Barn-finds are always fascinating, but this tale is an absolute gem. A recent feature on hagerty.com/media involves Todd Morris telling his story of the restoration of a 1960s Austin-Healey he had no intention of purchasing. Better yet, the car in question turned out to have an extensive SCCA racing origin story, with the Sprite’s first owner duking it out for the win during the 1971 SCCA National Championship Runoffs.
Morris discovered the car rusting away in a North Carolina salvage yard, the SCCA livery catching his eye. Before long, Morris’s friends had convinced him to purchase the car, with the restoration beginning soon thereafter. That process also included exploring the vehicle’s past. As Morris wrote in the story:
“Through research, I discovered the Sprite was owned by a Piedmont Airlines pilot named Johnny Jones, but he never registered it for the street. He bought it and immediately converted it into a race car. He got his SCCA license in 1966 and then raced the car everywhere, almost nonstop, until about 1976. Like everybody else in racing, he had his real job, but his full-time job was racing. Over time, he befriended a lot of significant racing people who respected his track efforts – numerous regional wins and even second in the 1971 SCCA Runoffs, losing out only to his instructor, Randy Canfield.”
While we haven’t confirmed it’s the same car, SCCA’s records show that Jones competed in the Runoffs in 1970, ’71, ’88, and ’89, all in an H Production Austin-Healey Sprite. His best finish was indeed 1971, where he was 16 seconds shy of beating Canfield. That Runoffs gold for Canfield was his second of what ultimately turned into five Runoffs titles. Yes, Jones and this Sprite fell short, but the competition was fierce.
This isn’t just another vehicle restoration story; it’s also a tale of family, as Morris worked on the Sprite for years with his three children. As Morris wrote:
“But in the process, the kids learned how to paint, how to sand, and even learned how to wire the car. They installed the motor and transmission. They loved this car and did a tremendous amount of the work on their own. None of them are as car-minded as I am, frankly, but we spent hours – hundreds of hours – together. Whether it was peaceful or me barking at them, we did it as a family.”
There’s much more to the story, with numerous photos adding to the adventure, so click the link below and read along. Then maybe find a race car of your own to build with your family.
Photo courtesy Todd Morris / Hagerty