This wasn’t supposed to happen. It all started because Sam still wants to learn standard transmission, but she doesn’t want to learn in Zoidberg, my 1977 Toyota pickup. She is worried that if she broke it that somehow it couldn’t be fixed and she worries about it more than I do. Granted, she is a former Peugeot owner, so she knows something about scarcity of parts, and it is true that parts for vintage Toyotas are a bit thin on the ground these days, so I suggested she take a look at the Midget my hangar neighbor is selling cheap. It had been stood a few years due to a clutch problem but allegedly ran well when it was parked. This seemed to be a good idea until she did some research on the history of the Midget and Sprite and decided she wanted a Mk 1 Bugeye Sprite instead. Fortunately there happened to be just such a Sprite for sale. I wasn’t sure if it was the same car I had seen for sale a few years back, but no matter. We went to see the car, I learned that it was the same car from before and was instantly struck by the originality of the vehicle. Painted the same color as a Sprite soft drink can, it had been parked in a garage in 1974 and forgotten until the present owner found it. Having other projects, he only managed to gather a later 1275cc engine and rib-case transmission as well as a 3.9 differential for it. These are all good things to have since the car only had 948cc and 40 some-odd horsepower and the 1275 would get it to approximately 65 or so. The best thing bout the car was the originality and the options it had. Besides the paint job, in terms of originality, the two things missing were the original rubber floor mats which as I understand it are rarer than rocking horse shit these days, while the other missing item was the valve cover breather hose which had petrified and fallen off and was laying in the engine compartment. What made this particular car really cool though was its original optional hard top, which had never been off the car, preserving the floors from becoming a swimming pool for the tin worm. Of course, since it was a complete restoration project, Sam was no closer to learning stick, but that endeavor took a mind of its own, which will ultimately get its own column.
I have always loved Sprites and Midgets ever since I owned an MGB GT. From this I learned that the A series cars, “spridgets,” Midgets, Sprites, or whatever you choose to call them, were better cars in many ways than its bigger brother the B series. Plus, I liked the higher suspension specification of the early cars designed by Donald Healey, and especially the Mk 1 Sprite which is a 100% Healey design. However, I was never impressed with the pokey engines they were saddled with, and especially the siamesed port cylinder head design that seemingly came on every Austin/BMC engine during that time. I never could understand how one of the most modifiable cars in the world could still have such a pokey engine as a base power plant. I had balked in the past from buying a spridget because I could not come up with a suitable small displacement north-south engine, preferably that was overhead cam or even twin cam, that did not require completely butchering the car to make it fit. Fortunately, when I was last in London perusing the for sale ads I had come across the K.A.D. (Kent Auto Developments) cylinder head conversion for the A series engine, which repiqued my interest considerably. The price however, was a bit off-putting. Now though, we actually have a Spridget and it is the best version made, so that alone warrants a full buildup to a high spec at least to pay tribute to its extensive racing heritage. As I revisited the same sources, hoping to find a deal on a K.A.D. cylinder head, I found a small firm called Specialist Components that offers a kit to adapt a BMW motorcycle cylinder head to an A series engine, giving a claimed 130 horsepower.
This was a major break for me, having worked as a BMW Motorrad technician and being very familiar with the motorcycle in question. This gave me an idea for a concept vehicle.
What if the Sprite was still in production and had benefited from BMW engineering when they had ownership of Rover Group? How cool would that be?
Lets find out!
For now it remains sequestered in an undisclosed location while the new premises is made ready.