Barn Find Bugeye Project: First Look
Written by Jack Collins
If you’ve ever visited the Ceres Motorsports shop, you might have noticed a little white 1960 Austin Healey Sprite sitting in a corner of the shop floor. We acquired this "barn find" Bugeye Sprite last Winter when we helped someone clean out a very full and cluttered garage.
The owner was somewhat surprised to even find a car back there. Buried behind a wall of boxes, it remained unseen and forgotten for over 20 years. When we pulled it out we were happy to find that it was very complete, somewhat disassembled, but mostly rust and damage free.
The seats, dash with all switches and gauges, top frame, side curtains, and sundry parts were lying in the car. The original 948 engine and smoothcase transmission were still installed as were the tach drive generator, SU’s, and exhaust. The wiring harness was long gone.
The tires are 20 years old but look like they have zero miles. Unusable, of course, but they are on a set of awesome vintage Cosmic alloy wheels. There was a problem with the differential or axles since the car would roll freely in any gear. Maybe that’s why they parked it 20 years ago.
The owner really didn’t want the little car and offered to give it to us gratis for helping clean the garage (12 trips to the landfill!), but we made a fair cash offer and took the car with us.
It had been sitting in the corner of the shop since we bought it, but a few weeks ago we had a couple of rare spare minutes. We decided to tinker with it and cleaned the points, checked the carbs, and wired up an ad hoc ignition and starter circuit.
We pulled the plugs, squirted PB Blaster into the cylinders, and hit the starter first just to see if the engine would turn. To our delight it spun over freely and sounded pretty good. A quick compression check showed 150-160 lbs. in all cylinders. We stuck the plugs back in, filled the floats with fuel, and turned on the ignition. At the first turn of the starter, the engine fired, belched some smoke, then settled into a decent idle! We ran it long enough to burn the fuel out of the floats then repeated. We stopped at that point since the cooling system wasn’t hooked up, but we were happy to hear the little engine come to life with so little effort! Check out the video below to see the engine running:
That was enough to get us thinking about how much work would it really take to get this car running and driving again. We talked about it a lot and decided that we really needed to make some essential fixes.
First was the busted diff. When we pulled the axles, we found the inner axle splines twisted – not good. Just to check, we stuck in a set of good axles but still got the same result. We were pretty sure the diff was broken, probably busted spider gears.
Second, I’ve driven Bugeyes with original drum brakes and while they work ok, the later discs are so much better. Some new stub axles and disc components as well as the appropriate hydraulics would take care of that.
Last week we came across a 1972 MG Midget that looked like it might be a good parts car. It was another project car that was partially disassembled and left to sit for over 20 years. We took a look, made an offer, and brought it back to the shop. Brian and Jesica spent a weekend taking the car apart and setting aside all the parts we would need for the Bugeye.
We ended up with a good rear end, disc brakes, a lot of electrical bits, and a full set of good front suspension parts for a disc brake conversion. We also got a rebuildable 1275 engine and a ribcase transmission. We know that the 948 runs, but the 1275 could give us nearly double the power and would be a bolt in.
We stashed the good body parts and cut the rest of the rusty shell apart. Dumpster time! It’s surprising how small a Midget can get when you dice it into little pieces with a saw and plasma cutter! We should be able to sell the good parts for almost what we paid for the parts car.
We disassembled the engine and it’s is ready to go to the machine shop. We pulled the rear axle apart and swapped the diff, axles, and brakes to the Bugeye. The diff is a 3.9 vs the 4.22 that was in the Bugeye.
One of the big decisions in this process was whether to use the Midget wire wheels. We looked at lot of photos online and in the end, Jesica made the call – Wires it is!
Parts for the front suspension are on order and we’ll get the front end installed next week with all four wire wheels on the ground. We’ll have to decide what to do with those awesome Cosmic alloy wheels and that nifty original 948 engine and transmission.
Stay tuned, much more to come as we work on this and continue making progress on our other projects.