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.
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.
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.
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.