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Bugeye Sprite Happiness

Proud, happy, fulfilled, comfortable. This how John looks to me in his Bugeye, a recent purchase (not from us). John just put in our windshield post mirrors he purchased from our catalog and sent me this picture of his nice result.

I don’t know if John always looks this content, but this sure looks a picture of Bugeye bliss. Forget how much horsepower, this is the real power of life with a Bugeye Sprite.

How to recover an Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite dashboard

In this post, I share suggestions about dashboard restoration.

Most Sprites suffer from failing vinyl original covering, that has been weathered or otherwise abused. A new dashboard cover really transforms the look of any Spridget.

We normally strive for completely stock dashboards. In the case of my personal car “Gumby,” (above) we used a custom leather cover, further enhanced with custom stitching. But all the dials and switchgear is located in the stock positions, so that the original flavor is preserved. Each job is a bit different, and since Gumby is fuel injected, you’ll notice that the choke hole/knob is missing. Otherwise, it’s important to keep things as close to original as possible.

The hardest part of any recover job is to establish a great foundation. Almost all dashboards have been modified and drilled with errant holes. So the first step is to determine that holes are all in the correct places. If not, you have to weld and fill them to get it right.

On the current dashboard we are restoring, there were only a few extra small holes underneath the speedometer. The heater control hole was also drilled out so we welded a washer on the back to accommodate the correct switch after restoration. The bigger challenge was an over-drilled the ignition switch hole, so we had to weld on a support that would allow the original type to be fit after recover is complete.

Particularly critical is that the sheet metal is absolutely flat, otherwise imperfections will telegraph through the new vinyl covering. We fill and sand the face to make sure we get the best result.

And finally, the radio perforations are a tricky and interesting topic. These are splendid to find unmolested, many cars have had radios (and CBs and eight-track players) fit, so the panels have been punched out by prior owners. So it is common to weld patches to this area.

But what to do when you still have the original perforations in place? They are great to see but actually a liability when recovering your dash, because the can lead to discoloration of your nice new covering. Light, dirt and lack of support seem to make the fabric change over time, at a different rate than the rest of the flat dashboard. You can see the this shown in the photo below on an original dash and covering. Notice how the discoloration follows the original perforations.

What we did in this case, particularly since we are using a tan (non-stock) covering for this project, was to fill the perforations so that our restoration would have maximum longevity. (You can see the new covering laid on the bench above the dash in the photo below.) We tack welded a support behind and then used filler, which is then sanded, to get a smooth and uniform support for the new material.

While it would be really nice to simply leave the perforations open just like they were from the factory, the first time someone fondles the original depressions and stretches the new vinyl covering thus deforming that new material, they are no longer attractive at all! So to protect this restoration investment, we generally choose to fill the original slots. Of course, for a concours restoration this would be a mistake, you need to leave the slots open (if you have them). And if you are a purist and want your car factory correct in every way, do not do this.

At left is a photo of the dashboard recovered. Notice the a nice flat surface on the right portion of the dashboard. The wrinkles on the left side will all disappear once the gauge holes are cut-out. Again, this is a non-stock tan color on a non-stock car so we chose to fill the perforations for the best finished (flat) result.

We sell all the correct pieces for your dashboard restoration. You can find our dash rehab kit by clicking here.

Unearthed! 1958 Austin Healey Sprite Mark 1 single washer nozzle cowl

If you like Bugeye Sprite trivia, this is a post for you.

We’ve had more than 250 Bugeyes pass through out shop and every one of them has twin windshield washer nozzles on the cowl. Windshield washers were actually optional, but I believe all of the US bound cars were fit with them. All dashboard backs I have seen are marked with crayon W/W (for windscreen washer) and I think it was presumed this was a desirable or required feature for all cars offered at US dealers. They never work terribly well, and who would need a squirter on such an open car anyway, but they were still fit by the factory.

The concours standards mention that very early cars had a single nozzle, but we have never seen this anywhere, and never found any photo reference either, until now. Even our very early concours gold car we prepared (AN5L 552) had dual squirters (if you are unfamiliar, production began with car 501, and not all of the early cars were in sequence). So this must be a rare feature indeed. In the photo above, you can see the two large holes that would normally house the wiper posts. The single hole shown is for a tonneau lift dot fitting on the dash. There are no rear view mirror holes on this cowl, those appear to have been filled at some point-you can still see their outline.

One of our projects for a customer includes cowl restoration on his car. We have had a parts car cowl in our inventory for years, and this was the place to use it. When I dug it out, much to my surprise, here was the single washer plain as day. Thus this old part must have come from a particularly early car. According to the concours standards, twin jet systems were offered “shortly after production began.” Too bad this small cowl panel is all that is left of that particular early car!

I thought others who love this sort of detail would like to see this, so I have posted a few photos here. I cannot confirm that this is factory accurate, but given that the usual twin squirter holes are missing, I have good reason to believe this is a genuine single nozzle set-up.

A lot of the cars we see are missing their washer nozzles, and while they often don’t work, it’s always nice to install them to fill the holes in the cowl. Every restoration looks better once errant holes are filled! We sell (twin-type) squirters (left) in our catalog, you can find them by clicking here. We also sell the often missing washer pump, which looks great when you fill that hole on your dashboard. You can buy that product by clicking here.

Don’t do this to your Bugeye Sprite, Part 4

Nearly every day, I drive a different Bugeye through the same turns, over the same bumps and down the same roads (not while wearing a helmet, but you get the idea). Thus I am able to compare and contrast, and determine what repairs might be needed before any one of our cars heads to a new home. We want them all to be just right.

One of the chronic challenges we face is inside rear wheel rubbing on aggressive turns. It’s common for me to buzz through the local left/right combo and hear the sound of tire rub on one side or the other.

This won’t do.

We have thin wheel spacers available in our catalog, this is one weapon to keep the tires from hitting the body, especially when larger than stock tires are fit. We have also found that new brake drums sometimes grind against the back plates, so this is another issue we have had to address in the past by grinding the edge of the drum.

But the number one recurring issue that we see is shown above… the entire differential assembly is often off-center in the back of the car. Note the drive shaft is slightly to the right of center at the trailing edge of the tunnel. This tells us the entire housing has moved off-center. Don’t do this to your Bugeye Sprite… instead, make sure your rear axle is centered.

To fix this, we loosen up the entire assembly, leaf springs and all, and center the diff. You can also often see that one rear tire is more flush with the rear fender than the other. Not all bodywork is straight and symmetrical, but this is a clue that your axle assembly might not be centered in the body of the car.

You can see in the picture below a rear axle that wasn’t centered when we got the car, but it is now. Even with an additional stabilizer bar, this car did not have a centered rear axle. I suspected something was amiss when I noticed the car handled just a bit differently on right and left turns.

When you fix it, your car will handle better, and your rear wheels just might not rub.

Another exceptional Bugeye Sprite leaves the nest

It was extremely satisfying to send this amazing Bugeye to Ron in Rhode Island this week. We all fell in love with this car, mainly because it was just right. This was a stripped-down Bugeye, with the stock engine, brakes and transmission. The exhaust was modified, the car was lowered, an anti-roll as well as a single roll bar was added, as well as slightly wider tires. That was about it, and thus we recreated a Bugeye that feels like something people anyone might have modified in their driveway in the 60s.

Simple.

Of course, we unleashed some cosmetic indulgences, like the the metallic (modern) stripes, flip-up fuel cap, (not so modern) Brooklands screens and a handsome custom short tonneau with contrasting gold stitching. And custom headrest in the roll bar. The yellow driving lights and billet grill are also cool. But overall, this is just an elemental Bugeye, with a few select upgrades (and some showing-off by us). And thus it feels very much connected to its roots, despite the non-stock paint scheme!

Interestingly, this is the third Bugeye Ron has purchased from us,(an honor)! He has owned Roz, a supercharged white wall clad leaf green Bugeye, Rose, the primrose stock Bugeye you can see in our current inventory, and now this car, Goldie. Ron is doing an impressive job sampling the many moods one can build into a Bugeye Sprite.

We look forward to building one for you!

Don’t do this to your Bugeye Sprite-Part 3

This picture tells the story of time, and what happens as an immobile Bugeye is slowly digested by other non-mobile, non-British flotsam and jetsam.

Never place anything heavier than a feather on the back deck (or nose) of your Bugeye, as it is easy to flex, rumple and/or crease. When pushing these cars, make sure to push from the outer edges near the seams, or from the bumpers, to support your push without denting the rear deck or nose. It can take a lot of hours to make them smooth and fair during restoration once they get dented. It’s best to avoid the problem in the first place.

This is a car that has sat in one place for about 30 years. It’s now on its way to our shop (without the raised panel doors, baskets, and fluorescent light tube) to be made running and driving again.