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Homepage. This page: The history of a racing Austin-Healey 'Speedwell' Sprite.

Racing a Speedwell 'frogeye' Sprite 505BZ.

Michael Wylie dropped me a line, after seeing a photo of his Speedwell Sprite on this site, going out to race at the Goodwood Revival meeting in 2006. In return for a larger copy of the photograph, he sent me the history of Sprite 505 BZ.
Speedwell Sprite 505BZ

Life and times of a competition Sprite.

Just as mainland enthusiasts remember registration numbers of all the great road registered cars in racing and rally lore, so in Ireland there are those who will readily recite the numbers of all the Works cars, and others that occasionally came to race at Phoenix Park, Kirkistown or Bishopscourt, or compete in the Circuit of Ireland, and more recently the Ulster Rally. Many ex-works Minis and Escorts spent more than their share of time rallying in Ireland, and some were more famous than others, but always remembered by registration number.

505 BZ is a strange anomaly in that it was a car that did not achieve a particular outstanding victory, but rather, a special fame in Ireland that can be ascribed to two significant factors; the virtuosity of its then youthful driver, and the outstanding prettiness of the car itself.

Adrian Boyd had gained overnight fame by winning the 1960 Circuit of Ireland International Rally at the age of 19, navigated by his former school pal Maurice Johnston, in a more-or-less standard ‘Frog Eye’ Sprite. Adrian and Maurice are still on the record books as the youngest crew ever to win an internationally rally. Such was their modesty and maturity that the Belfast Daimler agent entered the same youthful pair for the 1961 Circuit in an SP250, and they were leading when the rear axle failed, a weakness in this model that was later rectified.

A replacement for Adrian’s Sprite was also being sought so that he could continue to be competitive in all the other motoring events in the local calendar and these included racing, hillclimbs, autotests and rallies, all using the same car in those days of less specialisation, particularly evident in Ireland. The Speedwell Sprite came to light when it was offered for sale by Rowland & Harris, the BMC Dealers in Newry and had been registered in Co. Down as 505 BZ, on 28th June 1961, by Peter Kramm who had brought it in from England. Adrian’s father, a quarry owner and road contractor proud of his eldest son’s achievements, bought the Speedwell for him in August 1961. Kramm, who owned ‘Speedy Cleaners’ in Newry and in Dublin, is remembered for racing Jaguar saloons both on the track and off, so he may well have found the Speedwell not to his taste, although he did part-exchange it for a conventional Frogeye. There is also a suggestion that Kramm had the engines swapped. Adrian believes the Speedwell had a standard engine when he got it, and a later owner of the conventional ex-Kramm Sprite complained bitterly of problems of getting parts for the special competition clutch with which it was fitted, so this may indeed have been the case.

The Speedwell was soon put to good use in local events, but the next big goal for the youthful pair was to compete in the R.A.C. International Rally in November. An immediate problem was that the Speedwell GT was only homologated for competition with standard steel wheels, and the larger drum brakes (ex-Riley 1.5) that the Speedwell company were marketing. These were a cheaper alternative to the Girling disc brakes that were only available in conjunction with a wire wheel conversion kit from the Donald Healey Motor Company, and, ironically, fitted to most Speedwell GTs. The practical solution, as the aluminium front was also vulnerable for rallying, was to buy a new glass-fibre Speedwell made Sebring style bonnet from their Belfast agent, Paddy Hopkirk, and 505 BZ was entered as a Sebring Sprite in the 1961 R.A.C. Rally.

The under-hung and inverted rear springs were changed back to their standard position to give extra ground clearance for rallying, as can be seen by comparing the two racing pictures. The original aluminium bonnet, of a design also by then available to the buying public from Speedwell in glass fibre as ‘The Monza’, went on to have a life of its own fitted to the Frogeye of Adrian’s next younger brother, Derek. That Sprite (888 CZ), with the alloy bonnet still fitted, later passed to John Watson who developed it for racing, thus sowing the seeds of his subsequent competition career.

Frogeye Sprite 505 BZ
Clantoe Airfield Races, September 1961
(Photo: Esler Crawford)
Frogeye Sprite 505 BZ
Circuit of Ireland, 1962
(Photo: Brian Foley)
Unfortunately an ‘off’ as a result of a leaking petrol can, a hazard in a car with no separate boot, brought the RAC Rally adventure to an early close, but examination of results from the early months of 1962 go a long way to explain the legend. On the 6th January, driving 505 BZ, Adrian won the Armagh Motor Club’s rally and on 24th February he won the Mid-Antrim M.C’s rally. On the last weekend of March he was third in the Circuit of Monaghan and was second in class to Peter Johnston who was driving the ex-Chris Williams Sebring (52 LPH), in the Circuit of Ireland held over the Easter weekend.

On 2nd June he won an Armagh M.C. driving test meeting and on the following weekend was second on the Tostal Trial in Co. Wicklow organised by the M.E.C. on Saturday, and second on the Circuit of Munster on Sunday. Slot in every hill climb and race meeting imaginable and you are beginning to get the picture. At Kirkistown he won the Sprite & Midget race and at a later meeting lent 505 for the same race to the famous Sprite exponent Squadron Leader Paddy Gaston (an Ulsterman) who spun it at the hairpin in front of ace local photographer Esler Crawford.

Adrian’s performance on the Circuit of Ireland did however highlight the single greatest weak point of the Speedwell, that it had a double curvature Plexiglass windscreen that made night-driving, particularly in the wet, very difficult to say the least. The little car had an enthusiastic following, and the amazingly large number of subsequent owners all soon found that the windscreen, and the non-opening side windows, made it impractical for normal use, and sold it on. Adrian had succumbed to specialisation, part-exchanging the Speedwell for a new Volkswagen Beetle, then all the rage for autotests and rallying in Ireland, and eventually buying a ‘gullwing’ Marcos for racing without realising that it, like the Speedwell, had been designed by Frank Costin. From then on he would be offered Works drives for his favourite event, the Circuit of Ireland International Rally and many other events.

By the 1980s 505 BZ had passed through so many hands that it had almost become the proverbial basket case, and was being rebuilt by the Blemming twins in Newtownards. Sadly they died within a few months of each other and their brother Hammy sold the partially restored Speedwell to Mike Wylie, a former RAC Scrutineer and race commentator married to Adrian Boyd’s sister, Margot, who remembered being taken to school in it. Formerly a Secretary of the Ulster Vintage Car Club and the owner of a Frazer Nash, Mike Wylie had been enthusiastic about the Speedwell since seeing it on its first appearance in Boyd’s hands at Cluntoe in 1961, and was looking for a new challenge.

Speedwell Sprite 505 BZ
1991 Pirelli Marathon
Sprites 505 BZ and PMO 200
The windscreen problem was solved, expensively, by having a laminated one handmade using the original acrylic screen as a pattern. A new glass-fibre Monza front was bought in England as Wylie intended restoring the car as he had remembered it in 1961, but, quite recently, an aluminium bonnet has surfaced locally and is currently being restored prior to fitting. The Blemming twins had intended using a 1275 MG Midget engine and this, fitted with a Longman head and modified following advice from Alec Poole, was ideal for events in Ireland. The restoration of 505 BZ coincided with the advent of the sport of Classic Rallying, the rebuilt car making its debut, with fellow ‘Chain Gang’ member Freddie Giles navigating, in the 1989 Circuit of Ireland Retrospective. This was Freddie’s first attempt at map-reading, and first time competing on a classic rally, but he would go on to great success in classic events and, with his wife Jane,t won the Round The World Rally in a Hillman Hunter.

Speedwell Sprite 505 BZ
Airborne on a 1960s rally stage
Photo: Esler Crawford
The newly restored Sprite was again entered for every possible event, from autotests to racing, and gave its new guardian a tremendous amount of fun and some success including several class wins on the Circuit Retro. A previous owner volunteered a genuine Formula Junior short engine that, in conjunction with an alloy Speedwell cylinder head, was developed for use on historic international events, beginning with the 1990 Pirelli Classic Marathon, and progressing to the Corse Retro 40, an event voted the toughest historic rally of 1996. Perhaps the most nostalgic success from this period was joining up with John Sprinzel and Willie Cave to form Team Sprinzel Sprite on the 1991 Marathon, when, navigated by Michael Beattie, 505 BZ was part of the winning the team.

Speedwell Sprite 505 BZ
Lydden Hill, Pirelli Marathon 1990
Photo: Chris Harvey
Meanwhile Mike Wylie had set-off on yet another tangent; to fulfil a dream he had harboured as a schoolboy of racing one of the Armstrong Siddeley Sapphires sold by his father’s garage business. While this was in progress, the well-worn and partly neglected Speedwell Sprite was unexpectedly resurrected for racing at the 2003 Goodwood Revival Meeting following an invitation from Lord March to compete in the Fordwater Trophy Race. Converted from rally to race trim in less than a week, the Goodwood paddock was the scene of much fettling into the wee small hours that eventually came to nought when the heater valve on the cylinder head popped its threads. This was a huge disappointment for Adrian Boyd’s nephew, David Wylie, who had by now been delegated to race this exquisite, if patinated, family heirloom. At the age of 19 David Wylie had been the winner of the Ulster Automobile Club’s Annual Points Trophy using an Austin A35 for track racing and an MG Midget for road events. His Uncle Adrian had been winner of the same trophy at the age of 19 driving 505 BZ.

Delighted to have been invited back to the 2006 Goodwood Revival Meeting, the Wylie family have given the Speedwell a partial facelift and treated it to a ‘new’ 1293 c.c. engine from Swiftune in celebration. As ever though, it is wonderful to be able to take part in this event, and any element of success will be thought secondary to reliving the special sports car races of the 1960s.

Copyright - Michael C. Wylie September 2006.

More photos of this Speedwell Sprite

Michael has sent over some more photographs showing the Sprite racing back in the 1960s, which are reproduced below.

Kirkistown, 1962.
Two originals of 505 BZ in Sebring guise racing on different occasions at Kirkistown Airfield in 1962. Top shows Paddy Gaston spinning at the hairpin while Dubliner Jackie Fildes takes avoiding action in his MG Midget. Fildes was Service Manager of Booth Poole Ltd., who assembled MGs in the Irish Republic. This had been Alec Poole's family business until tariff restrictions were eased and cars were imported directly into Ireland. Photo credit: Esler Crawford
Racing at Kirkistown

Bottom shows Adrian Boyd sandwiched between the Sunbeam Harrington of Charles Eyre-Maunsell and the Sprite of Richard Forbes. Charles Eyre-Maunsell was a director of A.S.Baird Ltd., the Rootes Agents in Belfast and his son, Robin, became a famous Rootes Works Driver in Imps and Avengers, and is currently active in Historic Rallying. Photo credit: Esler Crawford

Racing at Kirkistown
In 2009 Russell sent an email over, attaching this scan showing the front cover of the September 29th 1962 meeting at the Kirkistown circuit. The cover features the same Speedwell Sprite, 505 BZ.
Speedwell Sprite on a race programme cover
Recent photographs of Mike's Sprite and many more competing cars at the Revival, can be found on the Goodwood 2006 Revival photos page, here at oldclassiccar. You can also read this review of the 2006 Revival.

Read about more classic cars owned by visitors to oldclassiccar right here.

More information on Speedwell tuning accessories, can be seen in the period car tuning companies section. Information on the WSM Sprites (and Healey 3000, Jaguar XK150 shooting break) can be seen on the WSM memories page.

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