1961 Austin-Healey Sprite Two-Seat Grand Touring Coupe Registration no. 1413 WD Chassis no. AN5 47402
During its postwar-revival years from 1949, the Automobile Club de l'Ouest's majestic Le Mans 24-Hour race became the international motor industry's biggest single prize. Apart from a brief triumph in 1950, homegrown French manufacturers were starved of success there. As the indigenous industry declined, so the ACO offered ever more attractive inducements for French blue success. Their Index of Thermal Efficiency competition, gave the predominantly French entrants and drivers of small engined cars a great chance to enjoy their moments on the finish podium. This Indice was decided by a complex formula, comparing fuel efficiency over distance covered during the 24-hours against the fuel used and the weight of the vehicle in question. The monetary prize was most attractive and for many years this Indice Energetique at least guaranteed that the French had a home victory to celebrate...
By 1961 Ecurie Ecosse's fortunes were in relative decline. Their halcyon Jaguar era had passed, and the brief flowering of the Tojeiro and Lister-Jaguars had not quite brought the success for which David Murray and his backers had hoped. So for Le Mans in 1961 former D-Type winner Ninian Sanderson and a young new Glaswegian driver named Bill Mackay were entered by Ecurie Ecosse to share little 998cc Austin-Healey Sprite, UK road-registered '1413 WD'.
The car had been prepared originally by the Donald Healey Motor Company to contest the Sebring 4 Hours race in March 1961, a supporting event for the traditional World Championship-qualifying Sebring 12 Hours. The car had emerged with a standard 'frog-eye' bonnet and was entrusted in the Floridan race to multiple SCCA Champion Driver, Walt Hansgen of Cunningham team Jaguar and Lister-Jaguar fame. His little 'Sebring' Sprite finished most honourably in third place behind a pair of Abarths, and leading home no fewer than five sister Sprites whose drivers included none other than Stirling Moss, his sister Pat, Bruce McLaren, Paul Hawkins, Briggs Cunningham and Dr Dick Thompson. The third-placed Sprite was then shipped back to the Healey Motor Company's factory at The Cape, Warwick, where it was noticed by David Murray upon a visit there to his old friend Donald Healey. Murray had reputedly already entered his team's Cooper Monaco for the Le Mans 24-Hours and now the notion of bidding for the lucrative Indice with that little Sebring Sprite really appealed to him. Healey agreed to adapt the car further to meet Le Mans conditions, modifying it with a streamlined nose featuring fared-in headlights and a lengthy aluminium hardtop. Both features were intended to improve maximum speed along the Sarthe circuit's three-mile Mulsanne Straight.The car was to be run in Ecurie Ecosse's Flag Metallic Blue livery, co-driven by Sanderson/Mackay. The 23-year-old newcomer, son of an eminent surgeon living in Glasgow's fashionable Kelvinside, was a very promising racing yachtsman who had begun driving cars in competition only a few weeks after passing his public driving test. He was employed at a garage and began his motor racing career by sprinting an Austin-Healey 100S that the business provided. He showed such promise that he was then given the opportunity to drive an Aston Martin DB3S followed by one of the Ecosse Jaguar D-Types. Looking back upon Le Mans 1961 he would confide that "The Sprite wasn't a bad car at all, and was very easy to drive, but nobody had a good word to say about it because Ecurie Ecosse was known for big cars...".
Its delivery to the team was delayed by the last-minute nature of the entry and of modifications to the car. They only received it actually at Le Mans immediately before practice began for the 24-Hour race. The ACO scrutineers were their usual demanding selves, in the Sprite's case insisting that its engine number should be punched into the cylinder block rather than merely into the identity plate attached thereupon. Sadly, after team driver Bruce Halford had broken his leg crashing the team's Cooper Monaco in the Dunlop Curve, even worse struck the Ecurie Ecosse Sprite, as Bill MacKay lost control on the wet White House Bend, the car spun into the retaining bank and rolled...
Bill Mackay was pinned inside the wrecked car with broken cervical vertebrae, further spinal damage and a crushed arm, plus multiple burns and contusions. He admits to having been "in a bad way". Upon hearing of the accident, his surgeon father flew to France to supervise life-saving surgery before his son could be brought back to Glasgow. Recovery occupied the next 11 months with some 15 major procedures, but Bill MacKay subsequently returned to competitive sport, rallying an MGB and achieving further success yacht-racing.
The damaged Sprite had been returned to the Donald Healey Motor Company in Warwick, and after being stripped of high-value salvage it was "left for dead" in their factory yard. Working for a neighbouring engineering company was a young man named Roy Lane. He was destined to become multiple RAC British Hill-Climb Championship driver, and looking back upon his competition career he would explain how he looked over the dividing fence into Healey's yard one day and noticed a damaged car lying there. Making enquiries he discovered it was the ex-Ecurie Ecosse Le Mans Sprite which had been mangled in an accident there in 1961. He would explain: "I had a word with Geoff Healey who agreed to sell me the bits and supply me with the parts to rebuild it, but they wanted to keep the streamlined nose. I bought a very special close-ratio gearbox from them, and took my time repairing the car. I had no money and no engine, so I picked up an old A40 unit, read-up about engines and built it up myself. I raced it for the first time in late 1963 and became quite successful. I eventually sold it to Richard Groves and bought a Lotus 11 instead...".
Richard Groves raced the car sporadically until 1970 before it sold into relative obscurity, seeing little further public use. It seems probable that some time around the early 1970s the majority if not all of the rebuilt, modified and developed car was scrapped while its chassis plate and registration identity survived. Whatever was there were supposedly located in Essex by Austin-Healey enthusiast Trevor Jarrett, and subsequently acquired by American Ron Scoma, who also collected some other Austin-Healey Sprite parts said to have been brought to the US during the DHMC's 1961 Sebring 4-Hours foray.
Mr Dick Skipworth acquired this identity/entity from Ron Scoma to join his growing Ecurie Ecosse Collection in the late 1990s. It all arrived "...as a pile of bits in a packing case" most crucially providing the original Ecosse Le Mans Sprite's chassis plate, serialled 'AN5 47402'. As Dick Skipworth relates: "Lynx remade the aluminium hardtop and bonnet while I rebuilt the rest. So now we have a car that absolutely looks the part, has the right numbers, but is a re-creation of that 1961 Le Mans Sprite entered and raced by Ecurie Ecosse ". The car is entirely accepted for Historic competition, and its current vendor has competed in it at two Goodwood Revival Meetings and won an award at the 2008 Le Mans Classic. It is fitted currently with one of the highly desirable Swiftune 1275cc or thereabouts Austin-Healey Sprite engines which with twin-choke Weber carburetion married to a close-ratio gearbox make this a very lively little car indeed. The period-style 998cc engine with twin-SU carburetion and spare gearbox are also being offered with this Lot.
As an entirely distinctive small-capacity Historic Grand Touring car this very special Austin-Healey Sprite with its 1961 Sebring 4-Hour and Le Mans 24-Hour background and character is most attractive. It promises highly competitive motor racing in capable hands and, above all, it is offered here as this entire Collection's most eminently affordable Ecurie Ecosse car.