meeting and on the following weekend was second on the Tostal Trial in Co. Wicklow organised by the M.E.C. on Saturday, and second on the Circuit of Munster on Sunday.   Slot in every hill climb and race meeting imaginable and you are beginning to get the picture.   At Kirkistown he won the Sprite & Midget race and at a later meeting lent 505 for a similar race to the famous Sprite exponent Squadron Leader Paddy Gaston (an Ulsterman) who spun it at the hairpin in front of ace local photographer Esler Crawford.

Adrian’s performance on the Circuit of Ireland did however highlight the single greatest weak point of the Speedwell, that it had a double curvature Plexiglass windscreen that made night-driving, particularly in the wet, very difficult to say the least.   The little car had an enthusiastic following, and the amazingly large number of subsequent owners all soon found that the windscreen, and the non-opening side windows, made it impractical for normal use, and sold it on.   Adrian had succumbed to specialisation, part-exchanging the Speedwell for a new Volkswagen Beetle, then all the rage for autotests and rallying in Ireland, and eventually buying a ‘gullwing’ Marcos for racing without realising that it, like the Speedwell, had been designed by Frank Costin.   From then on he would be offered Works drives for his favourite event, the Circuit of Ireland International Rally and many other significant events by Rootes, BMC and Ford.

By the 1980s 505 BZ had passed through so many hands that it had almost become the proverbial basket case, and was rescued by Mike Wylie, a former RAC Scrutineer and race commentator married to Adrian Boyd’s sister, Margot, who remembered being taken to school in it.   Formerly a Secretary of the Ulster Vintage Car Club and the owner of a Frazer Nash, Mike Wylie had been enthusiastic about the Speedwell since seeing it on its first appearance in Boyd’s hands at Cluntoe in 1961, and was looking for a new challenge.

The windscreen problem was solved, expensively, by having a laminated one handmade using the original acrylic screen as a pattern.   A new glass-fibre Monza front was bought in England as Wylie intended restoring the car as he had remembered it in 1961, but an aluminium bonnet has surfaced locally and is currently being restored prior to fitting.   The restoration of 505 BZ coincided with the advent of the sport of Classic Rallying, the rebuilt car making its debut, with fellow ‘Chain Gang’ member Freddie Giles navigating, in the 1989 Circuit of Ireland Retrospective.   This was Freddie’s first attempt at a classic rally, but he would go on to great success in classic events and, with his wife Janet won the ‘Round the World Rally’ in a Hillman Hunter.

The newly restored Sprite, using a later Midget engine, was again entered for every possible event, from autotests to racing, and gave its new guardian a tremendous amount of fun and some success including several class wins on the Irish Circuit Retro.   A genuine Formula Junior short engine, in conjunction with an alloy Speedwell cylinder head, was developed for use on historic international events, beginning with the 1990 Pirelli Classic Marathon, and progressing to the Corse Retro 40, an event voted the toughest historic rally of 1996.   Perhaps the most nostalgic success from this period was joining up with John Sprinzel and Willie Cave to form Team Sprinzel Sprite on the 1991 Marathon, when, navigated by Michael Beattie, 505 BZ was part of the winning the team.

Meanwhile Mike Wylie had set-off on yet another tangent; to fulfil a dream he had harboured as a schoolboy of racing one of the Armstrong Siddeley Sapphires sold by his father’s garage business.   Receiving a last-minute invitation from Lord March to compete in the Fordwater Trophy Race at the 2003 Goodwood Revival Meeting, the well-worn and partly neglected Speedwell Sprite was resurrected for David Wylie, who had by now been delegated to race this exquisite, if patinated, family heirloom.  Converted from rally to race trim in less than a week, the Goodwood paddock was the scene of much fettling into the wee small hours that eventually came to nought when the heater valve on the cylinder head popped its threads.   This was a huge disappointment for David who, at the age of 19, using an Austin A35 for track racing and an MG Midget for road events, had been the winner of the Ulster Automobile Club’s Annual Points Trophy, the same trophy his Uncle Adrian had won at the age of 19 driving 505 BZ.

Invited back to Goodwood, and with more time for preparation, the Speedwell was treated it to a ‘new’ Swiftune 1293 c.c. engine for the Fordwater Trophy in 2006 Revival Meeting.  Out of 28 starters no less than 15 were Sprites with a known history, and among them John Sprinzel’s famous PMO 200, being driven by Sir Stirling Moss, and made all the more nostalgic as Sprinzel had made the journey specially from Hawaii.   Perhaps helped by the rain, to which Irish drivers are well used, David finished fifth overall, and lead the Sprite contingent home".      

More recent successes have included class wins at both the inaugural Crystal Palace Commemorative Sprint, and Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb, where MotoGP TV commentator Toby Moody also competed with it. At the 2010 Goodwood Revival Meeting David (with a worsening misfire) finished sixth in the Fordwater Trophy’

Copyright-  Michael C. Wylie - Revised in April 2011.

[The Speedwell has been with David, garaged in London, since 2008]

Now see David and 505 BZ in action at Shelsley - on U Tube

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505BZ
Adrian Boyd's 1st race in the Speedwell at the UAC mtg -
at Cluntoe - Sept 1961
(photo: Esler Crawford)
505BZ An autotest shortly after.
505BZ-6
Adrian Boyd and Maurice Johnston ready for Circuit of Ireland, 1962
505BZ-7
After the final test in Bangor Co. Down. Note Sprite behind, then Sunbeam Alpine
505BZ-8
July 1962 - Kirkistown, Adrian Boyd displays his mastery of tip-toe two-wheeled motoring
505BZ-21
...now with the rear springs the normal way up!
505BZ-9
Mike Wylie's first time out - Circuit of Ireland Retro 1989 (autotest)
505BZ-10
1990 Marathon with Freddie Giles (photo: Chris Harvey)
505BZ-11
1991 Marathon - Team Sprinzel snowballing on the Gavia.
505BZ-12
1991 Marathon with Michael Beattie ( (Chris Harvey).
505BZ-13
1991 Marathon with Michael Beattie (photo: Chris Harvey).
505BZ-14
Corsica ....
505BZ-15
with Gavin Millington ..
505BZ-16
on the 1996 Corse Retro.
505BZ-17
(photos: F'Autodelta)
505BZ-18
Trevor McIlroy secures the steering wheel following the Corsica rally in 1996.
505BZ-4
With sister cars at Goodwood in 2006..
505bz-5
..and in 2010, when David Wylie scored 6th place.
505BZ-19
Mike's last event, Croft Hill Climb, Holywood, Co Down June 2008.