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PDLJMPR's Sprite Hall of Fame

PDLJMPR Web Magazine, June 1, 1996
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Frank Patella's 1969 MKIV Sprite
26 Years of Original Ownership!

Click on any of the following images for a full-size view
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It was a love affair at first sight. It was 1962; I was just out of high school. I had seen these cars, but after a friend bought one, I was hooked. I had to have one. After the Navy / Vietnam, I finished college and wound up working in Galveston, Texas in 1969. As soon as I was set up, I finally got mine. It had a few improvements over the one I had dreamed about. It actually had roll up windows instead of side curtains. The convertible top was attached to the car, this made it really easy to drop that top. I was a real convertible man the first five years. I think the top was "up" about 10 times (when it was raining hard). These cars are not for the long of leg. Other cars of the time had all kinds of frou-frous like courtesy lamps, a horn button on the center of the steering wheel, this car which was named "Shirley" had none of these. The first thing I did was to install a disappearing antenna into the rear fender as I had seen too many broken off. Everybody wants to sit on this car. I guess it sits so low, it bekons those around it to use it as a chair. If anyone had told me I would keep this car for 25 years+, I would have said "no way".

After 16 years of commuting use, I decided it was time for a refurbishing effort. The rust of being near the coast was the first problem to be tackled. It took me about four months of on/off work to scrape, sand, cut, and grind off and repair the affected areas. At the same time, I began pulling the car into what seemed like a bezillion parts, carefully boxing and categorizing them to facilitate the refit. Soon, my house was full of stacks. How can so much stuff come off of such a tiny vehicle? I removed the folding top, discarded the rag; sanded and painted the top bars. My engine block only needed a resealing as compression was ok. I used to change the oil every 1000 miles. I know this helped.

Replacement included: fan belt, hoses, seals on the windows/ windshield, trunk, heater box, etc. The generator and starter were rebuilt and repainted in original mint green. The universal joints were replaced and the drive shaft painted. I did this job "my way". The book says to remove the engine/transmission to do the u-joints. You do not have to do this, as it is possible on the MKIV to extricate and replace the drive shaft over the differential. The clutch/pressure plate/throwout bearing were replaced along with new or reseal kits on the clutch/brake hydraulic system. Dot 5 silicon brake fluid is "the answer" for frozen cylinders. After buying numerous sets of hydraulic cylinders, I went to silicon fluid. Hard to bleed out, but well worth it. Now I have trouble free hydraulics. The most dramatic change after the refurbishment was the new springs front and rear. Wow! Rebuilt shocks, a front end kit with trunnion bushings and rubber rebound bumpers, and a sway bar completed the suspension. The fuel tank sender was busted, so I had to remove the fuel tank and resolder it. While I was at it, the tank was derusted, primed, painted and undercoated. The whole undercarriage was undercoated also to deaden the road noise.

I had never painted a whole car before, but the guy at the PPG store said I probably could. I thought I would try the priming to see how that turned out first. Well with some confidence, it is my opinion that almost anyone can paint a car with good preparation and patience and just modest equipment. Growing up with almost everybody doing their own mechanicals, almost no one would think of tackling a paint job. Since doing my own paint job, I have painted cars for friends. I hope these words can help someone else to gain the courage to paint their own. It is much more satisfying "to do it yourself". The paint was carefully choosen to match the original but in acrylic urethane. I did not use a clear coat because I wanted the car to look original.

I replaced the carpet, shift knob with one of those walnut jobs, shift boot, and painted the clutch/brake pedals for good measure. New points and banjos for my electric fuel pump got it going again. That old mechanical voltage regulator was replaced too. Rebuilding and resynchronizing the twin su's was time consuming and tedious, but not hard. A new Lucas sport coil and thermostat completed the engine section. Almost every gasket and rubber bushing like motor mounts were replaced that I could find.

This was not a restoration, just what I like to call a refurbishment. In 1969, this car cost $2024. In 1985-87, receipts show @$2000 to refurbish. This shows a car in pretty good shape can be refurbished with top, interior, tires, paint, and suspension to look ok with a small budget if you do the work yourself. Bye the bye, I thought of taking pictures for the before, but at the time, I simply couldn't see why anyone would want to look at a swaybacked/rusty car! Thanks for the soapbox.

F.P., Esq.

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