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It’s alive! Austin-Healey Sprite project car

by Kyle Smith
26 October 2020

Taking on my little blue Healey project car was too good an opportunity to miss, and my objective was to show that affordable fun cars still exist. I think I failed on that goal, but in the end I do still have a car ready for adventure with a relatively modest financial outlay. It all required more time and knowledge than I expected, but luckily a lot of the heavy lifting is now done.

That is to say, the engine is back in the roadster and I took it for a drive. The first step in the process was to reassemble the accessory drive. The worn-out water pump that I caught when I pulled the engine out was a failure waiting to happen, so I bolted up a new one along with a used, but in better shape, plastic radiator fan. The generator was the last piece of the accessories and also serves as the belt tensioner. Incorrect tension most likely caused premature wear on the water pump, so careful adjustment there should keep the Sprite cool and reliable for years to come.

Then I moved on to fitting a new Pertronix distributor. The points had left me stranded twice, and with the goal of having a car I can loan out without second thought, an electronic upgrade in order for peace of mind – even if it added to the list of expenses. Replacing the whole distributor as a unit also makes sense to me because that means no worn out bushings or tired advance unit causing issues. Fix it once, fix it right.

However, I got one thing wrong while installing that new distributor. I rotated the engine to where cylinder one was at top dead centre, marked the orientation of the rotor inside the dizzy, and plucked out the old and stuck in the new. Where I went wrong was to not take into consideration that I could have been on top dead centre of the exhaust stroke, meaning when I attached the spark plug wires I was putting them on the wrong distributor cap terminals.

Once I spotted my error, everything went swimmingly. The car started on the button and ran down the road nicely. The throwout bearing made zero noise and the gearbox shifted with familiar light and long throws.

While the Austin-Healey Sprite is running and driving again, I’m not about to call this project done. For starters, I backed my pickup truck over the exhaust that was removed during disassembly! And the interior needs some love, too. All projects for another episode of Kyle’s Garage.

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