In 1972, aged 18 I got my drivers licence and started to think about wheels. I was keeping company with a couple of mates one of whom had a Bugeye, followed soon after by a Midget, the other an MGB. This fostered my interest in getting a roadster but there was one catch! – I was cash strapped and with 6 years of University ahead of me so there was no way I was going to get an MG. So I set my sights on something that I thought would give me the same fun, but affordable for me. The Sprite appeared to be the car for me.
The Bugeye in particular interested me for its unique looks. And so I set out to buy a Bugeye but there was a problem! I was impatient and a good example didn’t present itself immediately; however a MK3A did present itself. Impatience prevailed and I bought KBG 148 for the princely sum of $1250-00.
By the time I sold KBG 148 it had been worked over and thoroughly accessorized. Initially the flaky white paint and rust got changed to Hawthorn Green, the gear box was rebuilt – young as I was it was still disconcerting when from time to time it jumped out of 1st, and boy did first gear whine – that was before it got so bad that it started to jump out of gear. The rear springs got a bit of ‘spring’ put back in them. The temperature gauge was constantly breaking, the fuel gauge was never accurate, the splines knocked. Getting these things fixed took me to places like Gillspeed and Andrew Rennie which provided untold potential for a young lad to spend on parts and accessories. KBG148 gave hours of workshop and driving pleasure and lived up to expectations as being affordable and fun.
Memorable moments: Driving overnight to Melbourne to Adelaide with roof off, girlfriend in sleeping bag trying to keep warm. Hitting the intersection of Toorak/Burke Road a little hard and tearing entire exhaust system out on tram tracks – trying to hastily retrieve hot exhaust system from middle of road.
In 2005 came a realisation that it’s all good driving European prestige but you can’t do anything with them! I’m tired of just washing cars and paying hefty service costs. Damn it I will get that Bugeye! As it happened Shannons had what appeared to be a good Bugeye, not sold at auction. So I made enquiries, had someone look at it for me. It looked good for the price and bearing in mind the idea was to get something that needed a little attention, not just washing – I took a punt on it. So I purchased Reg. No. CCC60B, a white Bugeye, VIN 1274, ENG. NO. 9CUH49014, formerly painted ‘Rheims Blue’. As it turned out it was in better condition than I expected and came with a photographic album of restoration work.
My plan was to retain this in ‘original condition’ and use it for club drives and rallies. Almost immediately I registered it as GC999 (21st birthday plates resurrected!). Neil Johnson (later to become a Bugeye devotee himself) and I did the 2005 Grand Prix Rally and it was a popular entrant albeit not really in contention for a placing. It was a week of fabulous open air country driving and revelations for me (and obviously Neil too!) about the surprising potential of the car. Where do you go for a new generator in Camperdown? – The local Truck and Tractor repair place of course! – An hour later at a cost of $178 + GST you’re back in the rally. Try doing that with European prestige.
If you don’t know how ‘ less can be more’ you obviously haven’t driven a Sprite!
It wasn’t long before Terri and I had racked up a great number of outings in GC999. Notably in February of 2007 we took her to Tasmania, in Easter of 2008 to Warwick for the National Challenge, then returning down the east coast, later the Trip to The Top (Mt. Kosciusko) and countless short Club social trips. And what a pleasure to drive and a reliable vehicle she has been, save for a shattered generator pulley on our trip to Warwick. One of the things about travelling on a Club drive is that there are always plenty of willing helpers and spare parts to fix a problem. And so it was on the day our generator pulley shattered – but fellas (names withheld for obvious reasons), please make sure that you install the two top generator mounting bolts when you refit the generator!
We haven’t spent too much on repairs. In January of 2007 the gear box was rather tired and we had the existing smooth case box completely reconditioned before the Tasmania trip. As for accessories for the Bugeye – well, we do have some cup holders mounted to the door pockets. These have been very practical on those early morning runs and although many members have mocked them I think they might quietly be very envious? I should also mention that I put an original heater assembly in at some stage, probably just prior to going to Tasmania. Then there’s the antique radio with the AM/FM interior conversion. At the time I thought I’d play the ipod through the FM radio but in practice we’ve found that we hardly ever use the radio, probably because we enjoy the car’s nuances and each other’s company far too much. Oh yeah the cigarette lighter socket discreetly tucked at one end of the dash has been ever so handy for a torch and Sat Nav. The Sat Nav gets used more so as an accurate speedometer than a Sat Nav. If only it could tell me exactly how much petrol was in the tank. An accurate fuel gauge is perhaps the only thing on the ‘to do’ list and has been for a long time. It just doesn’t seem urgent as the Bugeye doesn’t exactly guzzle the fuel.
I think my favourite Spritely read after ‘Spritely Years’ was always Bill Emerson’s wonderful ‘The Healey Book’. It was in this book that I first noticed the Innocenti 950 and Innocenti S and was fascinated by them. Like Tony Bennetto I felt that such a unique ‘Healey/Sprite’ should be in Australia and so it transpired that when Tony brought one back and declared he was prepared to sell it, I put my hand up straight away to be the new owner. The beautiful black Innocenti S in The Healey Book is owned by one Jim Hill in North America and in fact the car Tony brought back was also from Jim Hill.
The Innocenti S is very pleasant to drive and certainly creates curiosity wherever Terri & I take it. Driving on the left hand side of the car is different but perhaps being in the passenger seat is ‘more different’ particularly when pulling out for highway overtaking. Fortunately there is a somewhat larger, (than in a Sprite that is) padded grab handle on the dashboard. A new windscreen and boot lock have been fitted – both procured from Italy. A new roof was made locally using an old roof that came with the car as a pattern. Interestingly there are many parts available for the car and I am quietly collecting those parts that I think might be near impossible to get down the track. There are also international owners who are more than happy to share experiences. I’ve had interesting contact with owners in North America, U.K., Italy & Spain and this has certainly been part of the pleasure of owning the Innocenti S.
Towards the middle of 2009 Terri & I got to recalling that we had vowed not go to the National Challenge in 2010 as social delegates as we had done in 2008 at Warwick. At Warwick we were so inspired watching our competition members that we swore then that we would compete next time. A busy few years had intervened and we now realised that the ‘next time’ was just around the corner really. So suddenly the mind set turned towards what we might compete in. Around that time some people had been suggesting to me that I should build GC999 up to being a race car so, with that in mind when Ranald Young turned up at a Club night with a recently built straight cut close ratio rib cased gear box, I snapped it up. I then went further and organised a 1326cc motor with a few enhancements. Bill Quarrell helped me with hardened rear axle shafts. We installed all this to the car but then sat back and had a good hard look at ourselves and said ‘no we don’t really want to race our beloved Bugeye’. We really don’t want to throw away the steel bonnet for a fibreglass one, throw away the hub caps and bumper bars, nor do we want to install a serious roll bar, racing seats and the like. So from that point forward then GC999 has simply acquired some real performance but remains our social driver alongside the Innocenti S. We certainly don’t use the radio now as the straight cut gear box is way too noisy!
Thankfully upon us realizing again then that we still needed a car to compete in at Goulburn, Graham Dows indicated that he wished to sell his 1970 Sb MG Midget. From all reports it was a good car and so we purchased it in time to commence our foray into competition in 2010, including the National Challenge at Goulburn over Easter. Both Terri and I have now competed in the car at Sandown MSCA, Phillip Island Historics and all the rounds of the Victorian Hill climb Championship this year too. What a learning curve it has been but thanks to AHSDC members mentoring us it has been exciting and rewarding.
We have put the Midget on CH Plates but to be honest it is not that easy to drive around town so I expect it will mostly be seen at competition events. It did get a good road run from Lakes Entrance to Melbourne on the return from the National Challenge when our convoy was short of trailer space for less fortunate cars.
Thankfully Spridgets are relatively skinny little cars, not quite so a tandem trailer, but we can actually get all three cars and the trailer into our double garage. We’re currently working on a plan to build another garage to get our ‘daily drive’ cars back in off the street – and all the while we must remember that at some stage another Spridget might present itself mightn’t it?
It all started with a car, then the Club, then more cars, and then a foray into competition as opposed to only social involvement. Both Terri & I have no doubt that through being active members of AHSDC we enjoy our cars and experiences so much more than we would do in any other circumstances.
So thanks go from Terri & me to AHSDC for all the fun and friendship we have gained through the Club. Oh yeah, and thanks go to Terri from me for totally embracing my Spritely visions!