1959 Austin-Healey Sprite
Year of manufacture1959
Exterior brand colourWhite
True time-capsule condition – Original and unrestored
19,501 original miles
A long-time member of the Canepa Motorsport Museum collection
948cc A-Series inline-4 engine, 4-speed manual transmission
Known worldwide for their original open-top sports cars, Austin-Healey found success through the winning combination of fun driving dynamics and affordable entry into the sports car market. Their successful line of sports cars like the 100-6 and the "Big Healey" 3000 paved the way for their future models, including one of the most iconic: the Austin-Healey Sprite "Bug Eye."
Beginning production in 1958, the new Austin-Healey was a smaller and more precise sports car than its predecessors. Introduced to the world through a variety of racing wins (First-in-class at the 1959 Sebring 12-hours and First-in-class in the 1958 Alpine Rally), it immediately gained critical acclaim. With seating for just two passengers, its 948cc A-Series inline-4 engine, fantastic handling, a 4-speed manual transmission and enough headroom for anyone, it proved to be a welcome addition to the pool of sports cars available to Americans.
A "time-capsule car" is often a phrase that is used when the automobile in question represents the best of the best in terms of original quality. These unrestored masterpieces are as close as you can get to going back in time, simply by seeing or sitting in one can begin to transport you back to the car's original time period. This Austin-Healey Spite wears the description time-capsule car proudly. Original and unrestored throughout, owned by only 3 people in its lifetime, and raced in period during the beginning of its history, this Austin-Healey is quite possibly one of the finest Sprite Mk 1 in existence.
This Austin-Healey Sprite was manufactured towards the end of the 1958 production run, and was titled as a 1959. The original owner, J.P. Whitaker, purchased the car from John Dennison Foreign Cars in Davenport, Indiana. Whitaker, who was a graphic artist and 30 years old at the time, fabricated a tow bar and modified an AMCO rear nerf bar to mount tail lights and turn signals on. His trusty tow vehicle was a Plymouth Valiant station wagon, in the same colors as the Bugeye: white, with a blue stripe, and a red interior.
Whitaker raced the car from 1959 to 1967, competing in a number of events at Road America. Many of those tech stickers still remain on the roll bar inside of the car, showing evidence of those races. He also competed at Wilmot Hills, Meadowdale, Lawrenceville, and other tracks to the east.
Today the odometer reads 19,501 miles, and these are all original miles. J.P reported that more than half of those miles are from flat towing the car to various races during his ownership.
As the Sprite sits today, it is one of the most original and unmolested Bugeyes in the world. It has never been restored, and other than what Mr. Whitaker described as a "disagreement with an Oldsmobile in a parking lot", it was never in an accident on track. Its time-capsule condition is quite extraordinary as few street cars survive in this condition, let alone a race car.
The top, tonneau cover, and side curtains are original and still have their original bags, as does the jack. It still has its original Lucas Headlights. Remarkably so, it also still retains its red ribbed door mats.
The period racing modifications give this Sprite unique character, adding an immense amount to the car's history. The small race windscreen is an accessory wing vent from a "T" series. The muffler is from an Excelsior motorcycle, and the rear baffle would be removed for race days. The seatbelts are Army surplus, and the roll bar was constructed from well casing. Whitaker replaced the early riveted Bugeye rims with MKII welded rims in 1961. The car still rides on the Michelin X tires, circa 1963. A strap was used to prevent the passenger seat from flipping forward during races. Throughout all of his racing, Whitaker went through the engine twice as a preventative measure, and as a result never DNF'd.
Whitaker eventually sold his Sprite to a friend, before realizing that he couldn't actually fit in the car. The car was taken care of by multiple owners during its history, all of which treated the car with respect due to its current condition.
Canepa acquired the Austin-Healey Sprite in 2011 and it became a staple of the Canepa Motorsports Museum. With its unique ownership history, outstanding originality, and its track-weekend mentality, the car was an excellent and fan-favorite addition to the collection of other motorsport legends. After close to a decade in the Canepa Motorsports Museum, it was right time to find another loving caretaker who would appreciate the car for exactly what it is. A time-capsule track-day Austin-Healey that is overflowing with character and charm, ready for its next owner to enjoy to Bugeyed Sprite.