I bought this ’68 sprite from an uncle-in-law in Modesto, CA, back in 1985 after seeing it languishing on his driveway on Thanksgiving Day. It had been painted blue over a white paint job over the original red. And, the Bondo patches were visible from at least 20 feet away. But, with just a little coaxing, it fired right up and I (foolish me) started off on the 300-mile trek home.
On that drive home to the L.A. area, it fried the crank after cresting the mountains on I-5 because enough oil had burned off and/or leaked out to leave insufficient oil for the pickup (in the rear of the pan) to find any oil when pointed downhill. That was my first lesson on the bulimic relationship British engines have with motor oil.
After letting it sit for a year, I rebuilt the engine and drove it around for about a year. Then, I decided to do a “quick-and-simple” repaint. That’s when I discovered how easy it is to obsess over a restoration project and repeatedly rationalize doing that “one more thing” (what we now call “scope creep”). Two and one-half years later – and about $8K in parts from Moss – it emerged from a bare-metal restoration. Thirteen months after that, the rebuilt transmission (the only item I didn’t rebuild myself) locked up in 3rd gear on the way to a smog check.
It sat for 10 years and survived two moves and an earthquake before I decided to return it to service. Since transmissions were no longer available, I installed a Datsun 5-speed using Rivergate’s conversion kit. California emissions regulations had changed by then (2001), so I opted to tweak things a bit by installing a hot street cam, an aluminum head, oversized stainless steel valves, a sidedraft Weber, header and front sway bar. The suspension had already been converted to tube shocks during the initial restoration (Round 1). The final result was one very fun Spridget that still makes me grin from ear-to-ear whenever I drive it. And, with the overdrive, it is truly capable of running on the highway – as I demonstrated by driving it from my old residence in Simi Valley to Moss’ Goleta facility (85 miles one-way) just weeks after completing Round 2.
Additional photos of the restoration can be found on my business’ website at: www.midlifeclassics.com/sprite
This was my first restoration – and I did it back when I had a “real” job. Seven years ago, I gave up the corporate world and moved to a rural area near Dallas to open a restoration business. The motivation for the shop began just a few weeks before completing “Round 2” on the Sprite. I had picked up a ’69 Corvette and later when I spoke to my little sister, she referred to it as “a white trash midlife crisis car.” That led to a back-and-forth debate about it being a classic rather than a way to satisfy any kind of a midlife crisis need. By the end of that day, I had registered the domain name “midlifeclassics.com,” put together a simple “collector’s” website showcasing my big collection of just two cars. Five years later, Midlife Classics was incorporated and construction of the shop was completed a year later. Yes, it is an adventure – one that has me feeling very satisfied with where I’m at and what I’m doing. While I had hoped to specialize in British cars, this is “Bubbaville,” so domestics and musclecars are much more plentiful and tend to make up the bulk of my business. But, with the closing of “Last Chance Garage” here in Princeton (an MGB shop, primarily), I was able to hire one of their guys and have actually contracted for the restoration of a 1980 MGB.
Twenty-one years after that initial (Round 1) restoration, I still have the Sprite and drive it as often as I can. The paint has held up very well despite having spent 10+ years outside under a car cover. The interior has also done well and, mechanically, it’s still solid and ready for fun whenever I have the opportunity to take it out. It seems to elicit a lot of smiles from onlookers everywhere I go – and it always puts a big grin on my face.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to expand my personal collection to include several other British cars – including 5 TVRs (2 drivers, 3 projects), a GT6 project, a Jensen Healey, and what is reported to be the last plywood-chassis Marcos 3000GT built (also a project).
Thanks Moss for helping me – and my business – keep these treasures on the road and out there for everyone to enjoy.
By the way, after completing Round 1 on the Sprite, I drove it back up to Modesto to show it to my uncle just months before he passed away. The look on his face was worth all the expense and effort. Then, of course, the fuel pump went out on the way home. Figures, doesn’t it?
By Bob Carroll