The History of Noddy

My affair with Sprites (and Midgets) began in 1999. One of my mates had bought a Mk III Sprite, and from the moment I saw it, I was in love. It was red, made lots of noise, handled like a go-kart, and best of all - it had no roof! What more could you ask for in a car?

After doing some travelling to various places around the world I returned to Australia in 2000. I really wasn't thinking about buying a Sprite, until one day when I was browsing the classifieds I found a Mk III Austin-Healey Sprite for sale, and I knew I just had to go have a look at it. Just a look mind you - definitely just kick the tyres a little. That didn't last long...

The lady I bought it off had done enough work on it to get it back on the road. The engine ran as well as one could expect, and it had only a small (at least at the time) amount of rust. It was visible from the outside behind the wheel arch where it had been "repaired", and from the inside to the outside of the passenger foot well. More on that later.

1965 Mk III Austin-Healey Sprite
So, I took the step and on 1 Feb 2000, I paid $4,300 for it, and so the 1965 Mk III Austin-Healey Sprite NSW rego AGS-31L, chassis YAGN8731, engine 10CCDAH7789, was mine!

Of course, I'd had it for only a week before it started to play up. Driving along the beachfront one day, I put the car into 1st gear to take off from the lights, let out the clutch a little, and... nothing. Nada. Zip. You check everything, don't you - yep, the engine was turning over, the clutch was out, first was selected, but nothing was happening at the rear wheels. Looking at the diff, the tail shaft was turning, but not the axles - broken axle! It had only taken five days for me to break the first major structure. Stuck on the side of the road, I lifted the bonnet, as is the internationally recognised symbol of "Help!". Then I find a little gold sticker with a phone number on it, so I give the number a go. Colin Dodds answers, and I organise to have the car towed to his place. It was lucky to get there at all - soon after the tow truck started the drive, I looked back and saw my little Sprite fishtailing along behind the truck. The driver hadn't tied down the steering wheel!

A few days at Sprite Parts and it came back with new axles, wheel bearings, a tune, and a list of more repairs that need to be done to it. They were done a few weeks later, and included a set of extractors, wishbones, and bushes. The new exhaust made the car sound brilliant! Shifting up inside the Sydney Harbour Tunnel made the sweetest noise...

After that came K&N air filters, new clutch, wing mirrors, and Ignitor magnetic points inside the dizzy. I'd like to say that although Colin did many of the more technical work, he allowed me to do more of the basic stuff myself, teaching along the way many aspects of tool handling, mechanics, humour, why a "Big End" isn't a way to describe a lady and what an angle grinder should really be called.

Two things were against me, though. One was the engine that was soon to need a rebuild, and the other was the rust in the body, that was gradually spreading...

Fortune came my way in the form of someone else's misfortune. A gent from Robertson, near Bowral, was doing up his Mk III Midget. He'd spent a few good dollars having his 1275cc engine rebuilt. That included having it overbored by 40 thou and balanced, new Hepolite pistons, the head port and polished, new Cooper S cam, new bearings, new valves, and competition valve springs. It even came with a 45DCOE Weber carby. Unfortunately, shortly after getting it back in his car, he was driving around the country one day when he came around a corner and found a cow in the middle of the road. What could have been a catastrophe turned out to be only a "minor" disaster. The cow "rolled" off the bonnet (as only a cow can do), crushing the body and windscreen. He decided to sell the car off in parts, and so I bought the engine (12CCDAH12660).

It was like a heart transplant. The car absolutely hammered along, and now made even more noise - YIPPEE!!!. It even sucked the foam air filter I had installed onto the carby - woops! Where was that K&N catalogue...

That was the engine fixed. Now for the body. This is where a decision had to be made. I was either going to rebuild the body I had, or restore a different one and put my current running gear into it. I could restore a Mk III, or invest in a car that perhaps is regarded by many as a more "sound" investment - a Bugeye. What was that wreck of, the one lying in the corner of that shed? Oh yeah - a Bugeye!

The body was chassis number YHAN1 8/24904 564, which was build number SP/118 from Larke Hoskins, and was originally powered by engine number 9/CUH/24277. It was a CKD kit, and coloured "Carn" (? Carnation) Red, which I believe may have been a colour only used in Australia. Off it went to be acid dipped and all the rust and "bog" was removed. It was then primed, repaired and painted. The finish on the car was without blemish. A rubberised coating was put under the paint under the wheel arches, and anti-rust "wax" put inside all the chassis members. I don't want to sound like I'm never critical of anyone, because in my line of work I can be fairly often. However, Colin's always put me in contact with good motivated people who seem to know and care about Sprites. This most certainly goes for Brendan Wagner at...

The Hills Prestige Car Repairs
16 Box Ave
Wilberforce NSW 2756
(02) 4575-2000

At the same time, I took apart the Mk III in order to clean and repair and salvage the running gear from it. That was then the problem of the rust was solved. The source was a screwdriver that had, at some point in the past, fallen down between the wing and the passenger side foot well. There it had sat for what appeared to be MANY years, serving as a nidus for the rust that came. When I found it, it was barely recognisable as a screwdriver, having almost rusted away itself!

Off came all the running gear, and then I set to cleaning all of it up. Every bolt, every piece of metal and plastic that was going to go onto the Bugeye I cleaned, polished and painted. Although sceptical at first, you can see from the photos how good it looks now, and how well it's all gone together. What I had in mind was to build it as a "fast road" car. Colin had ideas about preserving the body in as original condition as possible. We went about restoring the Bugeye so that it was as original looking as possible, but with the best engineering as we could find. To that end, 99% of the modifications we've made to it are completely reversible, and use only holes and mounts that were in the body originally. We've mounted many non-standard items on the blanking plate from the clutch/brake cylinder, as it's a cheap part to remake for that very reason. We've used only best quality hoses, suspension components, brakes and wheels. The same sheet of vinyl used on the seats has been also used on the dash, roof and tonneau. The stereo is invisible to the casual observer, and the engine is even painted in the specific Bugeye green.

For a full list of modifications, take a look at the modifications page and there's lots of photos of the restoration here.

As of 6 April 2003 the car - "Noddy" to his mates - is on the road, and on regular plates - MKI 59Y. It has had a few runs on a racetrack, Carnell, up in Queensland, thanks to John Ashwell. Since then it's moved back to Sydney, and won the Mk I class of the Concourse d'Elegance at the National Challenge. I've also been bale to take it to Oran Park on a regularity weekend, and hope to do more of that soon. It's brilliant being able to see how these cars handle under pressure...

Having said that, when can you have too much horsepower? Click for the recipe for an engine rebuild (opens in a new window). That's a1360cc engine made by you-know-who, putting out 120bhp at 7,000rmp, and almost 90% of maximum torque from 3,000 rpm to 7,000 rpm. Is that flat enough for you? We've completed a trip around Tasmania with the Sprite Car Club of Australia that was two weeks of bedlam. Great friends, great driving, and beautiful scenery. See the photo page for more information...

I've also had fitted different tyres than I had originally had, which were Falken 165/60R13. It's now running on Bridgestone Turanza ER 592 175/70R13. Although these are a higher profile tyre, they are also slightly wider. The difference in handling is very noticeable. While the Falkens may have been better on a race track, the new ones give a much more comfortable drive, a higher cruising speed, and interestingly also seem to make the handle better.

I'll keep you up to date here with more updates as they occur.

Keep Spridgeting!