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PDLJMPR's Sprite Hall of Fame

PDLJMPR Web Magazine, December 22, 1997

The Story behind "Starbug"
Tom and Suzi Zylla's 1960 Bugeye Sprite



"Starbug" is actually the name of a spacecraft run-a-bout from the British Science-Fiction/Comedy television show, "Red Dwarf." PBS used to show this on a regular basis, and it featured a hapless foursome on some very weird adventures, years into the future, in outer space. We applied the name to our 1960 AN5 Bugeye Sprite because we've had a weird life of Sprite ownerships, and it kinda fits with the theme of taking us on adventures.

This Bugeye is the third Sprite that we have owned. The first one didn't have its own name but it was the first car ever registered to me. I drove that car through High School and the first 10 years that Suzi and I were married. It was Old English White and bone stock. All my friends had their Hot-Rods and van conversions, we had the Sprite. At this point in time, we didn't even know that there were car clubs for this Marque, so we just soldiered on doing our own repairs and using the Sprite as a daily driver. I eventually sold this car to finance a Japanese pick-up truck purchase.

The second Bugeye we had was also OEW and also had no name, but it had a factory hardtop with it, a 1098 under the hood, and after I purchased a MKI Midget and parted it out, wire wheels too! I sold this car and a ‘67 MGB to finance another new Japanese pick-up truck. The Marine I sold the Sprite to couldn't believe the cheap asking price and made a prediction that I would someday own another Sprite. He didn't know how correct his prediction would turn out to be! To this day we have NEVER owned an American car!!

In 1992, while assigned to Naval Air Station, Alameda, CA, I joined an MG club called: Sorry Safari Touring Society. I met some really great enthusiasts and one couple that had this really UGLY Bugeye Sprite that they were going to treat to a frame off restoration. Well to make a long story shorter, They sold me the car in 1995, after finishing the restoration. Their son went professional racing in the Americas Cities Racing League and I guess that the price of the Bugeye probably bought them a set of tires and maybe some track time at Sears Point. Suffice it to say that he has been very successful with his cars, and so have we with ours.

Starbug was delivered to us in Texas in 1995. We got acquainted with the local Austin-Healey club scene and the first event we attended was the 1996 Texas Healey Round-up. This was a very good meet for us. The Car placed in the Popularity show, took us to a 5th place in the Rallye, garnered a second place in the gymkhana and won us the Overall "Grand Competitor" Trophy. A stroke of luck to go with this honor was that Bic Healey was attending this meet prior to his father, Donald, being inducted into the Motor Sports Hall of Fame in Taladega. I have Brian Healey's autograph on the front of the Grand Competitor plaque. Subsequent Round-ups, and other car events saw the Bugeye gathering more trophies for us. How can you not love a winner?

We have since moved back to California, this time to San Diego, where we have joined the local Austin-Healey club and MG club. My MGA is currently in the disassembly stages of a frame off restoration that I'm doing myself. I was recently elected to the position of Activities Director for the MG club of San Diego and since the MGA isn't running, "Starbug" takes us to all the events....for BOTH clubs! We do rallye's, tours, meetings, parades, All British Car Day's, and Cruise- in's with the car. The response of the people at the Hot-Rod events is startling. "I used to have one of those," and "My father wrecked a Bugeye once," are typical reactions to the car. You can't believe how many people actually know what it is when they see it.

Currently, Starbug has a 1275 A+ motor. This is by no means stock anymore either! Inside its cast iron block is a balanced crank, rods and piston assemblage that goes quite well with the Kent fast-road camshaft, Richard Longman hi-flow head, DCOE Weber and LCB header with glass pack exhaust. Ignition is provided by Lucas Sport coil and Mallory dual point distributor. Suspension bushings have been replaced with urethane all the way around and an anti-roll bar has been fitted to the front end. Disc brakes are on the front and a 3.90:1 rear end gear set resides in the differential housing. Starbug also has 4 tops to go on the passenger compartment; The soft top, the hard top, the full tonneau cover, and a newly designed hard tonneau that covers only the passenger side. Lighting is Lucas Tripod headlamps and halogen tail lights. (I want to be seen as well as heard).

The paint is a spacey, MAGIC MISTAKE color. It was supposed to be Mazda Miata green, but when it came back from the painter's, it was a deep steel blue metallic with a pearlescent sheen to it that allows the car to change colors depending on the angle you see it from. Sometimes it looks black, sometimes it's green, or blue, or purple. It is too weird and attention getting to have re-sprayed in a stock color.

While not an actual 40's or 50's Hot-Rod, Starbug does live 2 lives. It's the perfect Little British Car for us, AND the Hot-Rod that we've never owned. He's been clocked at over 95 mph and while that's a bit busy and scary at the same time, it's nice to know that it's capable of that kind of performance, just in case we need it.

I guess that Marine was right when he said that I'd own another Sprite someday. One thing I do know, I won't be selling this one to finance some dumb truck.

Tom & Suzi Zylla
San Diego, California

If you liked Tom & Suzi's Sprite, e-mail them a note and tell them so! - ed