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73 Years Young with a Bugeye

By Terry and Grace Hawley 

Ever since I was a young man, owning a Bugeye Sprite had always been in my dreams. Now I’m 73 years old and that dream, though different from what I imagined, has come true.

A little over two year ago my wife of 50+ years and I had a little extra money to spend. I found a Bugeye Sprite a few hours from home and I had to take it home. First and foremost I should say I had no experience or knowledge of what to look for when buying a vintage car. I learned in a hurry after I got it home.

Driving it home with my wife following behind, me I was cruising down the road with the speedometer reading 60mph. I was a happy camper. I never noticed the long string of cars behind me until my wife pulled alongside at a stop light and yelled, “You’re going 49mph.” After a little research, I found the previous owner had changed the rear end to a different ratio for faster acceleration between cones when auto-crossing. When I test drove the car it was in a neighborhood and I never had a clue there was a gearing problem that would need addressing. It was okay on regular city streets, and it handled well on tight corners, but there was no way we could drive it at any highway speed.

Okay, I accept I screwed up by not doing my homework prior to the purchase. However, I don’t think I’m the first person to purchase a car that wasn’t perfect. I accepted the prior owner’s word about the car and it looked really nice on the outside and interior, and the engine ran well. I was sold and I had to have it. So for a lot of money—much more than it was worth—we had a 1961 Bugeye Sprite.

Later that summer we had a family reunion. The car was out and everyone mentioned how nice it looked and some of them drove it around the neighborhood. My Granddaughter had her photo taken with it and it was fun day. Again I was a happy camper.

Our son drove it around the neighborhood and when he brought it back I noticed the driver’s side had a low front tire. No big deal I’ll jack it up, pull the tire, and plug the leak the next day.

I put the jack in the jacking hole and began raising the car. As I did this, all around the jacking hole small and large chunks began chipping off. It was some sort of filler. I was no longer a happy camper.

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I grabbed the carpet near the seat and below the steering wheel, pulled it up and found a combination of rust, fiberglass, spray foam, and a length of flat bar steel running fore and aft on the driver’s side from the spring box to the forward front panel. This was hidden under the carpet and seats. I went to the passenger side and found the same thing without the flat bar. It wasn’t a nice picture.

I know what you’re all thinking, “Why didn’t you check for rust before purchasing the car?” My answer to that is: “The car was something I wanted and it looked good, ran good so I didn’t do my homework” (Too Bad, So Sad)

After calming down, my wife and I discussed the future of the car and we decided to have a professional rebuild the structure of the car. The car was picked up and looked at. We received a call that it would cost a minimum of $12,000 and possibly more to completely remove the rusted areas and restore the car to ready it for paint. This was money we didn’t have. I paid them to haul the car back to our home and began thinking on other options.

We basically had two choices: #1 part-it-out and dump the car for a loss and accept life’s challenges or, #2 fix the car myself, something which I had no experience at.

Being retired and over seventy years old, I didn’t know if I could even do a restoration. I figured I would take my time and go at my speed and get the car right. So I went at it after checking the internet for parts dealers. That’s where I found you guys, Moss Motors.

I did all the steel work myself and the preparation for paint. I needed some items, such as a welder, a rotisserie, some jacks, grinders, cut off tools, small engine crane and some other minor tools. I purchased the rotisserie and then traded it to the painter for a major discount on the price for painting the car.

Getting started was the hardest. Where do I begin? Fortunately we have a small workshop on our hobby farm so the work was done there.

I picked up the car and put it on car jacks, then removed the driver’s side lower panel after making a cross brace to hold the car from changing shape. The driver’s side spring box was in very bad shape and had to be replaced as well as the driver and passenger side floors and side panels, inside and out. In addition, the drivers and passenger side door hinge panels and the fender wells needed replacing.

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The further I got into it, the deeper the rabbit hole went. Often I wondered if I’d gotten in over my head but I pressed on.

I did the driver’s side first, then tackled the passenger side, followed by the back bulkhead panel and forward panels in this order, making sure at each stage the car wasn’t twisted or had changed shape. To complete the floors I installed hydraulic tubing supports and put the car on the rotisserie.

While cutting out a large area of rust, I cut through some electrical wiring. It was at that point when I decided to completely rewire the car along with making the car structurally sound again.

The engine/transmission came out as well as the rear axle so the rear bell housing could be replaced with stock gears. I sent this out to a repair shop that deals with British cars. The taillights, running lights, head lights were removed too while the body work was being done. I replaced the brake shoes, wheel bearing, hoses, heater core, radiator and engine mounts as well as the carpeting.

I had some help with the electrical after I changed the wiring. Took a bit of searching to find that the rear taillights were not grounded properly.

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I made a few mistakes along the way that I can still see. I missed a very small dent on the hood. And when I was cutting the rust areas out I didn’t cover the dash gauges well enough, so there are some small spark melts in the glass that covers the tach and speedometer. Hardly noticeable however they’re there.

The car took a little over a year for me to do the work. I didn’t work on it as hard as I would have when employed, however, I made some progress each day.

We are happy with the results. Admittedly, it’s not to concours standards, but it is a very respectable car and one we’re proud to drive and show.

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'73 Years Young with a Bugeye' have 10 comments

  1. March 14, 2018 @ 7:41 am John Wetstone

    Love it great story and all owners of old timers have run into this situation in one way or the other?
    Had a Bug Eye when I was 21 years of age and it was the joy of my life! At about 63 or 64 I decided I was going to buy another one after dreaming about my first one for most of my life.
    I live in Munich Germany and found a ad in the internet in Padaborn, so I bought a ticket and flew up there with the money in my pocket for the car. Never do such a thing!
    Needless to say I bought it with little or on idea of what the hell I was getting into.
    After I had the car shipped to my workshop, I found that could not drive it more than 2 or 3 miles before it stopped? Eventually I had to replace every mechanical part of my little
    Bug Eye and today it runs like a top and give me much pleassure, my 1960 Austin Healey Bug Eyed sprite.

    Reply

    • March 16, 2018 @ 1:06 pm Tony Caputo

      This story is great. I find a lot of joy working on my Midget and making continual improvements. One really gets to know the car inside and out.

      Reply

    • March 17, 2018 @ 3:11 pm Terry C. Hawley

      Thank you for reading and your comment’s on the little story. I agree everyone of age has had an experience like ours. Fun to be alive and still be able to enjoy life no matter what challenge you’re faced with isn’t it?
      The car really turned out well. I have photo’s of the interior and many other photos during the restoration process. I enjoyed working on it and saving another Bugeye from the scrapyard.
      Thank you again for you taking the time and commenting on the story, it means a lot to me.
      Terry

      Reply

  2. March 16, 2018 @ 9:15 am Dwight McCullough

    My First LBC
    November 17, 2017
    http://intermarque.org/index.php/2017/11/17/my-first-lbc/

    Reply

    • March 19, 2018 @ 7:36 pm Terry C. Hawley

      Great story, thank you for sharing it with me and the other readers of this website. I enjoyed reading it.

      Terry

      Reply

  3. March 16, 2018 @ 12:07 pm Russ Klass

    A great story with an often ignored lesson … don’t buy ‘vintage British cars!’
    A beautiful restoration, however. It makes me more happy than ever that my 50th birthday gift to myself 28 years ago was the original Mazda Miata which was trouble-free for 27 years!
    I hope our new 2017 Mazda Mata RF LE holds up as well!

    Reply

  4. March 17, 2018 @ 8:46 am Edward Parsons

    My sister and her husband had Austin Healey Sprite when I was around 10 years old. My brother-in-law let me drive it when I was 11 thinking I was much older. I was big for my age. That got me started. I never owned a sprite, but in 1971 I got my first two seater sports car. It was a 1966 MGB, British racing green with chrome, knock off, wire wheels. It had its share of problems and to keep in running I had to do a lot of work myself as I was a college student. I eventually go rid of it and then another summer my father and I rebuilt a wrecked B together. I also owned a MGB-GT and then several years ago I pulled a rubber bumper MGB out of a junk yard and rebuilt it myself. Having given up on MG’s because of their expense and constant need for care I now have a 1999 Mazda Roadster. I can’t get two seater soft top cars out of my blood since that first Austin Healey Sprite over 45 years ago as now I am 65.

    Reply

    • March 19, 2018 @ 7:41 pm Terry C. Hawley

      Thank you for your comments. I laughed at you driving a car at 11 years old. I was 13, much later in life than you.
      Enjoy your Mazda, it’s fun to be out and about at our age.

      Terry

      Reply

  5. March 17, 2018 @ 6:18 pm Rebecca Mills

    Beautiful frogeye! I applaud your bravery for tackling a resto that even the best of the pros would have thought twice about. And look at the end rsesult: just a gorgeous, great running, happy little car that quite fortunately ended up in the right hands!! I wish you many years of enjoyment, Sprites are all about the sheer joy of driving a pure sports car that truly shines with an owner/driver who gets it!

    Cheers!
    Rebecca Mills
    Moorpark, CA

    Reply

    • March 19, 2018 @ 7:45 pm Terry C. Hawley

      Thank you Rebecca for your thoughtfulness. I’m glad we were able to save the car. With spring coming up and the warmer weather forthcoming Grace and I will be driving it a lot.
      Cheers right back!
      Terry

      Reply


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