Ex-Ian Walker 1960 Sebring Sprite To Be Auctioned


March 10, 2015 By Mike Lee
Last updated on August 3, 2015

Austin-Healey Sebring Sprite

‘WJB 707’, an ex-Works Sprite first used by Pat Moss and Ann Wisdom on the 1960 Tour de Corse and subsequently rebodied in 1961 as a lightweight ‘Sebring’ by Williams & Pritchard for Ian Walker, is to be offered by H&H Classics at its forthcoming, 15 April auction.

Walker raced the car to great effect in 1961, including a high placing at the Nürburgring 500km as part of John Sprinzel’s ADAC prize-winning ‘Team Sebring’. Legendary Australian Paul ‘Hawkeye’ Hawkins was on the driving roster and is listed as sharing Walker’s super-fast car.

What better backdrop for the little aluminium-bodied streamliner than the magnificent collection of aeroplanes at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford?

Ian Walker, a former Lancaster tail-gunner in WW2 and best known for running ‘the Lotus B team’ throughout the early 1960s, bought the ex-Tour de Corse car direct from the factory. It was to be part of a three-car team run by John Sprinzel in 1961. Each Sprite was bodied by Williams & Pritchard (the go-to North London coachbuilders for Lotus, Lola and Lister) as a streamlined, all-alloy ‘Sebring’. Individual specifications varied, though, and Walker wanted the lightest, most aerodynamic car of all. Steel panelwork was kept to a minimum and even the windscreen was smaller – glass being heavier than aluminium.

Under the bonnet sat a one-litre engine by ace tuner Don Moore. Walker swept all before him in the one-litre class that year, the light, slippery and highly tuned car often finishing hot on the heels of much faster machinery, ‘true greats’ such as Graham Hill’s E-type, Jack Sears’ Ferrari 250 GT SWB and Innes Ireland’s DB4GT Aston.

As part of Sprinzel’s winning Sebring Sprite Team in the 1961 750MC 6 Hour Relay, `WJB 707′ lapped the Silverstone Club circuit faster than the famous ex-Le Mans Austin-Healey 3000 `DD 300′. And in Walker’s able hands it set a class lap record that year at the now defunct Crystal Palace circuit – one that stands today.

Perhaps its finest hour was at the Nürburgring 500km in September 1961 where, pitched against the far more exotic Fiat-Abarths, it helped Sprinzel’s Team Sebring win the ADAC Team Prize. In Ivan McLeod’s 2003 biography of Paul Hawkins, ‘Hawkeye’, Walker later recalled: “Paul and I drove my car, but due to fatigue and illness I only did about five laps (of 22) of the old Nürburgring circuit. Paul did the rest and I believe his was the fastest car in our class…”

In 1962 the car was sold on, and raced for a few more years, even entered in the last-ever BARC race at Goodwood in July 1966. The current vendor bought it that year, enjoying mild competition that included hill climbs and rallies, before putting it away until more recent times when, in 1987, it was entrusted to marque specialist Brian Wheeler who used it as a template to help with the restoration of sister cars ‘S221’ and ‘410 EAO’.

Clearly, its own recommissioning had to wait, as it wasn’t until 2008 that a newly restored `WJB 707′ made it to the Sprite’s 50th birthday celebrations at Goodwood.

Today, the immaculate grey car comes with an extensive history file that includes a letter of provenance from Ian Walker to owner Stephen Bowen dated 14 February 1967. Most of the aluminium panels date back to 1961, save the bonnet, which has been recreated in glassfibre. And under that bonnet lies an Entune Garage-built, 998cc FIA-spec ‘screamer’.

`WJB 707′ is widely acknowledged to be the most original of the four surviving Williams & Pritchard-bodied Sprinzel Sebring Sprites (from five made) and is eligible for many blue riband events worldwide. Estimate: £80,000 – 100,000.

The Sebring Sprite will be joined by many other desirable classic cars, bicycles and motorcycles at H&H Classics’ auction at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, Cambridgeshire on 15 April.