Some time ago I received an email from Stuart Black, who owned what remained of a damaged aluminium-bodied Mark 2 Sprite, which prompted me to look into the history of the cars which went to Sebring in 1962 and 1963. Geoff Healey told the story in his book "More Healeys" published in 1978 from which I gleaned that the Donald Healey Motor Co built four bodies with light alloy panels for BMC's entry in the 1962 3 Hour Race at Sebring, Florida. They had 998cc engines and the same Girling disc brake set-up used on the Mark 1 Sebring cars with 8" rear drums and knock-on wire wheels. They also sported rather attractive DHMC hardtops which had a little rear quarter window behind the door. I think they were all painted in Healey Ice Blue. The drivers of these 4 'works' Sprites were Stirling Moss, Pedro Rodriguez, Innes Ireland and actor Steve McQueen. Moss pulled out an early lead, of some 9 seconds but had to come in for fuel with only 15 minutes to go and was overtaken by the two Abarths of Bruce McLaren and Walt Hansgen. Stirling came home 3rd, Pedro 6th, Innes 7th and Steve McQueen 9th.
The following year, 1963, two of the cars were entered in the 3 Hour race, and one of them (9252 WD) had been converted into an MG Midget for Graham Hill to drive with Pedro Rodriguez in the Sprite. Within the first five laps both cars suffered failure of their limited slip differentials and were out of the race. So ended the Sebring campaign for the Sprite Mark 2s.
I suspected that Jonathan Whitehouse-Bird would know more about the history of the cars and what became of them and sure enough my email to him met with a long and meticulously detailed response:-
"Thanks for passing on the email from Stuart Black concerning his MkII Sprite. I recall speaking to someone a few years ago (it may well have been Stuart - I can't remember), about the remains of an alloy bodied MkII Sprite.
Sadly, the possibility of Stuart's car being one of the four alloy bodied MkII Sprites built by the Healey Motor Co. is highly unlikely, and the circumstances or particular history/story surrounding Stuart's car, doesn't fit with the known fate for each of the four alloy bodied Healey 'works' cars.
The Sebring Sprite Register does have chassis numbers for all four cars, along with engine numbers, build details, etc. Each car was registered using its Abingdon assigned chassis number (although this was reapplied to one of the Healeys own brass type chassis plates. A body type number was also shown, usually with an 'ST' prefix. Of the four cars built (9251 WD - 9254 WD), only one is definitely known to survive. The car driven by movie star Steve McQueen - 9251 WD (left), remained in the 'States following the 1962 Sebring event. It was bought by B.M.C. San Francisco and was shipped to the West Coast. American MkII Sprite fanatic, Mitch Goldstein has spent many years trying to discover what happened to the car, but it has disappeared without trace.
9252 WD, 9253 WD and 9254 WD, all returned to the UK following the 1962 Sebring event. It appears that they sat unused at The Cape for the remainder of the '62 season. All three cars were again taken to Sebring for the '63 event along with 58 FAC(right), a special bodied alloy coupe built by Healeys, which was also used later in the season at Le Mans.
For the '63 event, 9252 WD was 'rebadged' as an MG Midget (chrome side strips and a slatted grille were added) at the request of B.M.C. Publicity, as they had secured Graham Hill as a driver. Pedro Rodriguez drove 9254 WD. However, both cars broke within a few laps. 9253 WD although in attendance, was not used in the event, but served only as a practice car. Aside from the mechanical problems, all three alloy bodied MkII Sprites returned to the UK undamaged.
9252 WD (driven by Innes Ireland at Sebring in 1962) reverted to being a Sprite once more and was sold following the '63 event to a Mr. S. R. Richards who campaigned the car for a couple of seasons, before selling to John Fenwick in 1965. At this point the car was still undamaged and unmolested from its 1962 spec'. I have a number of photos of the car taken during the Richards and Fenwick ownership periods. After 1965 the car disappears off the radar - until 1991, when I stumbled across what I believed to be the remains.
I'd gone to collect some parts I'd bought from a classified ad' in the back of 'Enjoying MG' magazine. Sadly, not a great deal of the Sprite remained: one alloy door - still with the original Healey Ice Blue paint and race number attached, a boot lid, a broken LSD, a pair of adjustable Armstrong rear shocks and a few other sundry items (most of the other bits had already been sold off). The shell had been scrapped many years previously; it had been involved in a side-impact accident and written off. The owner had some information, but was quite evasive when questioned about precise detail!
The car driven by Pedro Rodriguez in 1962 - 9253 WD (and used only for practice in 1963), was sold following the 1963 Sebring event, to a good friend of the Healey family (and a Healey 'works' driver), John Harris. He campaigned the car for two seasons before selling it on to John Willetts in 1965. At some point the car was repainted in a dark blue though it is unclear by whom. Willetts used it for only 3 years before laying it up, and there it remained until Jonathan acquired it in (?)2013.
The car driven by Stirling Moss at Sebring in 1962 - 9254 WD (incidentally, the only one of the four cars built that had its 'Warwick' hardtop produced in alloy), returned to the UK following the 1963 Sebring event. It was entered at the request of B.M.C. Publicity, by Healeys at a couple of events during the '63 season and driven by Christabel Carlisle. Tragically, it was on one such occasion at Silverstone (whilst trying to go round the outside of Andy Hedges in a Dick Jacob's Midget coupe) going through Woodcote, that she got the rear end too far out and slammed into the pit wall, fatally injuring an official on duty there. So severe was the impact, that the car was flung back across the track into the path of race traffic. Following this event 9254 WD was dismantled and the remains destroyed. As a result Healeys never raced in the UK again! I have a number of photos showing the moments before and after the accident. Those following clearly show the extent of the damage. Christabel was knocked unconscious by the force of the crash and had to be cut free from the wreckage.
I hope this helps to clarify some of the history surrounding these four 'works' cars? I would be interested to hear more about Stuart's MkII, if any further information comes to light. I can only imagine that his car was built up using some of the alloy panels produced by Abingdon (of which quite a number were made) during the early '60s. As to the B.M.C./Abingdon racing connection, I have to admit that I sadly know nothing! 9256 WD pictured was a 'works modified' MkII Sprite, registered by the D.H.M.C. and prepared at The Cape in early 1962 (now owned by J W-B).
The Healeys themselves used Abingdon produced alloy front wings, bonnet, doors and bootlid on the four '62 Sebring cars. Only the rear shroud, rear wings and rear were created by Bill Buckingham and his team at The Cape".
MANY THANKS to Jonathan Whitehouse-Bird for the above.
(June 2012) John Willetts who owned the sole surviving Sebring car 9253 WD for a great many years has recently sold it to Jonathan who plans a sympathetic recommissioning of the car at some point in the future.
Moss makes a quick get-away
The 4 Mk2's at the '62 race
Moss discusses tyres
"Midget" with 2 Sprites 1963
Stirling Moss in '62
Carlisle passes Hedges
After the crash
S R Richards, 1964
9255 WD in the early 80's
9255 WD today (rally spec)
owned by Ian Thomas (2010)
9256 WD - works modified
From DHMC brochure
9255 WD, originally LHD..
has an L in its chassis No
From Autosport March 1962