Gas03092 - 31 August 2003 - Keith's Cars (first published
in the snail mail Classical Gas in September 2002). Page finally completed and
re-published on 3rd January 2003.
Cars I have Owned
In this case the tense of the title isn’t really right as Keith still owns all
the cars featured in this article! Racing, Rallying, Autotesting,
Classic’s,PCT’s – Keith has done it all with his Mk One Sprite’s
It was only last year that I discovered that Keith Pettit’s well-prepared
“Frogeye” Sprite looked different on Autotests to when it was trialling. I soon
discovered the simple reason, Keith has not one, but two, of these British
Racing Green machines. He also has another classic “A series” motor, his trials
prepared A35. Very soon I was on the phone, asking Keith if he would be the next
subject of my “cars I have owned” feature. He agreed and we got together with my
tape recorder and his photo albums during lunch at Falcons July Autotest.
Frog's early trialling was mostly at PCT's. This first
picture looks like it was taken at Tring Park.
The Cotswold Clouds in the snow.
MSAC Social Climbers – 1st Novice
Weavers Down PCT – 1st Class
ACSMC PCT – Class 3 Winner
Lands End – 2nd Class
ACSMC – Class 4 Winner
ACSMC – PCT Class 6 Winner
Lands End – Best in Class Four
FTD – Singer Owners Autotest
Chase Clouds – 1st Class
ACTC – Mike Stephens Award
Exeter – Class 5 Winner
Lands End – Best in Class Five
Edinburgh – Best in Class Five
An un-known PCT venue
The Edinburgh, probably Wolfscote
Keith bought his first Sprite, 820 NPK, known as Frog, back in
1975 when he was just 17 years old. It soon took to the hills as a Trials Car
when Keith took part in PCT’s forming part of the local ACSMC championship. Many
of these took place on rough army land, good practice for it’s MCC début on the
1979 Lands End when Keith was very happy to win a 2nd
class award, as a Silver was known in those days.
Keith continued to concentrate on PCT’s, his Classic career
confined to an annual excursion on the Lands End at this stage. These were not
without success though and Keith was the class 4 winner in 1982 (not class 5 -
remember the class structure was different in those days). In between PCT’s
Keith started autotesting, taking a number of FTD’s, before giving Frog a major
re-build in 1983, prior to making a serious assault on the Classic’s in 1985.
This was pretty successful, resulting in a class win on the Chase Clouds in 1985
before obtaining a coveted MCC Triple in 1986, along with the ACTC’s Mike
Stephens award. This was a very full season for Keith and from an old copy of
“Four Wheels Out” I see he competed in the Clee Hills, Chase Clouds, Kyrle and
Exmoor Clouds in addition to the three MCC events and a full season of circuit
Although continuing with the MCC events Keith’s trials career
now started to take a back seat as the smooth tarmac of the racing circuit
beckoned. In the winter of 82/83, Keith had bought another Frogeye Sprite that
was so much of a “basket case” that it had to come home on his truck. The
registration number of this second car was 3189 AH, but it soon picked up the
affectionate name of “Toad”.
|Toad has been extensively raced and
rallied. From the Top – Trying a little to hard at Brands.
Yumping at Epynt while rallying.
Started Racing in MG Series
1st Overall – Coronation Rally
1st Overall – Austin Healey Racing Championship
3rd in Class – Austin Healey Racing Series
Pirelli Classic Marathon
Circuit of Ireland Retrospective
Rally Britannia – 2nd Class
Circuit of Ireland Retrospective – 1st Class
Toad had Aero Screens and Wide Wheels for the Austin Healey series.
Rounding one of the many Alpine hairpins on the Pirelli Marathon
The previous owner had started restoring it, and done some of
the welding, but there was a lot for Keith to do to finish it. He paid a lot of
detailed attention to the sills, box sections and prop shaft tunnel as these are
the main structure in a Sprite, so important in an open car without a roof to
brace things properly! Keith also put on new repair arches, another very
important structural part of the car. The suspension turrets were in pretty bad
shape and the radiator mountings had gone as well so Keith still had a lot of
welding to do to get the car in the condition it is in today.
Keith kept his original Frog in trials trim while his new
acquisition, Toad, took to the racetrack in the MG Car Club Midget Series.
Keith’s first ever race was at Brands Hatch and in true trials tradition he
scorned a trailer and drove the car to and from the meeting, although later in
it’s track career it did sneak the occasional ride on the back of the businesses
The new Austin Healey Series followed the MG championship in
1985. There were four classes. Two for “big” Healey’s, modified and un-modified,
and two for Sprites where Keith competed in the un-modified class and was
overall champion. Pursuing the AH championship involved around 8 races taking in
most of the British circuits, of which Brands was Keith’s favourite, with
Donnington second. The following year Keith was third in his class before
packing up racing because of the ever increasing cost and taking up Historic
Rallying in Toad.
When he finished racing Keith changed the suspension for
rallying, fitting different springs to raise the suspension and replacing the
special Spax’s with standard shocks because of the regulations. Keith’s first
rally with Toad was actually during his first year of racing, the 1984
Coronation Rally with Robert Ellis in the passengers seat and the came first
With navigator Richard Dalton, Keith competed in the Historic
rally championship for 3 or 4 years. Including the Rally Britannia, which was
run at the same time as the RAC over some of the same stages. One of Keith’s
favourites was over in Ireland where he competed in the Circuit of Ireland
retrospective, which was a really good event, and Keith won a first class award
One of the highlights of Keith’s Historic Rallying was the 88
Pirelli Classic Marathon, starting at Tower Bridge the route went down to
Cortina in Italy and back. There were stages at Spa and Monza and an exciting
trip over the Stelvio pass where the engine got really hot. The evening
entertainment was pretty special as well, including a dinner amongst the cars at
the Sclumff museum. The event finished at The RAC Club in Pall Mall after a
final stage at Crystal Palace. The added excitement was that all this took place
on Keith’s honeymoon as he had just got married!
Keith’s last Historic Rally was the 1993 Rally Britannia, after
this the rules changed, mandating a steel bonnet. This would have made Toad far
to heavy for the power output of the engine. Faced with the necessity to up-rate
the power output, with the risk of unreliability, plus family commitments, Keith
decided to call it a day, gave Toad a much needed re-spray before
semi-retirement, just bringing him out for the occasional autotest.
Throughout it’s racing and rallying career Toad’s specification
was very much determined by the championship it was competing in. In the MG
series Toad ran on standard width wheels with either the hood up or a hard top.
With the move to the AH series it was allowed to run with wider tyres and an
Aero screen. When the Austin Healey series started in 1985 the body had to be
kept standard so flared arches and so on were definitely out.
Toad had been running a 1275 lump for racing, which in fact is
exactly the same engine it has today. Originally the 1275 motor was allowed by
later the rules were changed mandating use of the original engines so Keith
fitted a 948, which he used for around four years. As you can imagine Keith has
become quite knowledgeable about “A series” engines over the years. Toad has a
gas flowed head, a 731 cam from the Midget Series and this motor has always ran
well. Carburettors are still the twin 1 ¼ SU’s from its racing days.
All the time Toad was racing and rallying the Frog was still
being trialled pretty regularly. Frog has had a pretty full life in Keith’s
ownership. As mentioned earlier he gave it a pretty major body rebuild about 3
years after he bought it as the wheel arches were starting to go, necessitating
quite a bit of welding. Like many trials cars Frog has had quite a bit done to
it to keep it going, with several attacks on the sill sections and a major job
on reinforcing the rear arches and boot where the weight bouncing about in the
back had threatened to start a crease.
Originally Frog had a steel bonnet and was used with that for
MCC events and PCT’s before tackling other Classics with a Glass Fibre front
end. Like with all Trials cars there have been lots of changes to the springs,
involving raising the suspension with supplementary coil springs replacing the
bump stops. This gives about another 1 ½ inches of ground clearance and can
easily be removed for PCT’s. The front is the normal wishbones but with Imp rear
springs to raise it up.
In the early days of trialling Keith spent a lot of time
underneath changing diffs before fitting the modified Ford Internals that most
Midget people went to about ten years ago. This involves keeping the Leyland CWP,
but replacing the sun and planets with Ford components. This has proved to be
extremely reliable, even with only two planet wheels. Before this he broke a lot
of planet wheels (which he used to re-build) the record was the year when he
broke ten and won the ACTC Tractor Tug Trophy!
The A35 came more recently. It’s competition début was in 1997.
Keith had owned the car for about 4 years previously, but it lay fallow while he
enlarged the garage to accommodate the additional member of the family. It was
built it in a year and competed on the Lands End with the family before tackling
The March Hare and The Edinburgh where the prop shaft broke because the bodies
of the coil-overs were bending and twisting. This caused the axle to rotate,
straining the UJ, which of course protested and broke. This sent Keith back to
the drawing board. He has now changed things to prevent re-occurrence but the
car has not yet re-emerged in competition although it gets used on the road
Keith is still enjoying his motoring and has lots of ideas for
his cars for the future. I didn’t ask him, but I doubt very much if any of them
are for sale!
The chamber pot put to good use while
changing Frogs diff
Toad with some of the silverware