It’s car show season! AN5L 501 is fresh off a Best in Class victory at the Greenwich Concours and a 2nd place in class at the British By The Sea Gathering in Waterford. 501’s next scheduled car show appearance will be the Audrain Concours in September! We hope to see you there!
Learn more about the history of AN5L 501 below, and if you would like to see some of the posts and videos we have made about this historic automobile, click on the links at the bottom of the page!
The Bugeye Sprite production run started with AN5L 501 on March 31, 1958 and ended with car AN5L 49584 in November of 1960. This is car 501, the very first Bugeye off the assembly line, as verified by the British Heritage Motor Trust. The car was concours gold-certified by the Austin Healey Club
Like most of the Austin Healey Sprite production run, this car was built as a left-hand drive car for the American market (the first RHD car was #507). This car spent its early life in California, owned by the Hembrow family of San Diego, California. At some point, wire wheels were installed, it was painted red and the car was used as a weekend club racer. Sometime in the 60s, this car was left outside, somewhat dilapidated and non-operational.
In about 1972, the car was purchased by one Paul Strong, who stored the car inside until 2012, when he offered the car for sale. I bid on the car at that time, but was outbid by Australian Sprite enthusiast Tony Bennetto, who packed the car in a container and shipped her to Australia, where the car underwent a complete restoration in the correct original dark green color.
When Tony died suddenly in 2017, the restoration stalled, but was completed by Steve Pike around 2019. This opened a new opportunity for me to acquire the car, which I was able to do in December of 2021. Because of the pandemic, it took seven months to ship the car in a container back to America. The car arrived in our shop on July 22, 2022, which gave us just 58 days to completely re-restore the car to concours original specs and bring the car to the Austin-Healey Club event in Pennsylvania for judging. We gutted the entire car at that time and replaced any modern components and modern hardware from Australia with restored original pieces exactly like the day when the car was new. This marathon effort resulted in our gold badge/award at the Austin Healey concours, and we’re delighted to share this car with you here today!
How did we get here?
When car 501 arrived at the shop, there were several things that immediately stood out as incorrect for a Concours restoration. There were some obvious things; 501 had wire wheels when it arrived, which weren’t available as a factory option until Mark II Sprites. Additionally, a custom wood-rimmed steering wheel was installed. These were swapped out without much issue. However, there was one issue that would pose a greater threat: the hardware.
When 501 was restored, the restorers didn’t have Concours originality on their minds when selecting components. This included the hardware. Nearly every bolt on the car was a modern grade 5 bolt with 3 hash marks on top (right in the adjoining photo). Every bolt on the car was supposed to be a dimple-head bolt (left). That meant we had to disassemble the entire car and replace every bolt with the correct one, which meant we had to locate, and restore, approximately 500 fasteners!
There were other, more subtle things on the body of the car itself that also needed attention. There were some extra holes in the floor that were drilled for extra mounting of the brake and fuel lines that needed to be filled, and the exhaust hanger stud was missing. Kenny, our master fabricator, carefully filled in each extra hole and ground and painted them to where you cannot even tell there were holes in the first place! Terry, our lead technician, was instrumental in getting the exhaust hanger squared away.
Some parts of the car were actually over-restored in terms of originality. The boot area received the same green paint in the restoration process as the rest of the body. In reality, from the factory, when the cars were painted the boot would have only received red oxide primer and the body color would have never made it to this area, so we had to re-create that “rust” color in the boot.
Following the re-painting of the boot area, a multitude of smaller items amalgamated into one large undertaking to get this car right! Countless hours of research led to strategy meetings that outlined what direction we wanted to go on every aspect of the restoration. For instance, several hours were dedicated to the question as to whether or not the earliest Bugeyes were equipped with carburetor float bowl overflow tubes. We were finally able to determine that the first 1000 cars or so came equipped with special vented washers as opposed to the overflow lines fitted on later Bugeyes. It was very satisfying to be able to document that to the judges when they asked about our setup’s authenticity!
Thanks to the tireless efforts of our entire Bugeyeguys team, we were able to completely re-restore a Bugeye to factory-correct specs in less than two months! Looking back now almost a year later, what we were able to accomplish is so fulfilling, and really is a testament to the people here at Bugeyeguys and what we are all about!
Check out the links below for more AN5L 501 fun!
Check out our collection of videos about 501 on YouTube: