One of my earliest motor racing memories was my Dad taking me to Brands Hatch for the first time. Our family car at the time was a little grey A30 in which we would somehow squeeze my parents, four of us children and a dog. I was fascinated to see a saloon car race in which a very similar A35, painted bright red, crawled all over much bigger machinery including Jaguars and finally came across the finish line, the winner. The driver was, of course, John Sprinzel.
John was born in Berlin in October 1930 and celebrated his 80th birthday in October last at his home in Hawaii. His family moved to England in 1933 and he was educated at Christ's College, Finchley and at the Regent Street Poly. Initially apprenticed as a printer, he then went into the RAF for his National Service and trained as a pilot. He returned to become Production Manager in a printing firm until in 1957 he founded Speedwell with Len Adams and George Hulbert ~ modifying A.35s and Morris Minors before moving on to Sprites. In 1959 he sold his share in the company to Graham Hill having been offered a job by the Donald Healey Motor Company as Manager of "Special Equipment" ~ modifying Sprites for race, rally and for fast-road use. When Healeys decided the London end of the operation was not paying, John bought that part of their business and set up on his own as John Sprinzel Racing. He went on to produce the successful Sebring Sprite Coupé with Paul Hawkins using Williams and Pritchard's alloy bodywork. The car were raced by David Seigle-Morris, Ian Walker, Paul Hawkins, Vic Elford, Douglas Wilson-Spratt, Brian Culcheth, and others. Paddy Hopkirk, John Watson and many others were early Speedwell and Sprinzel Sprite winners. John Sprinzel won the British Rally Championship with a Sprite in 1959 and Brian Harper followed suit in a Sprinzel-prepared car the following year.
John's hobbies as a young man were basketball and water polo as well as squash. Later on he took up windsurfing ~ actively. His first race was grass tracking a "Red Hunter" Ariel in 1949 with which he came 3rd. His first rally was with an A30 on the 1955 RAC rally when he was 6th in class, and his first car race was at Goodwood, on Whit Monday in 1957, when he took his A35 to an outright win.
Major Sprite Events:
|May 1958||Alpine Rally||Co-DriverNavigator||Class win||with a works Sprite|
|1958||London Rally||Willy Cave||outright winner|
|1959||Monte Carlo Rally||Willy Cave||12th overall||(works)|
|1959||Liege-Rome-Liege||Stuart Turner||9th Overall|
|1960||Sebring||John Lumkin||1000cc class win||in DHMC Sprite|
|1960||Liege-Rome-Liege||John Patten||3rd overall||Sebring Sprite (see 2214UE)|
|1960||German Rally||3rd in class||(just a week after the Liege, in the same car!)|
|Nov 1960||RAC Rally||Dick Benstead-Smith||2nd overall|
|1960||European Rally Championship||6th overall||with a Sprite.|
Thereafter John drove in rallies until 1973, with mostly private Sprites and Midgets, but professionally with Triumph as Team Captain for 2 years, with Rover for one year, and independently for Saab, Mercedes, Peugeot, etc. His best, and favourite result during this time was coming 4th overall on the Safari Rally in a private Mercedes 190. He did the London to Sydney in a Spridget with Roy Fidler lying in 10th place, and leading private entrant, when a stub axle broke on the final night in New South Wales.
1958-9: With Speedwell Conversions ~ Speedwell Sprite's development with Len Adams, George Hulbert, and Graham Hill. Cars had considerable success with drivers such as John Venner-Pack, Paddy Hopkirk, etc.
1959-60: With Donald Healey Motor Co. Development and homologation of "Sebring" Sprite (Wilson-Spratt had one of the first and went on to develop it into the WSM road car).
1960 on: With John Sprinzel Racing. Sebring homolgation was further developed with his own company. The car was accepted as a 'production sports car' by SCCA (USA). 1961: Stirling Moss, Pat Moss and Paul Hawkins drove team cars at Sebring. Ian Walker and Paul Hawkins raced in the UK championships and held the lap record for the class at EVERY British circuit. The team also won the Manufacturers Team Prize in the Nurburgring 500 kms race and were successful in European Sports Car Races at many major circuits: Clermont Ferrand, Spa, etc.
1969/70: Planned, with John Brown as assistant, the World Cup Rally route from London to Mexico ("just to see what organising events was like....quite satisfying but not nearly as much fun as competing").
After competing John Sprinzel combined a successful career as a freelance journalist on motoring (with The Times, Mirror, Telegraph, Safety Fast, Motoring news, etc) until the demise of Collectors Car.
He has published three books : Modified Motoring, Sleepless Knights, and Spritely Years (the latter with Tom Coulthard) and is currently working on a fourth, for 2012. He also ghosted several others, and has contributed to Autocourse and Auto Year. For 3 years he was "World of Sport" commentator on rallycross (a sport which Raymond Baxter created under a name which Sprinzel invented). John retired to a smallholding in Northamptonshire, to run a small animal food business, learnt to wind-surf in 1979, sold up, moved to Corfu to run a windsurfing school (which is now also in Turkey) and to compete in windsurfing in National and International events including in three world championships.
He lived for a while on a yacht in the Aegean in summer and in Hawaii during the European winter, and regular competed in Windsurf Slalom races to maintain his competitive adrenalin. He is married to Caryl who also surfs - and (he jokes) drives better than he does!!
The following is in John's own words:
"Whilst driving for the BMC Rally team in 1957, I was asked to write a book on tuning the 'A' Series engine, and as a result managed to spend time with the production prototype Sprite which featured in 'Modified Motoring'. By coincidence the Alpine Rally cars for the team included three Sprites ~ on the weekend of their announcement, two Abingdon 'works' cars (driven by Ray Brooks and myself), and one DHMC car driven by Tommy Wisdom. We managed to take the first three places in class ~ which was the Sprite's (and my own) first class-win on the international rally scene. At the time I was developing the Speedwell Sprite with George Hulbert and Len Adams (later joined by Graham Hill) which also had a great deal of competition success, with drivers including Paddy Hopkirk, John Watson, John Venner-Pack et al. During 1958 I won the London Rally outright with the same Mark 1 Sprite, registered PMO 200 ~ one of a series of works Healey/Abingdon registration numbers. I had bought the car and kept the number thereafter.
In the January of 1959, the same Sprite (actually one of the first production batch) was second in the GT category and 12th overall in the Monte Carlo Rally ~ running in standard production GT trim ~ which meant it had VERY basic tuning only. We rallied it all through '59 as a Speedwell development car, and with the first 'modified' bonnet came ninth overall (with Stuart Turner as co-driver) on the mighty Liege-Rome-Liege.
After this I sold my share of 'Speedwell' to Graham Hill, keeping PMO, and joined the Donald Healey Company as speed equipment manager in London ~ with Jim McManus ~ was joined by Paul Hawkins as works manager, and we set about developing the production Sebring Sprite. I drove Donald's fibreglass Falcon-bodied Sprite to a class win at Sebring with John Lumkin, but a broken arm prevented me (they wouldn't allow a plastered arm) from driving the car with Colgate to the Le Mans class win (John Dalton took my spot). Undeterred, I borrowed a left-hooker Sprite, put my transmission and lump in it, and took it on the Alpine Rally (as always with Willy Cave) and we were leading the class and well-placed when the gearbox broke on the LAST special stage.
Domestic Sprite rallying gave me the British Rally Championship and the B.T.R.D.A Gold Star Championship (this was the last year before the Motoring News Championship began).
Outings in 1960, with the Sprite, gave success in the Tulip and German Rallies plus a 3rd overall in the Liege (behind Pat Moss's winning Healey) and a 2nd overall on the RAC Rally (behind Erik Carllson's Saab) which meant a 6th overall in the European Rally Championship...
In 1961, I bought the Speed Equipment Division from Donald, as his firm was planning to move out of London, and opened up in Lancaster Mews with Paul Hawkins...where we developed the Sebring in full alloy-bodied trim. This was recognised as a production model by the Sports Car Club of America, and also homologated by me as a standard production GT by the FIA, so the Sprinzel 'Sebring' became a legal production car. We built six lightweight alloy cars, two for me, and one each for David Seigle-Morris, Ian Walker, Cyril Simson, and David Harris. A seventh was later built for Douglas Wilson-Spratt, and he developed it into the first of the WSMs. We then built over a hundred more variations (105 in all) so this may explain the large number of claims to be 'original'.... many had the optional equipment specification bodywork ~ which was the standard shell with a William and Pritchard plastic bonnet. Only the first six had W & P alloy tops, and only my original 'racer' had the prototype alloy bonnet. We raced the team all over Europe with Ian, Paul and Cyril taking class wins everywhere and also the Manufacturer's Cup at the Nurburgring 500 kms race.
Stirling and Pat Moss raced them at Sebring, and the Sebrings held the lap record at every UK circuit they competed at for their class ~ which was some feat for what was a very inexpensive and basic production car.
I continued to build, prepare and compete with, the cars until my retirement in 1973. The last, and certainly most frustrating bit of notoriety I gained, was with Roy Fidler on the London to Sydney Rally in which we were actually leading the private owners' category, and were in the top dozen cars in the rally when we arrived in New South Wales on the last evening, when a stub axle broke. Although we did arrive in Sydney the glory was tarnished".