Jay Leno Shows The Fun In Driving An Original Austin-Healey Sprite

Jay Leno Shows The Fun In Driving An Original Austin-Healey Sprite

06/07/2022

Whether you call it the Mark 1, the bug eye, or the frog eye, the first iteration of the Austin-Healey Sprite is a charming little sports car. Jay Leno’s 1959 example comes from the son of the original owner. The denim-clad comedian is keeping the car in as original condition as possible, and he takes the little roadster out for a drive in this video.

The Sprite was the entry-level sports car back in the day. Power comes from a 948cc four-cylinder engine making 43 horsepower (32 kilowatts), according to the Illustrated Austin-Healey Buyer’s Guide. The power runs through a four-speed manual gearbox.

The Sprite is neither quick nor fast. Acceleration to 60 miles per hour (96 kilometers per hour) takes 23.7 seconds, according to the buyer’s guide. The top speed is 79 mph (127 kph). 

As Jay notes, the modest performance figures don’t indicate how fun the Sprite is to drive. He describes it as the closest thing to piloting a road-legal go-kart. The engine is “lusty,” he says. The little Austin-Healey doesn’t have enough speed to take it onto the interstate, but the machine is perfect for a two-lane road.

Leno tried to keep the Sprite as original as possible while still keeping it drivable. He cleaned up the body and removed some dents but didn’t repaint the exterior. The situation was similar in the cabin where he just scrubbed off the vinyl seats. 

The engine was a different story. The cylinders had no compression, so Leno’s crew rebuilt the powerplant. They kept things original rather than taking the opportunity to tune the mill. There’s also a fresh radiator and other pieces under the hood.

At the end of the video, Leno puts the Sprite on a lift to show off the underbody. There’s a little surface rust but nothing egregious for a vehicle that’s over 60 years old. Even the exhaust is still original. As an old British sports car, this one naturally leaks oil, but that just comes with the territory for this era of machines.

Source: Jay Leno’s Garage via YouTube

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