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PDLJMPR's Fast Times with Fast Sprites

PDLJMPR Web Magazine, May 5, 1996

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Gary Speckman's Bugeye - Truly a Vintage Race-car!

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The following text was submitted by Gary Speckman:

A little history.... I have been active in the Austin Healey Club for well over a decade. I served as President of the Wis. Chapter of AHCA for 3 years in the late 80's/early 90's. My main interest has always been racing. I grew up in Sheboygan Wi, just 15 miles from Road America. As a kid we would sneak into the track to watch the races. My dream was to some day race a Sprite at this track.

After many years of owning and racing a "Big Healey"(BN7) at various autocrosses, I decided it was time to get into "real" racing, vintage style. I had attended vintage race events all over the country for many years and my old dream kept gnawing at me.

I began looking for a Bugeye Sprite to vintage race in 1994 after selling my BN7. I looked at several, but, for one reason or another, none had just the right parts, too much rust, etc, etc. One day I received a call from someone in the Chicago area who had heard that I was looking for a Bugeye race car. His description sounded interesting so I loaded up the Bronco and took of for Chicago to look at the car. First impression was not favorable but upon closer inspection I realized this was the car I had been looking for.

The owner had purchased the car in 1976 with the intention of racing it. The car had been a race car since new. He repainted the car from its original deep maroon to white with a blue and green racng stripe. This was a "quickie" paint job, not much prep on the original paint so large pieces of paint were chipping off here and there. It turns out the guy never raced the car and it sat in the garage since 1976. Finally he decided it was time to sell it. It hadn't run for over 18 years and the freeze plugs were popped.

I wasn't expecting much from the engine but the car was solid, no rust and had many of the parts I was looking for already on.

The front suspension had competition springs and a large solid linked sway bar. Disc brakes had been installed. The rear suspension had competition leaf springs with off-sets for larger wheels/tires, a Panhard bar and solid linked radius arms. The differential was a 4:87 Locker.

The car was completely stripped down with only the original seat in the drivers area, 5 point harness and 4 point roll bar. It came with American Racing Libre wheels and a bunch of standard rims and tires.

It came with a trailer but we had to literally dig it out of the back yard as it had sank to its frame in the mud. We aired up the tires, put the car on the trailer and headed back to Central Wisconsin, keeping our fingers crossed that the car stayed on the trailer and the tires held out til we got home.

When we got home safely, the real inspection began. We picked the car up in November of 1994 so we more or less put it in storage until the spring of 1995. In April 1995 we started looking at it to see what it would need to make it safe to race again. The intention was to get it ready to enter the VSCDA drivers school at BlackHawk Raceway in June. At this point we weren't interested in doing a restoration, just getting it race worthy again. We started with the brake/clutch hydraulic system, rebuilding all the components, installing stainless braided brake hoses, all new brake lines, etc..etc. Once we knew the car would stop we looked at the engine.

After replacing the freeze plugs, checking for leaks etc we fired it up. Unbelievable, it actually ran. It was then I realized this was a "FULL RACE" 948 engine! Encouraged by this we did a little further investigation. We got David Visards bible on the A-series engine and went hunting. Time after time, after reading about some components in Davids book, we would go out into the garage with the thought "boy it would neat to have this part or that part" on or in the engine, only to find it! The engine had to have been built by someone very knowledgeable in this sport. It had the right head casting number, the head was ported and polished to perfection, the cam was correct, the pistons/rods were correct, etc, etc.

We decided that after doing all the required safety related work the car was capable of going to drivers school. It still looked like a junk yard dog, but it sure was quick. We completed the school with hopes of a fun filled vintage race season ahead. Things didn't go according to plan after that. We were not able to enter any other events for various reasons so the summer was quite a disappointment. We did run the car at a few auto-crosses were it did very well, many times beating other more powerful cars, i.e. Porsche 914, Datsun 240Z, etc.

Well here it is, almost Spring 1996 and we are making plans for the Upcoming season. We plan to strip the car down, repaint it and add a few more "go fast" parts so we can go out and beat our old friend Bill Thompson. We have had a long friendly rivalry racing our Austin Healeys and the last time we raced together, Bill beat me by .005/seconds. This has been bothering me since and it is finally time to put him in his proper place. (Second)

I will keep you posted as to the progress. That's all for now!

05-30-96 Hey Les! Just thought I'd drop you a note to let you know what's been done to the 'ol Bug so far this spring. I had originally planned on doing a "quick" restoration, ie new paint, this spring, but did not have the time. That project has been put on hold for the time being. The car will compete again this year as it looked in 1974. (pretty ratty!, many "battle" scars...I call it the "junk yard dog".) What I have been doing is updating the safety related equipment. I had to replace all the safety harnesses this year. A fuel cell was required to compete this year, so a new Fuel Safe cell has been installed along with related fuel pumps, fuel lines, etc. I also installed a new dual line brake system. This was quite frustrating for me as just last year I had completely redone the existing original system. All the new lines I put in last year (most of them anyway) did not fit properly so I had to make new ones. I feel alot better now though as this new system is a VAST improvement over the old original Bugeye master cylinder set up. (A bit of a plug if I may....have been ordering parts from Dick Burger, Brit. Parts Connection..what a delightful experience! Wish I had known about him years ago!) Those were the major projects this spring..throw in all the other "routine" updating/rebuilding etc and I have spent WAY too many hours in the garage! Yesterday, (Sunday before Memorial Day) I finally got the Bug started and running. What a TREAT to hear that sound again! And smell them fumes...nothing beats 115 Octane Racing Fuel! I was glad to see that you are planning to get to Blackhawk Farms Raceway in Mid June. Don't forget...I owe ya a ride and lunch! (and if ya want..a test drive, the difference between a Race Sprite and Street Sprite will scare you! Talk about suspension to speak of, VERY twitchy clutch and of course, the engine is a Beast!, not to mention LOUD) Take care bud, Gary.