Austin Healey Modifications

Modifications are on my mind, particularly as our electric car nears completion. This green Bugeye below looks and feels like a Bugeye, yet everything is different. I am still getting used to seeing a large battery boxes when I look at the engine bay. Exciting, (especially with 108 lbs of torque generated by the AC motor under the boxes) but very unfamiliar.
“Pal,” the light blue Bugeye parked alongside, is also transforming into a a different kind of modified Super Sprite, with a supercharger and multiple other modifications, so that this blue car, while it also looks and feels like a Bugeye, is also upgraded in just about every way.

How do you feel about modifications? Most of us love the pure essence of our British roadsters, and we like to think we can switch to a spin-on oil filter perhaps, but keep the rest “original.” Now that we have sent more than 225 Bugeyes out into the world, we love the modifications more than ever, primarily because those mods help to keep our customers happy and out on the road instead of frustrated on the shoulder.

For example, “Pal” has our hot weather kit with better fan and radiator so that the car can handle more horsepower and Los Angeles temperatures with grace when it arrives at its final destination. The metal four blade fan is quaint, but the six blade version works a lot better if you want to stay cool.

Last week, I took my green modified Austin Healey 3000 to the “British by the Sea” car show in nearby Waterford, CT. That car has perhaps 50 different upgrades and modifications, including air conditioning and a twin spare tire rally-tribute boot lid. The entire rear seat area, which was never terribly useful unless your kids are just the right size, has been turned into a locker for fuses, electric relays and a superb audio amplifier.

Throughout this large British car show I marveled at the response from the audience. Some shook their heads in disbelief, as if to say, “why would anyone modify a Healey like this?” Many approved and showered praise on the incredible workmanship that went into the restoration. I couldn’t help but notice that our car attracted quite a crowd, while most of the other stunning Healeys in the line-up didn’t seem to be attracting too much attention. We lovers of British iron need that crowd. We need people to get interested and excited and to have an opinion about these cars. Anything we can do to stimulate discussion helps us all, as we strive to broaden the appeal of our little universe of wonderful cars.
When the green BJ8 was called for first in class, I was gratified to know that the approving votes won out, not because I needed another trophy, but because I was glad to see that people appreciate a well-modified car. Our car bested about a dozen other wonderful big Healeys, many that could have easily won the class.

If you like modified cars, you can see Pal’s modifications queued up in the video below, and I’ll show you some before and after pictures next week when the car is finished. You don’t need a limited slip differential in your Bugeye, but when you drive one thusly equipped, you might just agree it is a modification that makes your wonderful little car that much better!

All the mods in the video are available through our catalog. If you can’t find what you need at, please call us at 203 208 0980 and we will gladly add any missing products to our roster!

Don’t do this to your Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite

Here’s the gearbox from a Bugeye we took in trade for an owner who wanted a better Bugeye, and sadly, this one only made it 10 miles in our possession before the wheels locked up and we almost had to drag the car home. We disconnected the diff at the drive shaft and found the diff was fine, but the transmission was in trouble. When we drained the transmission oil, large pieces came out. Game over.

Nose off, engine out, transmission off, and we discovered the last person to visit this site had neglected to install a pilot bushing, which allowed the transmission input shaft to travel in an oval arc, thereby contributing to the early demise of this gearbox.

Not recommended.

We made a custom pilot bushing to support a new rebuilt transmission, put it all together and off the car went to Tennessee and a new home. So the moral of this story, should you ever take off your transmission, make sure the pilot bushing is properly set-up before you put the assembly back in the car. We sell the stock bushing, it’s about $5, in case you need one…

Classic British car low power diagnosis

We had a TR4 in the shop recently, running a bit rough and not developing full power. Quick for sure, but I thought we could do better. We checked over the usual suspects, tuned and synched the carbs, checked all the ignition components and drove it again, without much change.

The one tool that made the most difference for this job was a pair of insulated pliers, with which Russ removed one plug wire at a time while listening for changes in RPM. Cylinders 2-4 had a consistent drop with the plug wire removed. But number one made only a slight difference when with the spark plug lead disconnected. We checked compression, and it was consistent in all cylinders.

Next we removed the valve cover to check valve adjustment. A simple push of the thumb downward on each of the valves revealed the issue- all of them were too firm to move by hand except one. The intake valve spring on number one was broken. There was enough tension to keep the valve from falling into the combustion chamber, but it was broken still, and once we replaced the springs and adjusted the valves, the car ran, well, about 25 percent better. It’s amazing how good valve timing requires good springs. You can see the broken outer spring in the photo. (it’s the one that’s a little short.)

Simply removing and replacing the plug wires one at a time is an easy way to verify that each piston is pulling its share of the load. If your car is making noises or feeling anemic, this is a useful low-tech diagnostic tool.

Don’t do this to your Bugeye Sprite, part 5

I’ve written a lot here about the wrong fittings in the wrong holes, but the topic warrants further discussion, because every week we see something new.

On this beautiful leaf green car which was very well restored (elsewhere), snaps were incorrectly used for the back deck fittings. Above you can see one of the snaps in place, right before we drilled out the rivet that was formerly holding it in place.

We were tasked with putting on a new top for the customer, but did not want to repeat the mistake and put the incorrect female snaps on the top. Instead, we changed the snaps to the proper tenax fittings (which you can see at left), and also changed the female snaps in the tonneau to tenax as well. This way everything is factory accurate again, and much more effective too. (Snaps do not work as well as tenax for securing the rear of the top.) Fortunately, the tenax with a plastic washer covered any scars left by the old snaps.

At left you can see the new tenax fitting in place. And you can also see the beautiful stay fast top we installed, which we also sell (by special order, please email if interested). We stock a superior upgraded vinyl top, which you can find 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.

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.

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