Jay Leno shows off his 1959 Austin-Haley Sprite

Jay Leno says his favorite cars are original and unrestored. His 1959 Austin-Haley Sprite, featuring the latest episode of “Jay Leno’s Garage”, fits that section.

You could say that the sprite was not restored because it was a bit rough around the edges. Even so, owning one is still beyond the reach of the average person, as Leno noted in the episode.

This Sprite was an owner’s car, so Leno thought it would be better to preserve its originality rather than restore it completely. Leno’s shop cleaned the car, repaired some dents, and rebuilt the engine, which was necessary to get Sprite back on track.

The car’s inline-4 engine displaces just 948 cc and produces about 40 hp, but it weighs less than 1,400 pounds. It shows what is possible when you remove the luxuries like roll-up windows, exterior door handles and a trunk. If you want more energy or animal comfort during the day, you go for a “big” heli like 100-6.

1959 Austin-Haley Sprite in Jay Leno's garage

1959 Austin-Haley Sprite in Jay Leno’s garage

Lack of electricity makes highway driving a bit murky, but Sprite’s solitary canyon is in its element on the road, Leno notes. Excluding modern mini-marketing, Sprite provides true go-kart handling, he says.

With its small size and no-frills driving experience, Sprite represents the classic era of British sports cars. Leno’s car is a first-generation model, nicknamed “Bugeye” or “Frogeye” because of the distinctive round headlights mounted on the hood. Subsequent versions were based on the MG Midget, and most of the sheet metal was shared with those more conventional-looking sports cars.

Another advantage of Sprite was its cheapness. It was cheap when it was new and was considered worthless as a long-used car, Leno said. This means that many examples have been misused or greatly altered, so such a completely-original version is unusual.

And since the car isn’t primitive, Leno says he can have fun with it without having to worry about scratching. That sounds like a pretty good deal.

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