The Healey Sprites

Interviews with Gordon Barton and Brian Marsh on the development of the headlights on the Sprite and Nick Maltby on the introduction of the Sprite Mark 1.

Gordon Barton worked in the stores at the Cape Works of the DHMC and later at the Coten End site, Brian Marsh worked for Healey Marine in the Cape Works and Nick Maltby was a draughtsman for Jensen Motors.


Gordon Barton: I watched the prototypes – the Sprite Mark 1, I remember Barry Bilbie going up Lock Lane in it one day, without any bodywork on, just the frame and it had got like a wooden, to make it legal, you’d got the lights on a piece of wood on the back and the front, and I can remember him going up The Cape, up Lock Lane in a Sprite without any bodywork. So when we saw the Sprite we thought how ugly it was, with those lights dumped on the top. We thought, crikey, it looks like they designed a car and then forgot the lights, the headlights. But of course the first prototypes, they had a sort of a lift but it wasn’t off the vacuum off the engine, it was operated by rods I think, but it wasn’t very successful, so they decided to just put two lights in the top. And the first one, it was just like headlights off a motorbike, something like that. But then they put the fairings at the back, that made it look like… but that’s a collector’s car now, everybody’s after them, now, aren’t they? They had like a face on the front didn’t it?

Brian Marsh: …one of the things that happened was in the car show room, which I never got involved with very much, but they had a mock up, timber mock up of a Sprite bonnet and Geoff my boss and I used get different light fittings and set them up on this bonnet for all and sundry to have a look at, to nod or shake their heads at, and this went on for probably a month as far as I can remember, we’d have half a day in there at least once a week, with different light fittings trying them on the bonnet, to see what looked, and what worked and what didn’t and I know how the Frogeye Sprite eventually ended up and I can’t honestly say I remember actually fitting those light fittings onto the bonnet.  But it was all a sequence, and there were lots and lots of different sorts of lights used at the time.

Nick Maltby: …when I certainly was very young, the Austin Healey Sprite Mark One was introduced and when I saw it I thought that’s the kind of car I would like, I really did fall in love with it. I have to say that that love has remained. Today, travelled here, I followed an Austin Healey Sprite which was coming to this event and it looked so good on the road, it reminded me of all those years ago when I saw it for the first time, it is absolutely, if you wanted a small sports car, you wouldn’t want anything better than that.

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