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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

 

9253 WD ~ ex-works Mark 2

Jonathan Whitehouse-Bird tells the story:

"9253 WD was one of only four alloy bodied MkII Sprites built at "The Cape", Warwick, by the Donald Healey Motor Co., to compete in the 3 Hour race at Sebring, Florida in March 1962.  In the race, 9253 WD was driven by Pedro Rodriguez.  All four cars finished the event which, for most of it duration, Stirling Moss had led up until the last moment in a sister car - 9254 WD.  Eventually, Moss came in third and Rodriguez 6th.  The other two cars, driven by Innes Ireland and movie star Steve McQueen, came 7th and 9th respectively. Following the '62 Sebring event, the McQueen car - 9251 WD - remained in the 'States and was purchased by BMC San Francisco. The other three cars returned to the UK.

9253 WD also competed at the Bahamas Speed Week in Nassau, (presumably flown out specially from the UK - MEI) during December 1962. Further trawling of the internet and a chat with Nassau expert/author Terry O’Neil revealed the following: "Austin Healey Sebring Sprite - 9253 WD - race #42 was entered in five races at Nassau by Donald Healey (a good friend of Sir Sydney Oakes, who helped to organise the event) and was driven by John Colgate, from Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York State".
Results for the car were as follows:
Dec 2nd 1962 - Nassau Tourist Trophy 
(under 2-litre heat) 4th overall, 2nd in class (6/8GT class).
Dec 2nd 1962 - Nassau Tourist Trophy
10th overall, 2nd in class (6/8GT class).
Dec 7th 1962 - Governor's Trophy
(under 2-litre heat) 9th overall, 2nd in class (6/8GT class).
Dec 7th 1962 - Governor's Trophy
13th overall, 2nd in class (6/8GT).
Dec 9th 1962 Nassau Trophy DNF, completed 20 laps (about the time a heavy rain storm hit the circuit)".

[Jonathan has supplied a few newly discovered images (right) from the event, plus a link to a film made of the 1962 races.  9253 WD makes a very brief appearance at 09:09 min’s.  See:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dpL3SRAWU0&app=desktop
If anyone else can provide further information relating to 9253 WD competing at this event, he'd love to hear from them. Contact me initially via Feedback and your message will be forwarded.]

"All three remaining team cars were shipped out again to Sebring the following year for the 1963 3-Hour race, this time with one of them - 9252 WD - rebadged as an MG Midget for Graham Hill to drive. Only two cars were used for the race - 9252 WD and 9254 WD (9253 WD was used only as a practice car).  During the event, both cars suffered mechanical failure; Graham Hill's car had gearbox problems and Pedro Rodriguez, this time in 9254 WD, retired when the LSD unit broke in his Sprite.

When the three cars returned again to the UK, both 9252 WD and 9253 WD were sold by the Healey Motor Company to private Sprite enthusiasts.  9253 WD went to a good friend of the Healey family (and Healey 'works' driver), John Harris.  He employed the car as his everyday transport and used it for his daily 25 mile commute to work.  The car was made a little more comfortable with the addition of some trim, carpets and a radio!

John also entered 9253 WD into various race and hill-climb events during the 1964 season and achieved some success.  At the end of the year he sold the car to John Willetts who, with good friend Colin Duckett, continued to compete with the car in over 30 race events, at club level, from 1965 to 1968.  By 1968, the car was becoming somewhat uncompetitive so John drove the car into his garage and closed the doors.  9253 WD subsequently 'disappeared' from public view for the next 30 years!

In 1998, I happened by chance, to purchase a Healey modified MkII Sprite, registered 9256 WD, from a classic car dealer in Norwich.  Realising the car to be only two digits away from Stirling Moss' 'works' car - 9254 WD - I wrote to Classic and Sportcar magazine appealing for information about 9256 WD, also making reference to the four 'works' Sprites and making the suggestion that none of them had survived.  Again by chance, John Willetts saw my letter and replied to the magazine stating that he still owned 9253 WD.  As a result, I was then able to make contact with him and arrange a visit.  Eventually, I drove over to Bromsgrove to meet up with John Willetts and Colin Duckett and to view 9253 WD.

A further 15 years on from that first visit, and exactly 50 years on from its creation and first appearance at Sebring, the opportunity to acquire the car was kindly provided by John Willetts.  I collected 9253 WD towards the end of April 2012 on probably the wettest day imaginable.

Aside from the few minor modifications made by both first owner John Harris and second owner John Willetts, during their respective ownerships, the car is in incredible condition (albeit a little dusty!) and an amazing time-capsule.  A sympathetic recommissioning is planned at some point in the future
".

First step for Jonathan was to apply to the DVLA for the car to be re-registered. It later appeared on the Midget & Sprite Club stand at the NEC (November, 2012) where it was awarded the Brian Archer/Ian
Ashfield Trophy.
.NEC  4 On display, at NEC 2012 NEC 3

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At the end of 2014, the TV restoration programme CAR S.O.S. took the car and sympathetically restored it back to its 1962 race spec' all of which can be viewed on YouTube (in memory of the late Ian Ashfield). See also Jonathan's letters in "Your Comments": Letter 1, and Letter 2.

John Harris confirms: "I took over the car from the DHMC at the start of the 1964 and raced it for one year only. I did not paint the car dark blue. Initially the car was fitted with a 998 long stroke engine. After a couple of races I felt the engine performance was disappointing and therefore GCH (Geoff Healey) gave me a 1071cc Cooper S engine that had just come back from re-build at Morris Engines. The original engine was taken over by Roy Lane who was eventually British Hill Climb Champion.  The car was then very competitive and won its class many times during the season."

9253WD
Pedro at Sebring 1962
Nassau
The start at Nassau (the Sprite visible at top left)
Nassau

Nassau

Nassau
Here being hounded by Dieringer's Ford Galaxie
9253 WD
Collecting the car (2012)...
9253 WD
...in the rain
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Original wood-rim
9253 WD
The long range fuel tank
9253 WD
Engine compartment
9253 Wd
showing original Iris Blue
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The car, as it is today
9253 WD

9253 WD
The dusty interior
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CAR SOS
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Photos from the restoration of 9253 WD as seen in April 2015 on the National Geographic Channel during the CAR S.O.S. programme's rebuild of Jonathan Whitehouse-Bird's ex-Pedro Rodriguez Sebring car. Presenters Tim Shaw and Fuxx Townshend can be seen with Sir Stirling Moss who drove one of the other team cars at Sebring in '62.
(The standard Mark 2 of Michael Meerlo was, I believe used for comparison purposes.)
9253 WD
9253 WD was on display at the London Transport Museum for the Car SOS Press Launch Event for one afternoon and evening, where it was the star attraction!
In April 2015 is was resident at the Heritage Motor Centre, Gaydon, Warwick for a limited time only; after which it's off to AH Spares for a spell, and then it's booked in at MG Live 2015 at Silverstone in June, as part of the BMC Comp's Dept. 60th Anniversary display.
[Sir Stirling Moss at the wheel, left]
Gaydon
Gaydon
Gaydon
Gaydon
The above 4 photos were taken by Bob Hinchliffe while the car was at the Heritage Motor Centre, Gaydon, Warwick.
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More photos of 9253 WD, this time from Jonathan Whitehouse-Bird, taken from the CAR S.O.S. programme and subsequent displays at the London Transport Museum and the Heritage Centre, Gaydon.
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