DESCRIPTION1959 Austin Healey Sebring Sprite. The Factory Built and 1959 12 Hours of Sebring Class Winning Sprite of Stiles/Sutherland. Announced to the press in Monte Carlo by the British Motor Corporation (BMC) on 20 May 1958, just before that year's Monaco Grand Prix, the Austin Healey "Bugeye" Sprite became an instant success as a low cost, nimble, and lightweight sports car that "a chap could keep in his bike shed". Designed by the Donald Healey Motor Company, the Sprite first went on sale at a price of £669, using a mildly tuned version of the Austin A-Series engine, and as many other components from existing production models as possible, which enabled the new design to be competitive in the retail marketplace. Having spun the car in the press as an economical entry level sports car that was dependable transportation which could be a raced on the weekends, BMC immediately prepared and entered a handful of Sprites in the top international endurances and sports car races around the world to prove that their new design provided the ultimate platform for success in the small bore production classes. The 1959 12 hours of Sebring began the era of the racing Sprite. BMC had decided not to enter big Healeys 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, 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 these cars were changed, the deadline was met, and the Healeys 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. Of the four cars were sent to the United States, three were campaigned at Sebring, and the forth was present at the event as a back-up car. The cars swept the podium with a 1-2-3 in the GT1.0 category, with this particular example winning the class. Austin Healey Sprite AN5/8145, with body number BAE 7324, left the assembly line on November 24, 1958 and was dispatched to Donald Healey Motor Company on November 26, 1958. s/n AN5/8145 carried race number 54, which was expertly driven in the 12 Hours to its win by Phillip Stiles and Hugh Sutherland, therefore becoming 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 "Bugeye" Sprites that ran for 12 hours at Sebring in 1959.
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