GRR

This racing Sprite was a 17th birthday present

10th April 2022
Adam Wilkins

As 17th birthday presents go, a Sebring Sprite race car has to rate pretty highly. That’s precisely what Charles Clegg unwrapped on the first day he could legally drive on the road, but there would be no L-plates attached to the Sprite. For one thing, it needed rebuilding before it could be driven, and that was a process that would take Charles beyond his 21st birthday.

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The story of this car begins with another Sebring Sprite that Charles’ father Chris bought in the mid-1990s. S221 crashed during the 1963 Nürburgring 500 when a roll damaged the Williams & Pritchard bodywork. It was subsequently repaired with a cheaper Peel Coachworks body, which it carried until the early 1990s. It was then restored by Len Pritchard of W&P, and the Peel body was kept in storage. Fast forward to when Chris bought the car, the Peel bodywork came with it.

Charles’ birthday present was that Peel bodywork and a Sprite on which to fit it. That was 17 years ago, and he spent four years putting it together. While the rebuild was in progress, Charles was simultaneously racing S221 and the intention was always that his own Sprite would be built to FIA HTP specification. For more than a decade, it has been back in its 1962 specification and used regularly in historic motorsport.

“This exact metalwork raced at Goodwood in 1962 and ’63,” says Charles. “At Members’ Meeting in 2016, a gentleman came up to us and said ‘I used to own this’. He came back the next day with a scrapbook of history, including results, photos and press cuttings. He kindly gave me scans of all the pages. Only at Goodwood would that ever happen.”

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Charles has raced at most UK circuits, and sometimes gets to mix it with much more powerful machinery. He recalls a wet race when the conditions allowed him to get the better of some much more senior cars. “I managed to get past a few of them,” he says. “It’s good to mix it up with some big-engined cars with something light.”

He has since progressed to racing V8 powered sportscars, previously a Corvette and more recently a Cobra. So how do they compare from the hot seat? “With the Sprite, you’ve got to keep it in a very narrow band of revs,” says Charles. “Not much happens until you get to 5,000rpm and it’s all between 5,000 and 7,000rpm.

"It’s quite a short wheelbase so you’ve got to use small corrections. It really keeps you awake. Compared to the Corvette and Cobra, this is by far the most tricky car to drive fast. In the Corvette or the Cobra, it’s big powerslides and everything happens quite progressively. With the Sprite every little action counts and I think it teaches you a lot about driving the more senior bits of kits afterwards.”

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We met Charles after practice but before the race at the 79th Members’ Meeting presented by Audrain Motorsport. Unfortunately he only managed about four fast laps before an oil leak caused the clutch to slip, curtailing his efforts to set a time. He managed to qualify 14th out of 28, but reckons a top ten grid place would have been possible otherwise.

That glitch isn’t enough to take the shine off a car that’s guaranteed a life-long place in Charles’ garage. “I’d never sell this car,” he says. “I started the rebuild in the last year of school and carried on with it throughout university.” He was helped by Sebring Sprite expert Brian Archer. “My very limited mechanical skills were learnt with the car,” he says. “It’s very special for personal reasons. It’s a member of the family.”

Photography by Toby Whales.

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  • Sebring Sprite

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