It's finally happened. My all-time favorite car, the Austin-Healey "Bugeye" Sprite ("Frogeye" if you're British) has made Rick Cole's "Gold List" of collectible cars.
What this means, says Cole, president of the well-known, California-based Rick Cole Auctions, is that a 1958-61 Bugeye (the only years the A-H Sprite was produced with bulging headlights) that can currently be bought for $5,000-$7,000 (assuming you can find one at all), will bring $10,000-$12,000 in five years.I'm not sure how I feel about this. In some respects, I'm glad the little English two-seat roadster is finally getting the recognition it deserves. Then again, I hate to see it become an "investment" for rich people to speculate on but perhaps with little emotional involvement.
I have a lot of emotional involvement with the Bugeye Sprite. In my senior year in high school, it was the cool car of choice for a certain group, my group. Unfortunately, the best I could afford was a '53 Ford with badly pitted windows from a Mojave dust storm. I got to ride in a lot of Bugeyes, but I never got to own one.
Until 1981, that is. That was the year I saw an ad in the paper for a '59 Bugeye for sale in Layton. The guy had the car in his garage, but the engine and assorted mechanicals were in a half-dozen cardboard boxes. He had started out intending to rebuild the beast but somewhere along the way the project ran out of steam - typical of do-it-yourself restorations.
I bought the basket-case for $1,200, thus relieving the Layton gentleman of his headache while taking on a yearlong migraine of my own.
That's how long it took, along with about $3,000, to get my Bugeye running. And that's when I found out you really can't go home again. The car that you need when you're 18 is not the car that you need when you're 41, married, with children. I drove it on sunny Saturday afternoons for a few months and then sold it to a guy who put it on a truck and took it to L.A.
So why should I care whether the Bugeye makes Cole's Gold List? Well, I don't really intend to buy another one someday, I mean we all get just one midlife-crisis per life, right? Still, I like the idea that maybe if I got absolutely desperate to relive my teen-angel years again, I could go out and pick up another Bugeye without having to put a second mortgage on the house.
But if Cole's right and if Bugeye Fever strikes five years from now, I'll have to pay $12,000 for a 35-year-old car that runs only about half the time, leaks water through the canvas top even when it isn't raining, is noisy and unreliable (Sprites came with Lucas "Prince of Darkness" electrical systems), and requires that you order parts from mail order catalogs that keep your money and then put the parts on back-order.
But, hey, it wouldn't be any fun if it was easy, right?
On the other hand, in five years I will probably be able to buy a used 1990 Mazda Miata for thousands less than what Cole says Bugeyes will be going for by then. The Miata wouldn't make up for my not having a Bugeye in high school but, come to think of it, high school wasn't that great anyway.