Repairing the clutch: Austin-Healey Sprite project car

by Kyle Smith
14 October 2020

The blue 1969 Austin Healey Sprite project car has been taking up space in my garage for nearly five months, mainly being pushed around with the clutch not fully releasing. I could carefully drive it, but the whole experience was not nearly as fun as the little roadster should be. This week on Kyle’s Garage, I dug into the Sprite to get to the root of the problem with the clutch and how I could fix it, and that required some heavy lifting.

Well, not that heavy. The four-cylinder engine and four-speed manual gearbox in the Healey weigh nearly 140 kilos together. A borrowed engine hoist easily yanked the pair from the grimy engine bay. Once removed, I placed the whole assembly on top of a rolling workbench.

Splitting the gearbox and engine apart was a job for a 1/2-inch socket, which came as no surprise; the vast majority of bolts holding the car together are that size. Then came the bad news, which was in the end good news. The root of the problem was as the previous owner suspected: a consumed clutch release bearing. I say “consumed” because the factory-style carbon graphite bushings tend to turn themselves into dust, which coats the inside of the bellhousing.

No matter. The parts stash that came with the car included a new clutch replacement kit. However, despite having a new carbon graphite thrust bearing, I elected to spend some cash and upgrade to a retrofit piece that adapts a modern roller bearing that won’t disappear after a few thousand miles of use. Removing the engine is not the world’s greatest challenge, but that doesn’t mean I want to make it a habit of it.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a project in my garage without a “while I’m in here” moment, and it came when I was lifting the engine onto the toolbox. The radiator fan felt awfully loose, so I decided to investigate further and found the bushing in the nose of the water pump had significantly more play than I was comfortable with. Added to cart and ordered – and worth the money for the peace of mind that I won’t be stuck on the side of the road with an overheating engine.

Next up is cleaning and then re-assembly. Subscribe to the Hagerty YouTube channel so you don’t miss it. There are sure to be more surprises popping up before this Sprite is sorted.

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