Resurrecting a Long Lost Dream
I love Bugeye Sprites. I have a bit of history with them, having built a couple of vintage racers early in my career back in Seattle. I bought this Healey in 2008 after a friend of mine at work had hauled it out of a field in Napa. Not that I needed a car project; I’d recently gotten into riding dirt bikes and was spending enough on that new hobby. And being a mechanic for a living, the idea of going home after a full day spinning wrenches to do it some more… well who needs that?
But I bought it anyway, because it was really cheap and what the hell?
The paperwork that came with the car indicated that it was last registered in 1976 and it had likely sat in that field, partly under a shed, for over 30 years. I was unable to find anyone that could share its story; the last registered owner had been dead for some time. It was easy to imagine though, the enthusiasm that went into making this car: old Hot Rod magazines, Sports Car Illustrated issues, mixed with Road & Track and a bit of Henry Manney. Someone had a dream to build a hot rod Sprite. And they had beer, probably lots of beer.
Once I got inside the motor, it was clear that it was from a ’61-63 Olds F-85 and it had been rebuilt before being put into the Sprite. They had used a gas torch to cut up the engine bay to make room for the motor and most of the welding was done with a stick welder. It was a pretty crude job.
I didn’t have a garage to work or park in, so I started the project in the race shop at Sears Point, which had a little space. After I had it running and did laps of the paddock at the track, I had to find a place to keep it. I moved out of my shared house where I was paying a reasonably small amount into a tiny cottage that had a garage for twice as much. If I add in the increased rent required to own this car and park it for 5 years (gasps) we’re talking over 40 grand cost of ownership.
Yeah, that hurts.
When I decided in 2014 to hit the road and travel, the Sprite was one of the only burdens binding me to an address. I hadn’t made much progress since driving it into the garage, but I had spent a few grand on parts. I offered it for sale as a project, but I really didn’t try very hard, and there was next to no interest. So I decided to finish it and sell it as a completed car.
My half of the old carriage house, which was built around 1905 and did not have electricity, was not the ideal shop to restore a car in. The run of extension cables from the house up the hill was long enough that the MIG welder was right on the edge of having enough juice to do the job. It did it, but it was harder than it had to be.
I trailered the car to work where I hoped to build the tunnel and finish the rust repair at the tail over a long weekend: that was a fantasy. Making the tunnel included fabricating a handbrake mod to move the lever to the right side because the shifter blocked the normal location. I fabricated the lower fender patch pieces from scratch because it seemed reasonable to save the money versus buying overpriced panels. I eventually got it all done, though the car sat under a cover in the shop for several work days.
Once the steel repair was finished, I went back to my little garage to do the body and paint. Stripping the rattle-can gold and the Old English white didn’t reveal any surprises. I put down a few coats of epoxy black primer, then set to hammering out dents and doing filler work. With my moving date set for April 1, I laid down the BRG lacquer at the end of February, giving me 30 days to finish the car, along with all of the other stuff I had to do to downsize my life into a motor home.
The car came with me to Reno where I planned to finish the details and sell it before leaving for the road. It turned out that the repairs and upgrades to my new/used motor home sucked up most of two and a half months and the Sprite was neglected. So the Bugeye would stay with family in Reno for a while.
Over the next four years, each time I came home to visit, I would do a little work on the car. I finished the lighting and wire routing one Thanksgiving. I tuned the carb jetting one Christmas. Each time, I would drive the car up to the top of the hill and back, a six mile loop through suburbia. But still, the car was unfinished and needed detail attention.
Last year, when I was in Arizona, Mom told me that she was going to sell the house and move to a smaller place. There was not going to be a garage for the Sprite… 😲
I prepared a list of items that needed to be completed, as well as a sheet detailing all of the work already done, which came in at about 450 hours. I figured that I might need another 50 hours, but that eventually became 200. It is pretty much as done now as it is going to be under my care; I just can’t justify spending any more time. I would like to build a new set of pipes for it, and it wouldn’t cost much, but I’m going to have to leave that for the next guy.
Now the car is waiting again, waiting for the state of California to deliver the title that was supposed to be completed almost 5 years ago. It looks like the house is going to be sold before the car can be listed for sale, so it’s going have to move again. Merry Christmas from the DMV, I’ve got the title! The car is now available at www.bringatrailer.com Auction ends on Jan 15, 2020 at 12:55 PM Pacific time. Good luck!
October 2019 Gallery