Skyler Sisson works his dad’s 1960 Austin-Healey Sprite through the cones at the British Field Day Autocross in Salt Lake City on Aug. 28, 2021. (Brian Champagne)
Editor’s note: This is part of a series at KSL.com featuring some of Utah’s coolest cars. If you own a customized vehicle — from sports cars to semitrucks — email firstname.lastname@example.org with a photo of the vehicle and a brief description for consideration.
SALT LAKE CITY — Beautiful British cars in pristine condition adorned the lawn at Liberty Park the last weekend in August. Well, most were beautiful — there was also Skyler Sisson’s 1958 Austin-Healey Sprite.
Skyler’s love for Sprites, often called Bugeyes, began as a kid growing up in Orem. His dad, Jay, would often talk about the Bugeye he had in high school and how the little two-seater helped him attract the attention of the girl who became his wife.
In 1993, when Skyler was 13, Jay bought a 1961 Sprite in Park City. It was no project car, but ready to show and be driven. Jay took it to shows and Skyler drove it sometimes, including an occasional date. Though, he claims he did not have many dates since he was such a car geek.
Fast forward the flashback to June 2013
After 20 years of ownership, Jay said he was driving along when a kid pulled out in front of him. The Bugeye T-boned the kid’s car in the wheel. Jay had moderate injuries; the Bugeye did not. It was totaled by the insurance company, but Skyler bought it back.
Jay then bought two barn-find Austin-Healey Sprites and some spare parts in St. George. One went to a friend, and a 1958 Bugeye went to Skyler — though it needed de-spidering, de-ratting, and some rust damage fixed. Skyler kept the body distressed, his brother Brock adding a worn-looking No. 2 to the hood and doors.
In just a couple of months in 2014, Skyler moved the good parts from the crashed 1961 model over to the barn-beaten 1958 (Sprites didn’t change much from 1958-1961).
Those good parts included a Mini Mania 1380 engine — the factory original was a 948cc engine making 43 horsepower, less than many motorcycles toda — with higher compression pistons, an aluminum head with bigger valves, and a bigger camshaft with higher lift. Weber carburetors give it all the gas and air it needs now.
Behind the engine are an aluminum flywheel and a slightly more modern transmission with synchronizers for gears two through four. The rear end, shocks and brakes are upgraded from newer models so it handles much better than the 1950s technology it came with. Many small British cars of the day shared parts, so they’re easy to come by.
Skyler pulled what he could of the stock interior from the crashed car; the black vinyl seats came out easier than the carpet, which was glued down. Race cars don’t have carpet anyway.
Flashback stays in 2014.
Just a few months later, Jay bought a 1960 Bugeye from California. Skyler converted the airbag suspension to springs. He had no love for the bright yellow paint and how it went with the tan interior. He was working at a tint and wrap company at the time and convinced his dad to let him do a two-tone wrap to cover it up.
The wrapped 1960 Bugeye has a 1300cc engine mated to a Datsun 5-speed transmission so it can cruise at 75 mph on the freeway.
End flashback — return to Aug. 28.
Father and son showed their Sprites on the lawn at British Field Day, but Skyler also drove them on the small autocross track set up in the middle of Liberty Park. He pushed them hard in the turns, hit the gas on the very small straights, and was the fastest car of the day. Other cars may have been faster than the upgraded Sprites, but they weren’t pushed like Sissons’ vehicle.
Skyler said he has been the fastest driver there for five years. How does he do it?
Begin another flashback.
Skyler races with the Utah Sports Car Club of America, or SCCA. Spending time mostly in Mazda Miatas, he knows how to get around a cone course, racing solo against the clock. The club rents parking lots around the state and times each other to see who can get through twisty courses the fastest.
Back to the present time.
Skyler said anyone can get started racing in the club, driving whatever you drove to work that day as long as it is wider than it is tall. SUVs and minivans don’t race in the same classes as hatchbacks and sports cars.
Serious sports cars are welcome, too. Skyler invited anyone curious about it to just show up at one of their events to watch and maybe ride shotgun through the course.
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