Jay Leno has said his favorite cars are original an unrestored. His 1959 Austin-Healey Sprite, featured on the latest episode of “Jay Leno’s Garage,” fits into that category.
You can tell the Sprite is unrestored as it’s a bit rough around the edges. Nevertheless, while it may not be concours-ready, it’s in better condition than when it was pulled out of the garage where it had sat for about 50 years, Leno notes in the episode.
This Sprite was a one-owner car, so Leno thought it would be better to preserve its originality rather than undertake a full restoration. Leno’s shop cleaned up the car, repaired some dents, and rebuilt the engine, which was necessary to get the Sprite running again.
The car’s inline-4 engine displaces just 948 cc and produces about 40 hp, but it’s also pushing less than 1,400 pounds of car. It shows what’s possible when you eliminate luxuries like roll-up windows, exterior door handles, and a trunk. If you wanted more power or creature comforts back in the day, you went for a “big” Healey like the 100-6.
1959 Austin-Healey Sprite on Jay Leno’s Garage
Lack of power does make highway driving a bit dicey, but the Sprite is in its element on quieter canyon roads, Leno notes. Modern Mini marketing aside, the Sprite delivers true go-kart handling, he says.
With its diminutive size and no-frills driving experience, the Sprite represents the classic era of British sports cars. Leno’s car is a first-generation model, nicknamed “Bugeye” or “Frogeye” because of the distinctive round headlights mounted atop the hood. Later versions were based on the MG Midget and shared most sheetmetal with that more conventional-looking sports car.
Another advantage of the Sprite was cheapness. It was inexpensive when new and was long considered worthless as a used car, Leno says. That also means many examples were abused or heavily modified, so an all-original version like this one is unusual.
And because this car isn’t in pristine condition, Leno says he can have fun with it without worrying about scratching something. That seems like a pretty good deal.