2 August 2011

Our Cars: Matt Lewis's 1969 Austin-Healey Sprite

Hands-on collector car owner loves reaching for his Sprite


Matt Lewis is a fan of all things mechanical. He began working with motor vehicles while at a Harley Davidson dealership parts desk, then moved on to installing custom car audio. That’s when he decided to go to college and earn his mechanics license. Before he came to Hagerty, Matt worked at an “all-in-one shop” that sold/installed auto electronics and truck accessories, and offered automotive detailing, paint restoration and automotive fabrication. His love and knowledge of cars made him a perfect fit for Hagerty.

Title: Private Client Services Account Executive

Years at Hagerty: Five

Car: 1969 Austin-Healey Sprite

Background: I have been into cars since I was a kid, watching all of the great car shows of the ’80s. I began working on cars when I was 16 and could finally drive. My first car was a 1981 Mercury Cougar. It was a four-door two-tone, burgundy and primer grey, with a straight-six engine.

While I was in college, I had a 1998 Honda Civic which I modified inside and out. A few years later, I decided to sell the Civic, since I’d had my fun with it, and turn to something a little more vintage. I took the proceeds from the Civic and purchased the Healey, with money to spare … which I ended up needing for repairs.

Why an Austin-Healey Sprite? I spent a few months looking at listings and specifications of classic cars in the price range of the Sprite, and finally came across this one. Both my wife and I liked the style and uniqueness of the Austin-Healey. I had never owned a classic car before and decided to do something that I’d never done.

Repairs and modifications (completed): Everything I’ve done has been on my own or with the help of a friend:

  • Replaced fuel tank, fuel pump, fuel lines and filter
  • Cleaned carburetors, disassembled and cleaned starter
  • Replaced the plugs, wires, cap and rotor
  • Pulled engine to replace clutch pressure plate, disc and throw out bearing (along with all of the bushings, etc. along the way)
  • Replaced all clutch hydraulics
  • Replaced radiator, radiator mount and coolant hoses
  • Removed and re-shaped grill
  • Replaced all three wipers and blades
  • Disassembled, cleaned and re-greased wiper motor and linkage
  • Fixed mount for front and rear bumpers and realigned both bumpers
  • Replaced steering wheel and turn signal stalk
  • Removed and serviced both the front and rear Armstrong lever shocks
  • Replaced front pads and rotors and replaced front suspension bushings

Repairs and modifications (planned): I plan to replace the seat foam, seat sliders and carpet. I also need to replace the front shocks because the current ones are weeping.

Hobby activities (clubs, events, etc.): I am a member of the Twin Bay British Car Club and typically attend local cruise-ins and shows.

Interesting stories: When we removed the engine and transmission to replace the clutch, we loaded them into the back of my friend’s Jeep Cherokee and sprayed them off at the local car wash. The engine is small enough for one person to pick up.

Favorite drive: I love to take highway M-37, located near Traverse City, Mich., along the Old Mission Peninsula and back. The drive includes beautiful views of West and East Grand Traverse bays on Lake Michigan.

Best and worst moments: My best moment was my first drive in the car after replacing the fuel system and tuning the carburetors.

The worst moment came after I replaced the clutch hydraulic lines and realized that the master cylinder, slave cylinder and throw-out bearing were bad, which required me to spend $600 in parts and pull the engine.

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