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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

Joe Armour 19

Joe's car in the historic demo at the
2011 Melbourne GP.
Le Mans 68

HAN9-R-237 ~ RUE 714G

(formerly HAN8-R-144 - HNX 456D)

Sebring and Le Mans 'Ex-Works' Sprite

now owned by Joe Armour, NSW Australia

First outing for the 'streamliner' chassis number HAN8-R-144 bearing the UK registration number HNX 456D, and painted day-glow orange, was at Sebring for the 12 Hour race in March, 1966 where it was driven by Clive Baker and Rauno Aaltonen (as No.66) alongside its identical sister car HNX 455D. Baker and Aaltonen finished 29th having completed 121 laps, while their team mates Hawkins and Makinen came home 18th, having done 175 laps

The next event was at Le Mans in June that same year, 1966, this time in the hands of Clive Baker and John Rhodes and numbered 48, the car was re-painted in BMC Tartan red. Like its sister car it failed to finish due (according to Geoff Healey) to the engine suffering con-rod failure after 19½ hours (though recorded as suffering clutch and water pump failure on the racingsportscars.com website).

The following year, 1967, the car was entered again at Sebring, alongside a production Sprite driven by Roger Enever, Alec Poole and Baird. (The sister car, formerly HNX 455D, had been sold to the US after Le Mans the previous year). Driven by Clive Baker and Rauno Aaltonen in the 12 Hour race the alloy-bodied car finished 13th in the Prototype (up to 2 litre) class.

After that it was back to Le Mans for a second time in the hands of Clive Baker teamed up with Andrew Hedges, on this occasion finishing 15th overall at an average speed of 100.8 mph and winning the 'Motor' Trophy. This time the car ran with a 5-speed gearbox and it had small side wing vents to combat overheating problems.

During the race ~ to quote Geoff Healey in his book "More Healeys" ~ "Somehow, and there are a variety of stories, Clive Baker damaged the rear of the Sprite in the Esses. Dion Pears did a painting of the incident with the No.1 Ford (GT40) of Gurney and Foyt breathing down his neck. At the time there were wrecks and bits of cars all over the place and Clive did well to get through. The damage took some time to repair and dropped our race average".

I believe I am right in saying that teams were only allowed to race a car twice at Le Mans which may explain why, in June '67 soon after the Le Mans race, the registration plate HNX 455D was returned to the DVLA. Production Sprites had now moved on from chassis numbers beginning HAN8 to HAN9 with the introduction of the Sprite Mk 4 with 1275cc engine and we are now as certain as we can be that the chassis of this car was re-built following its Le Mans accident and given a new chassis number, HAN9-R-237. It is presumed that by this time the cars were becoming so rapid and sophisticated that testing on the public roads was no longer practical so that the re-built car was not, at this point, given a new UK registration number. The Healeys clearly wanted the the motoring press to think this was a new car though Geoff doesn't say so in his book "More Healeys", merely referring to a new financial arrangement with BMC and stating "The 1968 Le Mans Sprite was fitted with a new unit with Lucas petrol injection". The company was building another car (chassis 238), visible in photos of the Healey SR under construction in their workshop. Another photo taken around the same time, early in 1968, also shows "237" alongside the SR and the standard-bodied Sprite, with the discarded plate HNX 456D sitting on the bench. This plate was even attached to the SR for testing it on the road ~ clearly illegally.

For Sebring that year (1968) the Healeys entered the Targa Florio car, LWD 959E, which had failed to finish in Sicily and was fitted with the cross-flow cylinder head and fuel-injection. The restored 144/237 chassis was similarly up-rated in time for Le Mans 1968, where it was this time driven by Roger Enever and Alec Poole. It again finished 15th overall, but at the slightly slower average speed of 94.8 mph though once again it won the 'Motor' Trophy for the first British car home. At one spot it had been timed at 154 mph!

This was I believe its final long distance event as a 'works' car, after which it was registered for the road as RUE 714G before being sold off by John Sprinzel to Marcus Chambers' son-in-law, Charles Dawkins. A couple of years later it went to Ian Polley who looked after it for nearly 25 years, after which Joe Armour took it to his home in NSW, Australia.

* * * * * * * * * *

and 45 years on:

While on holiday in Australia in February 2012 my wife, Susan, and I called on the current owner of the car, Joe Armour, who we had met at the Oran Park race track five years earlier on a previous trip down under. He had acquired it from Ian Polley who had raced it in the UK.

Ian Polley had promised Joe first refusal whenever he came to sell the car after they met in 1996 but it was not until 2000 that the deal was finally struck. Even then Ian wanted two last drives with the car, firstly in the June 2000 Le Mans historic parade prior to the 24 Hour Race start, and later in the Goodwood Revival race meeting that year. Joe decided to go along to Le Mans and was elated to be driven down the Mulsanne Straight at 130 mph, only realising later that the floor he was sitting on was a thin sheet of aluminium held in place with pop rivets!! Ian was generous enough to include with the car all the spares which had come with it including a spare motor - just as well, as Joe has since had the misfortune to break the crank on the original Le Mans engine. Local engine 'guru' Bob Rowntree has now re-built the spare motor and it is ready for installation.

The motor is of course an XSP of 1293cc using dry-sump lubrication, a scavenge pump mounted on the side of the block, driven by an extra toothed gear on the camshaft. The car used a single Weber carburettor for both the 1967 events, before the new fuel injected engine was fitted for 1968. A special deep aluminium sump, (one of several built) extends back to and is bolted to, the engine backplate so making the whole unit much more rigid. Joe is hoping to rebuild the original race engine with a new crank - though a standard 1275 crank has a narrower flywheel flange so it would need to be extended towards the back plate for the ring oil seal to be effective. He also hopes to fit the full fuel-injection system and Weslake cross-flow head used in 1968. The gearbox is a 5 speed created by Healeys by modifying an MGA or MGB one with an additional gear at the back. Only a very few of these were built, one of which is in one of Jack Wheeler's cars ~ see 7080 AC.

For 1968 the new XSP engine (306313), referred to above, was fitted, which had a cross-flow, semi down-draught  head and Lucas fuel injection.  This explains why the 1967 photos have the smooth single curvature bonnet line compared to what you see in 1968 and in the current bonnet.  The exhaust manifold/extractors were on the left hand side and the generator/dynamo was mounted above the exhaust extractors. The right hand side had the Lucas fuel distributor mounted low down and driven by a belt from the nose of the extended camshaft which protruded through the timing cover. A belt driven mechanical fuel pump was also mounted low down to a modified standard front engine plate. The fuel injector trumpets were at approximately a 45 degree angle off the Weslake/Eddie Maher (BMC engine man) head. The inlet ports were in the horizontal face of the cast iron cylinder head.

The relocation and positioning of these components required an overall increase in the height of the bonnet profile with an additional tear-drop shaped bulge over the trumpet ends.

The same Weslake head and Lucas fuel injection was fitted to Works rally Minis by BMC for 1968. These were homologated but the inlet trumpets were different as they were required to curve down under the bonnet and behind the grille.

The body of HAN9-R-237 is unique in being the only 'streamliner' fitted with a spoiler around the tail. It retains its smaller triangular side vents (other similar cars have none, while one has larger ones), and an extractor vent on the rear of the roof panel (early cars appear to have none while some have a narrow slit). Though the car is painted red (for Le Mans), you can see small specks of bright orange beneath, the colour it wore for the Sebring race(s).

Joe's bungalow sports a long, enclosed veranda which is to become a showroom for the Sprite and for his ex-Works Healey 3000, DAC 953C. His collection of memorabilia, currently in masses of boxes, will no doubt soon be decorating its walls.

Ian Polley twice won the HSCC end of year class award with the car, and in 1999 Lord March invited him to enter the car in the Goodwood Festival of Speed hillclimb event where it won it's class. In 2000 he and Joe attended the Le Mans 12 Hour Race Historic demonstration  and then returned to Goodwood for the Revival Race Meeting were it was co-driven by John Rhodes who had driven these cars for the works at Le Mans in 1965 & 66.

Joe was lucky enough to meet Roger Menadue at the Austin-Healey Club's 1996 event at Cirencester where, along with Ian Polley, he viewed and discussed the car and Roger's involvement with the build, race preparation as well as his role as Donald  Healey’s first employee. Roger’s title on his business card was: DHMCo  Experimental Engineer. He told Joe that it was their usual practice to enter one 'proven' car from an earlier event and one experimental version, so avoiding both cars failing from an un-tested design fault. When Joe purchased the car, he and Ian Polley drove down to Cornwall to have lunch and share photos and stories with Roger and the car.

 

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HNX Sebring 66
At Sebring in 1966
sebring 66
in the pits with 8 DBL (J.W-B)
HNX 456D
and Le Mans 1966
(photo: Russ Smith)
Sebring 67
Sebring 1967
Joe Armour 24
Ready for Le Mans in 1967
HNX 456D
Still racing despite the crumpled rear end
hnx456d
Damage in DHMC showroom
[photo: Mighty Midgets]
testing
Alec Poole tests the "new" car for 1968 Le Mans
(photo: "More Healeys")
Motor Show
1968 Earl Court Show
Healey SR
Healey SR and '238' beyond
HNX workshop
Sandwiched between the 'SR' and the production Sprite with reg. plate on the bench
237
Geoff eyes up "Lady in Red"!
HAN9-237
In the pits, Le Mans '68
(above from Castrol Achievements 1968)



Joe Armour 18
Ian Polley at Silverstone, 1981
Joe Armour 17
Joe Armour at Wakefield Park
Joe Armour 22
Melbourne 2011
Joe Armour 1
Joe and his car with friend Eian Poustie (left)
Joe Armour 6
What a beauty!
Joe Armour 3
Bob Rowntree built engine
Joe Armour 4
Cast aluminium sump bolts to the engine backplate
Joe Armour 8
Small side vents
Joe Armour 9
Roof outlet vent
Joe Armour 10
Unique tail spoiler

 

Armour 11
armour 12
armour 14
armour 16
Awaiting installation of re-built motor
Original RAC stamp
Healey chassis plate

 

Below are two excellent books recommended by Joe which show a number of further photos of the cars in action
"Sebring 12 Hour Race 1970" edited by
Robert C. Auten:
ISBN 1-882256-20-4
Joe Armour 21
Joe Armour 20
Les Healeys au Mans,
1949-1970,
by Hervé Chevalier
ISBN 2-913117-00-7

 

January 2014 - From Joe Armour: "Here is my head and short inlet manifolds being refurbished in Victoria. I also have a cam, fuel pump and Lucas fuel distributor.  But no inlet trumpets. We can cast some as the base and butterflys are standard S.U. Carb items.  What I need is the length and dia at the bell mouth. Also I would like to get the cast in numbers on the trumpet. Interesting the fuel injection appears to have been removed when the car was sold to the publishing house of 'CAR AND CAR CONVERSIONS' when they purchased it from Healeys. What is most interesting is that the Chairman/director of the company was Donald Healeys Promotions Manager, Ken Gregory who had been Stirling Moss's manager.  Previously Ken had suggested and pre-arranged a buyer of the 1958 ?  London Show car 100/6 with gold metalwork trim and unique upholstery. The fuel injection has not been fitted from that time, the reason being I believe was due to easier maintenance and tuning".

HAN9-R-237
HAN9-R-237
HAN9-R-237
HAN9-R-237