The Sprite Mk1

(AN5 model)

  The relationship built up between the British Motor Corporation and motorsport celebrity Donald Healey in the 1950’s resulted in the creation of the Austin Healey 100 sportscar, a vehicle which enjoyed considerable sales success, particularly in the important North American continent. A potential market for a smaller “budget” alternative was soon identified, and this led to an ‘informal decision’ between BMC’s chairman, Leonard Lord, and Healey to develop a small sportscar based on Austin parts, mostly centered around the Austin A35 saloon car.

                The engine, transmission, rear axle and front suspension were all to be used, but steering would come from the Morris Minor and better, hydraulically operated, brakes were needed. MG derived manifolds and twin 1 1/8” carburetors would boost power. The engine was developed by Morris engines, and they later supplied the units since Austin’s engine department was at the time overrun with work.

                The new car, eventually named the Austin Healey Sprite, was to do away with a separate chassis and body shell. Instead, it was designed around a monocoque frame consisting of front and rear bulkheads, joined by ‘top hat’ sill sections and body stiffners, all mounted onto a floorpan. Extra rigidity came from the central gearbox tunnel. In many places, the body utilized flat panels and simple formed sections to keep construction costs down to a minimum. The bonnet and front wings hinged upwards as one assemble from the bulkhead, and the upwards curve of the front top edge of this sill panels accentuated this feature. This characteristic sill line was to last until the end of production of the last descendant of the Sprite family tree, the MG Midget 1500, twenty-one years later. The first prototype Sprite incorporated external hinges to reduce costs, but expensive pop up headlamps. By prototype number two, the headlamps had become fixed providing the ‘frogeye’ appearance so well known and loved today.

                The little Sprite, built in the MG factory in Abingdon, was launched in 1958. It was a hoot to drive, if somewhat cramped inside (another which would see out production twenty-one years later). It quickly established itself in the motoring world, aided by a low price of £455 (less tax) and a successful motorsport career in the hands of BMC works team drivers, most particularly John Sprinzel.

  The Sprite Mk11 and Midget Mk1

(H-AN6 and G-AN1 models)

  For 1961 it was decreed that something of a revamp was necessary, and to this end the Austin Healey Sprite Mk11 was launched, together with a new, slightly more lavishly finished stable mate, the MG Midget. These two models offered a radically altered, more square body profile wrapped around essentially the same underframe. The rear of the body now had a boot lid for the first time, while at the front out went the charismatic (or ugly, if you prefer) frogeye look, to be replaced with the conventional set up of separate wings housing the headlamps. Between the wings a narrower, and certainly lighter, bonnet panel gave rather poorer access to the engine bay. The little 948cc engine became more willing, thanks to the fitment of 1 ¼” carburetors and improved cam timing. Steering, suspension and brakes remained largely unaltered.


The Sprite Mk11 1100 and Midget Mk1 1100

(H-AN7 and G-AN2 models)

  The next milestone was the introduction of a 1098cc variant of the trusty BMC ‘A’ Series engine in 1963. Along with the improved performance, the brakes were duly uprated with front disc brakes’ appearing for the first time in production on the cars – prior to this, a disc brake conversion kit had been independently marketed by the Healey Motor Company of Warwick. Otherwise virtually unchanged, the new models were known simply as the Sprit Mk11 1100 and Midget 1100; they are now often colloquially referred to as the ‘Mk 2 ½’ and ‘Mk 1 ½’ respectively.

The Sprite Mk111 and Midget Mk11

(H-AN8 and G-AN3 models)

  Many aspects of the design were changed at the next revamp, which occurred in 1964. The body of the Sprite Mk111 and Midget Mk11, largely unchanged in silhouette, received an all new dash layout, fitted carpets in all models, a new windscreen with easier to fit hood attachments, plus wind up windows to replace the sidescreens. These were all improvements inspired by the marketplace (America in particular), which was beginning to lean towards less spartanly equipped, more comfortable cars.

                For the same reasons, the beautifully handling but harsh riding rear suspension lost its quarter elliptic springs, gaining instead a more conventional semi-elliptical spring layout which lost a little of the accuracy and sharpness but improved the ride enormously. A benefit not seen at the time, but in the cars’ old age now greatly appreciated, is the fact that the new suspension did not impose so much stress on the monocoque body. With the result that split seams, cracks and corrosion around the rear floor and bulkhead were (and are) on the whole much less common on post 1964 cars.

                In answer to misgivings about the bottom end durability of the engine, larger main bearings were fitted. A larger clutch and strengthened (‘Ribbed Case’ as opposed to the previous ‘Smooth Case’) gearbox were also introduced, keeping the model range in line with the other BMC products using that basic type of gearbox, the Morris Minor, Austin A40 and A35 van.

  The Sprite Mk1V and Midget Mk111

(H-AN9 and G-AN4 models)

  By 1966, Sprite and Midget performance figures were beginning to look a little feeble when compared with contemporary saloon cars-not an idea situation for a sportscar to be in. Indeed, the immensely popular Mini Cooper ‘S’, which was also a product of BMC, was taking the limelight and eating into potential sales. In an effort to counter this, a slightly detuned version (apparently for reliability’s sake) of the 1275cc Cooper ‘S’ engine was fitted to the 1967 Sprite Mk1V and Midget Mk111.

                Along with the improved performance, the new models also benefited from a new, convenient, fold down hood design. It was at this time that cars destined for North America began to seriously deviate in their specification from those built for markets in the rest of the world, due to increasingly stringent safety and emissions regulations there. Also during this period, Midgets bound for Australia were built there from completely knocked down (CKD) kits supplied from England.

The Sprite Mk1V and Midget Mk111

(H-AN10/A-AN10 and G-AN5 models)

  ‘Leylandised” versions of the cars arrived for the 1970 model year, in fact some eighteen months after MG, Austin and their parent companies had become part of the massive British Leyland Motor Corporation. The nomenclature-Sprite Mk1V and Midget Mk111 – remained the same as before, as did the mechanical and sheet metal specifications. However, the car now had a much more upbeat contemporary appearance, due to a myriad of trim changes both outside and in.

                Gone was the 1960’s style brightwork. A new radiator grille (effectively a blacked out and jazzed up version of the previous Sprite grille) was complemented by slim-line bumpers, fashionably quartered at the rear. Completing the slim-line effect, the sills were also painted satin black, giving the car a sleeker side profile. New spoke steel wheels (‘Rostyles’) aesthetically matched the car as well as the optional, more traditional, wire wheels, demand for which began to fade. Inside the car, heat welded vinyl abounded, instead of stitched pleat upholstery; this style of interior trim was to remain with the vehicle up to the end of production.

                Towards the end of 1971, the Sprite disappeared quietly form the new car showrooms. Sales had slowly slipped away and had latterly been confined to the home market. The last 1022 Sprites were simply labeled as ‘Austin’, since the agreement between Leyland and Healey had lapsed.

  The Midget Mk111, however, remained comfortable in production, seeing in 1972 with new rear wings with the square top wheel arches replaced by round ones (not seen on Sprites and Midgets since the ‘Frogeye’). As a result it became easier to fit fatter tires and alloy wheels, which were popular aftermarket accessories at the time. If the urge to fit them was resisted, the car would definitely be sitting on radial ply tires: they became standard fitment alongside a much needed alternator (which replaced the by then archaic dynamo). As a sop to forthcoming home market safety regulations rocker switches found their way onto the dashboard, replacing the more satisfying but apparently less safe toggle switches. By 1974, Midget sales in mainland Europe had ceased, basically leaving Britain, the USA, Canada and Japan taking the car.

  The Midget 1500

(G-AN6 model)

  As an attempt to rationalize on the build specification, many of the safety and emissions changes necessary for the 1975 North American specification models were also implemented on home market vehicles. These included the well know ‘rubber’ bumpers (actually plastic), a ride height increase of one inch to meet bumper height regulations, a return to square rear wheel arches and a whole new power train.

                As USA emission control equipment had progressively strangled the 1275 engine, the performance maintaining solution was to replace it with the engine out of its closet rival – the Triumph Spitfire. The Spitfire engine had already had its capacity enlarged from 1296 to 1491cc for the same emissions related reasons, while the old BMC ‘A’ Series unit could not reliable be taken any larger than its current 1275cc. As a result, the entire Triumph engine and gearbox assembly, with only a couple of detail changes, was fitted into the Midge engine bay.

                This car became known as the Midget 1500, although actually it was still a Midge Mk111 officially (and in most respects under the skin was very similar to the outgoing 1275 engine Mk111).  While it certainly lacked the keener, sportier edge of the earlier cars, it was undeniably a better cruising vehicle (though sadly it never benefited from the overdrive, which was optional on the same gearbox when fitted in a Spitfire).

                Sprite and Midge production finally finished in 1979, when the last Midget 1500’s rolled off the line. Ironically, amongst the last cars built were five hundred special black models, celebrating fifty years of MG Midget production. In total, 355,888 Sprites and Midges were built between 1958 and 1979.



1958 1927 706 5898   169 29 8729  
1959 4042 396 16908   220 0 21566  
1960 3972 339 13441   872 24 18648  
1961 0 0 0   44 0 44  
TOTAL 9941 1441 36247   1305 53 48987  
SPRITE MK II (HAN6)              
1961 1607 295 8028   90   10020  
1962 1989 205 8000   236   10430  
TOTAL 3596 500 3214 12814 326   20450  
SPRITE MK II (HAN7)              
1962 179 48 251 989 141   1611  
1963 1400 149 1523 5064 716   8852  
1964 31 8 9 588 116   752  
TOTAL 1610 205 1783 6641 976   11215  
MIDGET MKI (GAN1)            
1961 1124 266 1353 4889 24   7656  
1962 2295 498 1727 3832 24 48 8424  
TOTAL 3419 764 3080 8721 48 48 16080  
MIDGET MKI (GAN2)            
1962 288 114 384 678 6 12 1482  
1963 2066 313 1654 3562 30   7625  
1964 140 10 1 337 6   494  
TOTAL 2494 437 2039 4577 42 12 9601  
SPRITE MKIII (HAN8)            
1964 1773 147 1315 6562   608 10405  
1965 2209 159 775 5095   644 8882  
1966 1143 97 332 4902   144 6618  
TOTAL 5125 403 2422 16559   1396 25905  
MIDGET MKII (GAN3)            
1964 3061 340 1695 5830   30 10956  
1965 3626 278 844 4390   24 9162  
1966 2597 131 516 3215   24 6483  
TOTAL 9284 749 3055 13455   78 26601  
SPRITE MKIV (HAN9)            
1966 352 5 37 12     406  
1967 1270 83 339 5203     6895  
1968 1005 38 164 5842     7049  
1969 900 34 94 4979     6007  
TOTAL 3527 160 634 16036     20357  
SPRITE MKIV (HAN10)            
1969 129           129  
1970 1282           1282  
TOTAL 1411           1411  
AUSTIN SPRITE (AAN10)            
1971 1022           1022  
MIDGET MKIII (GAN4)            
1966 291 17 15 36     359  
1967 2853 169 470 4102   260 7854  
1968 1790 96 235 4687   464 7272  
1969 1726 71 139 4930   64 6930  
TOTAL 6660 353 859 13755   788 22415  
1969 1196   154 4605   80 6035  
1970 3392   3392 10970   208 15106  
1971 1657   180 6458   108 8403  
TOTAL 6245   870 22033   396 29544  
1971 430   83 7553     8066  
1972 4635 (92 92 11516     16243  
1973 3737     10311     14048  
1974 1508     8422     9930  
TOTAL 10310   175 37802     48287  
1974 591     1922     2513  
1975 2531     11947     14478  
1976 3465     13414     16879  
1977 3774     1055     14329  
1978 4574     9738     14312  
1979 2912     6866     9778  
TOTAL 17847     54442     72289  

Mar-58 501   First productin Sprite on 31 Mar
Jan-59 8927   First car built in 1959
Jan-60 30215   First car built in 1960
Nov-60 49584   Last fully-assembled Sprite at Abingdon
Jan-61 49821   First car built in 1961 (CKD)
Feb-61 50116   Last CKD (Innocenti) on 16 Feb
Feb-61 HAN6-101   Announced 21 May
Mar-61   GAN1-101 Announced 20 Jun
Jan-62 HAN6-12247 GAN1-4526 First cars built in 1962
Oct-62 HAN6-24731 GAN1-16183 Last HAN6/GAN1 cars
Oct-62 HAN7-24732 GAN2-16184 1098cc engine and disc front brakes
Jan-63 HAN7-26622 GAN2-17688 First cars built in 1963
Jan-64 HAN7-37735 GAN2-17688 First cars built in 1964
Mar-64 HAN7-38828 GAN2-25787 Last HAN7/GAN2 CARS
Jan-64 HAN8-38854 GAN3-25825 Production begins
Mar-64 HAN8-38829 GAN3-25788 Sprite and midget jointly announced
Jan-65 HAN8-48873 GAN3-36791 First cars built in 1965
Jan-66 HAN8-57945 GAN3-45860 First cars built in 1966
Sep-66 HAN8-64734 GAN3-52389 Last chassis numbers
Oct-64 YHGN8   Sprite MkIII available in Australia
Aug-65 YHGN9   Sprite MkIIA available in australia
Nov-67 YHGN9    Discontinued
Oct-66 HAN9-64735 GAN4-52390 Production begins
Jan-67 HAN9-64965 GAN4-52798 First cars built in 1967
Mar-67 HAN9-67193 GAN4-54611 Production at Cowley ceases
Jan-68 HAN9-72163 GAN4-60871 First cars built in 1968
Jan-69 HAN9-79236 GAN4-67989 First cars built in 1969
Oct-69 HAN9-85286 GAN4-74885 Final HAN9 and GAN4 versions
Sep-69 HAN10-85287 GAN5-74886 First HAN10 and GAN5 versions
Jan-70 HAN10-85410 GAN5-81049 First cars built in 1970
Aug-70 HAN10-86190 GAN5-88596 Last 1970 model followed by break in numbers
Jun-70 HAN10-86301 GAN5-89501 Numbers resart, first 1791 model
Dec-70 HAN10-86802   Healey name dropped
Jan-71   GAN5-96853 First car built in 1971
Jan-71 AAN10-86803   First Austin Sprite produced on 27 JAN
Jul-71   GAN5-105146 Last 1971 model followed by break in numbers
May-71   GAN5-105501 Numbers restart, first 1972 model on 10 MAY
Jul-71 AAN10-87824   Last Austin Sprite produced on 6 JUL
Jan-72   GAN5-113617 First car built in 1972
Jun-72   GAN5-123644 Last 1972 model followed by break in numbers
Jul-72   GAN5-123731 Numbers restart, first 1973 model on 13 JUL
Jan-73   GAN5-129951 First car built in 1973
Aug-73   GAN5-138753 Last 1973 model followed by break in numbers
Aug-73   GAN5-138801 Numbers restart, first 1974 model on 23 AUG
Jan-74   GAN5-144039 first car built in 1974
Oct-74   GAN5-153920 Last 'round-arch' Midget produced on 17 OCT
Nov-74 15410   First car built on 19 NOV
Jan-75 156670   First car built in 1975
Mar-75 160160   First Californian Midget 1500
Apr-75 162100   Jubilee Edition built on 30 APR
Aug-75 166193   Last 1975 model followed by break in numbers
Aug-75 166301   First 1976 model
Jan-76 171356   First car built in 1976
Jan-76 181663   Last 1976 model followed by break in  numbers
Aug-76 182001   First 1976 '1/2' model
Dec-76 187529   Last 1976 '1/2' model followed by break in numbers
Dec-76 188001   First 1977 model built on 14 dec
Jan-77 188820   First car built in 1977
Oct-77 198804   Last 1977 model followed by break in numbers
Aug-77 200001   First 1978 model built on 24 AUG
Jan-78 204350   First car built in 1978
Jun-78 210870   Last 1978 model followed by break in numbers
May-78 212001   First 1979 model built on 9 MAY
Jan-79 219817   First car built in 1979
Oct-79 229001   First of the final black batch built on 3 OCT
Dec-79 229500   Last of the black batch built on 6 DEC
Dec-79 229526   Last Midget produced on 7 DEC,
      finished in black and retained by manufacturer