Originally owned by Chris Williams, 52 LPH was first registered in September 1959 - a Nevada beige Frogeye. As he was under 21, and his guardian would not let him race, Chris went rallying - with John Brown, who he had met while at Oxford, as his navigator. In 1960 they took part in the Cotswold-Continental Rally, and the RAC Rally, and in '61 in the Welsh Rally, Cat's Eyes Rally Express & Star Rally (in which they came 25th overall), and the Hopper Rally (when they were 12th).
Sprinzel could see that Chris had real driving talent so when he turned 21, John wanted him to have the best car available. Being unable to afford Williams and Pritchard prices, Chris went to Robert Peel Sheet Metal Works at Kingston for his new alloy bodywork. The roof was more tightly configured than the other Sprinzel coupés, allowing space for a nominal horizontal boot lid, secured by Dzus Fasteners, behind the rear window to aid removal of the spare wheel. Repainted in Alfa Red, Chris raced the car during the 1961 season with considerable success: 3rd in class at the Oulton Park BRSCC meeting, another 3rd in class at Snetterton, 4th in class at the Silverstone BRDC, and 3rd overall at the Aintree British GP meeting. He had a 3rd in class at another Aintree BARC meeting and was part of the successful Team Sebring in the 6 Hour Relay Race at Snetterton, an event organised by the then prestigious 750 MC, a club now considered by many to have been the cradle that nurtured the subsequent success of motor sport innovation in the UK.. He then had a 3rd overall and a 2nd in class in two BARC races at Oulton Park. By the end of the season the Sprite was becoming outclassed by Lotus Sevens and Marcoses so Chris sold the car to buy a Lotus 23. Chris Williams went on to be one of Britain's greatest hopes in the world of single-seater racing, successfully making the transition to Formula II until his tragic death while testing at Silverstone in March 1969.
52 LPH was bought, from Lancaster Mews, in September 1961 by Peter Johnson from Omagh in Northern Ireland who competed with it locally that year and took a 7th place in his class in the Scottish Rally. In November 1962 the car moved some 30 miles across mid-Ulster to Ronnie White, from Armagh, whose family owned the biggest garage in the city in the great days of BMC. He campaigned it, with his sister Doris as navigator, through the 60's in the Circuit of Ireland, the Scottish and RAC rallies as well as in Club events. Doris was one of the top local navigators, especially in the old days of reliance on Irish half-inch maps, and always navigated for him. Ronnie was involved in other forms of motorsport and later auto-crossed a Ford Fiesta with great determination for some years.
Left: Ronnie on an autotest in Newry (photo courtesy of Mike Wilson Design).
Never having had major restoration, this Sebring remains in excellent condition,having been lovingly maintained, and treated to a face-lift when the new sport of 'Classic Rallying' encouraged Ronnie and Doris to exercise it with success on retrospective rallies in Ireland, following use of their equally well looked after Cooper 'S' in the 1989 Circuit of Ireland Retro. 52 LPH was one of Paul Woolmer's 'Special Sprites' on display at the Austin Healey 50th at Thruxton in 2001, and attended theSprite 50th anniversary celebrations at Goodwood in 2008.
Mike Wylie tells me: "The car has to be the most original car of the lot, and because of his close association with BMC, Ronnie was able to get all sorts of special parts. He once showed me a siamesed-port Works head. LPH has all those special touches, and I am especially envious of the original competition quality instruments and switches!"
Tom Coulthard says: "The car pre-dates most of the other special-bodied Sebrings, was a Team Sebring race car, and was described by John at the time as the 'full competition model, with our ‘works’ specification, including alloy bodywork ...'. Granted the Peel’s fastback is a later development (1962), but the Peel’s alloy coupe is a parallel development, and despite what John may have said in the past, I believe that all Sprinzel alloy coupes supplied through the Mews after June 1961 were bodied by Peel’s (2214 UE we know about – also a very important ‘Sprinzel’ car), but the Frank Kalkuhl/Carlo Abarth and the Tonio Hildebrand cars may be ‘known unknowns’ from this period."
[Much of the above information has been unashamedly "borrowed" from Tom Coulthard's entries in Spritely Years for which I am most grateful. My thanks also to Mike Wylie for his generous input.]
July 2013: Trevor McIlroy recently attended the 50th Anniversary of the Association of Northern Ireland Car Clubs ~a 2 day Sprint meeting at Kirkistown being two rounds of the British Sprint championship to which "all the great and the good of Northern Ireland motorsport were invited to bring along cars from the past 50 years. These included Ronnie White's red Sebring Sprite, which is still in great condition". It is seen here with Trevor's Sebring Rep with which he achieved a 1st place.