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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

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The Sprites line up in the pits at Sebring, Florida in 1959.

1959 ex-works Sebring Sprite

~ AN5/8145, Stiles/and Sutherland, Sebring,1959

[previously thought to be the No.53 Leavens/Kunz car but recent evidence proves it to, in fact, be the No.54 entry]

restored by the late Butch Gilbert in the USA, and now (2017) in the UK and owned by Jon Curtis, registered UWD 97.

The following notes were prepared by Butch Gilbert:

" HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE

Records show that Austin Healey Sprite AN5/8145 / Body # BAE 7324 left the assembly line on November 24, 1958 and was dispatched to Donald Healey Motor Company on November 26, 1958.  It was one of four cars that were prepared for the 1959 Sebring Race by Donald and Geoffrey Healey at the Cape.  BMC had decided not to enter big Healey’s at Sebring in 1959 because they wanted to introduce the new Sprite to America at the race.  Donald and Geoff were commissioned by BMC to transform four newly released production cars into race cars that would withstand the 12 hours at Sebring.  Dunlop provided experimental four wheel “light car” disc brakes and 60 spoke 13 inch wire wheels for the four cars, the factory competition department provided a XSP race motors and Jensen provided hardtops.  According to John Sprinzel in his book Spritely Years, “Geoffrey drew up a specification coded ST200 to which the cars were prepared”.  In addition to the hardtop, engine, brakes and wheels, the list included SU 1 ¼ inch carburetors and special manifold, dual tubular exhaust, a close ratio transmission, reinforced a-arms, special springs and shocks, a long distance gas tank, heavy duty generator and voltage regulator and a Smiths 5 inch chronometric tachometer and other parts.  Since the Sprite was a new model, some of the race parts used had yet to be developed and the modifications completed in a very short time span.  In less than three months, almost everything on the cars was changed, the deadline was met and the Healey’s provided the factory with their 1959 Sebring Team.  It was shown that the cars were sent to the US on February 23, 1959 by the BMC Competition Department to Hambro, which was BMC’s North American distributor and shown as the entrant at Sebring. 

AN5/8145 was the number 54 car which won its class at Sebring driven by Phillip Stiles and Hugh Sutherland and became the first Sprite to win an international endurance race.  The car’s history and originality make it arguably the most important Sprite in existence.  It is one of only two surviving cars from the Factory Team that swept the podium for the class at Sebring in 1959 and it is the only remaining car with the original parts from Sebring. In later years there were Sprites with alloy panels and some with one off body designs that participated at Sebring and Le Mans, but even those cannot claim the same significance as the stock bodied “Bug-eye” Sprites that ran for 12 hours at Sebring in 1959.  The three-car finish proved the stamina of the little car in an endurance race and showed the factory’s commitment to racing.  After 1959 Sprites were raced in the 4 hour race at Sebring often with famous drivers, but none of those later teams did as much to spark the interest of the buying public.  That 1-2-3 finish at Sebring kicked off an advertising campaign that resulted in the sale of almost as many Sprites in 2 ½ years than Big Healey’s were sold in 14 years.

The 1959 Sebring race began the era of the racing Sprite.  BMC introduced their new Austin Healey model as an economical entry level sports car that was dependable transportation which could be a raced on the weekend.  A full range of race parts and options for the cars were developed and were available through Donald Healey Motors and through the BMC Competition Department.  Those factors led amateur racers to confidently choose a Sprite over other marques and it quickly became a favorite in club racing. Sprites soon were available from the factory with a Sebring option kit that was developed from the parts used on the team cars in 1959 at Sebring. 

DONALD HEALEY FACTORY TEAM SPRITES AFTER SEBRING

According to the Geoffrey Healey book More Healeys, Frogeyes, Sprites and Midgets, “After the race the cars were sold to any distributor who had use for them”. 

The class winning #54 Sprite went to Kjell Qvale in Northern California.
In a 1959 article written by Ocee Ritch that was reprinted in the Clymers Sprite – MG Midget Owners Handbook there was a statement mentioning that one of the cars was taken back to Northern California by Jack Flaherty who had raced one of the factory MGA’s.  Flaherty ran the BMC dealership in Monterey California for Kjell Qvale who was the Northern California BMC distributor. The car was delivered to the Napa BMC dealership where it was quickly prepared for an upcoming race.  A picture in Road & Track’s September 1959 issue showed the car at Laguna Seca in June 1959 driven by James Hughes, who was a team driver for Qvale.  The hardtop had been removed and the number changed but the side lights, Dunlop wire wheels and right hand drive clearly identify it as the Sebring car.

The second place #53 car was sent to a distributor in the Midwest and was later purchased and raced by Ron Hampton in the early 1960’s.  Information from Hampton to Silverstone, states that his car was destroyed while being towed to a race in Wisconsin.  

The #55 car was driven cross country to Los Angeles after the Sebring race as documented in Ocee Ritch article  and an article written by John Christy one of the team drivers and an editor for Sports Cars Illustrated. It had been purchased by Gough Industries (BMC distributors in Los Angeles).  It was raced extensively in Southern California club races and vintage events until just recently.   That car is now owned by Jeff Silverstone in Los Angeles (formerly by his father Herschel) but is missing its original Sebring equipment. 

Ed Bussey, the Florida distributor purchased the #78 back-up car that did not run the race.  That car later ran at Daytona and other races driven by Phil Stiles who later purchased the car from Bussey.  His documentation indicates that car was crashed and sold as parts to someone on the west coast of Florida.

January 2015: The car is now owned by Jon Curtis (bought from Warren Kennedy) in Hertfordshire UK and registered UWD 97.

Link to photo gallery

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AN5-8145
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Previously, Butch believed..
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his car had raced as....
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No.53, but see below.
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With its "Works" hardtop
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Disc brakes at the rear,
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..as well as in front
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N.B. "Cape" dashboard
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The driving force!
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Original control box.
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Spare wheel mounting
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Restored bodyshell
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The car today...
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sporting correct No.54
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The refurbished interior