Improving Safety and Reliability of Sprites

Owners’ recommendations for improving the safety and reliability of Sprites

We recently asked a group of Sprite owners for their suggestions on what an average owner could do, with limited time, tools and expertise, to improve the safety and reliability of their cars. We received many good suggestions based on actual experience, and we’re happy to share them with you here. As always, we hope you’ll find some food for thought and benefit from others’ experience – that’s why we have a club!

Jeff Boatright of Atlanta, Georgia responded:

Here are some safety and reliability items I find important.

  1. Brakes. I find that just bleeding them regularly does only a halfway good job of returning them to a firm feel. In addition to bleeding, I suggest a complete replacement of fluid at least once a year (my Sprite is my daily driver). In practice this entails using a syringe to remove most of the fluid from the master cylinder, then topping up with fresh, then conducting long bleeds at each corner until fresh, clean fluid flows at each corner. It's amazing how fast brake fluid gets gunked up and how good it all feels when it's fresh. Of course, the entire braking system should be checked yearly. It really does make a difference.
  2. Lights. Make sure that your headlights are aimed correctly and are bright. Make sure that your brake lights and turn indicators actuate and are bright. This sounds basic, but on every Healey outing, I see that MOST cars have dim lights and almost non-functioning indicators. On my car, several of the grounds need attention about once every two years. I'm thinking of going to halogens, at least for the brake and indicator bulbs.
  3. Wipers. Or more accurately, Rain-X™. I don't care how good or bad your wipers are, applying Rain-X™ to your windshield maybe once every two months is cheap, cheap insurance. This stuff should come standard in the glove boxes of all newly sold cars. There have been many instances where I've not even bothered to turn on the wipers in a spring shower because the Rain-X™ was beading the water so well.
  4. Did I mention brakes?
  5. Horn. Many people have written that horns don't do much for you; if you need to use them then it's too late. I disagree. There have been numerous instances in Atlanta traffic where a little beep from my BMC noisemaker made another driver aware of my presence and kept a deteriorating situation from getting dangerous. Plus, our little horns are not aggressive; nobody is going to get upset when you beep them and they see what you're driving. Keeping Atlanta drivers from being upset is a good thing. Make sure your horn wiring is in good shape. When I bought my Sprite, the horn did not work at all. Ten minutes of work (most of which was spent removing the grill) revealed the culprit: both contacts on the horn itself were corroded. A little sandpaper and voila, a nice cheery beep.
  6. Did I mention that fresh brake fluid is cheap?
  7. Driver. Be aware every time you drive your Sprite that you are doing something SPECIAL. This is a two-edged sword. It's fun, exhilarating, and makes you feel above it all. The other reality is that you are below it all; in the case of a Subdivision... I mean Suburban... you are several feet below the driver's sight line. Don't be scared, but be AWARE. Don't paint yourself into a corner in traffic. Always assume that you cannot be seen and that you will need to compensate for the apparent blindness of others.
  8. Did I mention that bleeding brakes is a fun way to get your significant other interested in your Sprite?

Allen Hefner of Abington, Pennsylvania responded:

Here's a safety item that you shouldn't miss: replace the brake fluid. Brake fluid absorbs water and should be replaced every two or three years. If you haven't replaced it, or don't know when it was last replaced, it's time!

Use an ear syringe bulb or a lot of rags and remove as much brake fluid from the master cylinder as you can. Fill it with new Castrol LMA™ fluid. Open the bleed screw on the longest brake line first. Pump the pedal and keep filling the MC until fresh looking fluid comes out the bleeder. Then move on to the next longest line. The first two you do will be in the rear. Check where the flex line connects to the brake pipe along the axle to see which line is longer. Finish up with the two front brakes.

Keep the master cylinder reservoir filled or you will introduce air in the system. Always use new Castrol LMA™ brake fluid from a sealed bottle. Brake fluid that has been sitting in an open bottle will absorb water. Remember that brake fluid is a very effective paint remover, so wipe up any spills immediately. A brake cleaning spray is good to use to get in small places. After you are finished, check all the brake lines and connectors for leaks. While you're at it, change the fluid in the clutch system, too.

Mike Lupynec of Toronto, Ontario responded:

My Bugeye's front curb weight is supported by two short fulcrum pins less than 1 inch in diameter. That 1000 lb. static load (and much more dynamic) is carried only by the threaded ends of the two pins which rotate so very slightly within their outer wishbone threaded bushings. The fulcrum pin is locked to the swivel pin and consequently the wear point is always on the exact same spots on the male and female mating threads. Without efficient lubrication, and poorly sealed with cork gaskets, this assembly can wear quickly. From a safety point of view, this is often the source of the too typical Spridget front-end wobblies, which requiring major repair, is often put off.

Eventually, the assembly becomes impossible to disassemble. The fulcrum pin refuses to unscrew. Then the swivel axle (which should benefit from having no wearing surfaces) gets trapped in the wishbone and the two major suspension components become wedded together. The owner, usually after a valiant effort with sledgehammer and torch, then sends the whole mess off to a specialist overhauler for an exchange item of equal virtue.

A simple five-penny improvement is to drill and tap in an extra two grease fittings. Each new fitting would be opposite to the one existing, on the fulcrum pin blanking plate. This one-hour modification can easily be carried out in situ, as the Brits would say.

From an engineering perspective it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, that this "load bearing thread" concept has through the decades managed to hold up the front ends of hundreds of thousands of the Empire's rolling stock. The eighth wonder is that this 1920's design convolution became so well imbedded in the English system of "shelf engineering", that it escaped the attention of the Design Office Managers and went on to survive, and possibly help along, the demise of the Little British Car industry.”

Doug Ingram of Victoria, British Columbia responded:

  1. Our little cars require constant attention to maintain reliability. I often tell people that only half of the hobby is driving and enjoying, with the other half being working on them to keep them safe and reliable. In short, don't ignore the servicing!
  2. Brakes, brakes, brakes. Need I say more? The braking system on these cars is marginal at best, so a great deal of attention needs to be put on all parts of the system.
  3. Attitude. This is the most important safety factor. I always drive very defensively (doesn't mean slowly) and assume that no other drivers can see me. I'd hate to have my car banged up, and I'd rather not get banged up myself.

Chris Kotting of Columbus, Ohio responded:

Take apart the hazard light switch, polish the contacts, lubricate it with dielectric grease, and reassemble. Not only are the hazard flashers dependant on this switch, but so are the turn indicators. Periodically cycle the hazard light switch, to make sure you'll have hazard lights when you need them.

Jackson Zimmermann of Charlottesville, Virginia responded:

  1. Check the wheel studs regularly or, better yet, replace them with 7/16” studs. When I purchased my car 11 years ago it had a total of seven broken wheel studs on the car (with a good inspection sticker) and I drove it unknowingly for several hundred miles. This was with stock rims and stock Michelin XZX tires! After I replaced them, I still occasionally broke a stud until I went with really high quality 7/16" studs. Also note that wider rims and stickier, modern tires place a great deal more stress on these undersized parts. I consider the stock studs an accident waiting to happen unless they are regularly inspected.
  2. Electrical things: Carry a few spare fuses, some electrical connectors, electrical tape, and some wire for those moon-less evenings when the lights decide to flicker and go out. Oh yeah, a good, bright flashlight is another thing that no self-respecting LBC (“Little British Car”) owner should be without. A spare set of points is also very high on the list.
  3. Something that I have not done, and am ashamed at myself for not doing, is installing an emergency blinker on the car. Even if you did pack the items listed above, you will still need some time for repairs. Doing it on the side of the road without blinkers in the middle of the night is not that great of an idea. Flares also work, but blinkers are useful in more situations.
  4. Another member listed wheel chocks as a requirement and I could not agree more, since I started carrying one it has come in handy a surprising number of times! Now having said all this, my car has only required roadside repair three times in 11 years of ownership (all three were electrical in nature and fixed on the road – gosh, I really should replace the harness).

So there you have some ideas from your fellow enthusiasts. These suggestions are based on actual experience. Please feel free to contact these owners directly for advice on "how they did it" or "where they bought it." As our club staff always says, your fellow members are the greatest resource of all. Most of these folks are listed in the Austin-Healey Resource Book.

One final note: When contemplating the purchase of parts, accessories and/or service for your Healey, please remember our advertisers! Their support of the hobby is very important, and so, as they say in Texas, “Don’t forget to feed the horse that gave you the ride!”

Enjoy your Healey, safely and reliably.