A standard-bodied Sebring, now in Holland, with rare Speedwell aluminium bonnet
These pictures, and the text below, were sent to me by Robert Visser from Holland. His Sebring Sprite has an early Ashley hardtop and a very rare Speedwell aluminium Monza bonnet which he believes to be one of only five made. The photos were taken in period (except the bottom one) and include one at the Zandvoort circuit (3rd one down). Robert has now complete the restoration of the car and it was on display at Gaydon in 2008. I know Mike Wylie has an alloy bonnet for his Speedwell GT, albeit rather the worse for wear and I have heard of 1 or 2 others around. Can anyone confirm there were only 5 made?
History of the car:
The Austin Healey Sebring Sprite (AN5-L/3182) was manufactured in July 1958 and immediately shipped to Stokvis at Rotterdam. Originally the Mk1 Austin Healey Sprite was old English white with a red interior. The Sprite was an early production car which was strengthened with additional plates welded into the rear bodywork. Mr. Frank van Suchtelen purchased the car in 1958.
In early 1960 Tonio Hildebrand bought the Sprite and sent it to John Sprinzel at Speedwell in London for an aluminium Monza bonnet (one of only five made) to be fitted, an Ashley (Mk1) fibreglass hardtop, aluminium doors (one of only six pairs made) and suspension modifications. The Sprite was painted leaf green with a central yellow stripe. It then went to Downton Engineering in Salisbury for a competition engine. Hildebrand made a deal with Speedwell and Downton to use the Sprite to promote their performance products.
On 22nd May Ies Langestraat (the best BMC salesman in Holland) was loaned the Speedwell Sprite to compete in a national sporstcar race at Zandvoort. On the tenth lap whilst in the leading group of three cars, Langestraat rolled the car whilst exiting “Bush” destroying the hardtop, and luckily only causing light damage to the bonnet and panels. Later the tell-tale on the rev counter indicated 8,500 r.p.m., and as Langestraat had been told under no circumstances to go over 8,000 r.p.m. – Speedwell and Downton were not impressed!
Following the crash the Sprite was repaired locally, and in June competed in the SLS rally finishing tenth overall. Prior to the start of the 1961 racing season the Speedwell Sprite was air freighted back to Speedwell were it was prepared to Sebring Sprite homologation. The Sebring Sprite was primarily raced at national level race meetings during 1961 at Zandvoort. The Sebring Sprite was also used by Mr. Maus Gatsonides in conjunction with the Zandvoort police to test his early speed cameras (Gatso meter).
In 1962 Mr. Wim Booker bought the car and campaigned it very successfully in hillclimb and sprint meetings recording many class victories in the sportscar class up to 1000 cc. Booker repainted the car in “his” racing colours of red with a white central stripe. In 1964 the car was purchased by Jan Kanters who raced for the final time at Zandvoort before then selling it later that year to Dirk Kuiper.
Kuiper used the car as a road car until 1969 and sold it to an unknown owner who lived in the Amstelveen area. The car was repainted in old English white. In 1972 the Sprite had a road accident which damaged the left front side, was bought by Klaas van Dijk from Ketelaar Garage. In 1983 it was purchased by Mr. Guus Visser who planned to do a full restoration. At the end of 2004 his nephew Robert acquired the Sprite and completed a full restoration returning it to the Sebring Sprite specification as prepared by Speedwell in 1961.
The coloured picture 2nd up on right only recently came to light, and was taken at Zandvoort, Holland in June 1960, by the late Joe Green and kindly supplied to Rob by his son, Barry. It is supposed it was driven on that occasion by Tonio Hildebrand- not confirmed.
2 new early of the car which came to light early in 2016 are these from Zandvoort Historic of the Speedwell/Ashley bodied car at the Netherlands race track back when?
Crash at Zandvoort, May '60
Speed camera testing
In its Wim Booker colours
Zandvoort, Holland - June '60