- The Midget packs a whole lot of box sections into its small frame, and rust is always worse than it appears. Unless councours, they’ll be rust!
- The Midget had no chassis, and the monocoque structure depends on the sills and transmission tunnel linking front and rear bulkheads. Sill rot starts at the front (look behind the side trims in the front footwells), and is usually quite advanced by the time the bottom of the A-posts are bubbling.
- Cover sills are definitely bad news, indicating total sill replacement is needed. This is a timeconsuming job that’s not cheap either.
- Door gaps should be good, fairly uniform. If anything is catching, you need to ascertain whether the hinge is worn, the A-post is rotten or the sills have been replaced without bracing shell.
- Poke around the rear spring hangers, as rust can be hidden by underseal below and glued-down carpets above. Get underneath to check…
- Timing chain rattle on A-Series engines does not spell imminent failure, but will rob you of power.
- A knock from cold means the big end bearings are worn. This is most likely on the 1500 engines, whose bottom end is not the strongest. Check these too for end float, revealed by a crankshaft pulley that moves when the clutch is depressed.
- Straight-cut first and reverse gears on pre-1500 cars will whine, but a rattle indicates an overhaul is due soon. Jumping out of second gear indicates that it is due NOW!
- Any Midget is lively and buckety, but if the front end feels floaty and wanders, budget on a full front suspension overhaul.
- Poor interior trim is merely a bargaining tool, as it is cheap and freely available.
Feels faster than it is. Great classic handling makes up for lack of go
If you can put up with the crude, cramped cockpit, it’s almost a daily driver
Superb aftermarket and specialist support; plus is a DIYer’s dream
Smiles per mile guaranteed; no other sports car is so cheap to own
Look at the MG as a cheap Lotus/Caterham 7 and they’re a bargain!
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Former Hot Car staffer and Cars & Car Conversions editor Paul Davies explains why he’s owned so many of them!
The Midget story really begins with the Austin-Healey ‘Frogeye’ Sprite of 1958. This no-frills sportster made the best of its A35 and Morris Minor running gear, to provide more smiles per mile than just about any other car on the road. After three years of production, though, it was time for an update, and so Healey redesigned the front end, MG tackled the rear and a new Austin-Healey Sprite MkII and MG Midget MkI were born. Running in tandem with the Sprite, the Midget was supposedly the more upmarket alternative. After BL’s agreement with Healey ended, the car became known simply as the Austin Sprite and was soon killed off completely, in 1972, leaving the Midget to carry on until the end of the decade.
Which model to buy?
Like it or not, the MG Midget we celebrate here will always live in the shadow of the Sprite, even if the MG was the ‘de-luxe’ model – if you can count a little bit of chrome down the side as ‘de-luxe’. Even so, fifty years ago marque loyalty meant a lot and owners were either in one camp or another, fiercely guarding their respective heritages. Me? I swithered, owning two Sprites and one Midget, and driving countless others as press road test cars as the Spridget range developed. From now on, though, we’ll only talk MG. That first modern Midget of 1961 was a true successor to the MG sports cars – themselves originating from Morris saloons of the 1930’s. It was small (tiny now) and, by virtue of its light weight, offered a blend of nimble handling and lively performance, despite an engine of just 948cc and 46bhp. That engine was a twin carb version of the unit, found in the Austin A35. The front suspension was (modern) independent with a lower wishbone and coil
springs, the rear a live axle suspended on quarterelliptic springs. Dampers, all round, were of the Armstrong lever type (the front also formed the top suspension arm link) and drum brakes were standard. Steering, importantly, was pin-sharp rack-and-pinion, pinched from the Morris Minor.
From ’61 onwards, Midget specification varied very little. After just 12 months production, BMC slotted in the larger 1098cc A-Series and raised power by 10bhp. With no other significant changes, it made for a much livelier car. However, the longer stroke engine was a bit fragile. In 1964 another model came along (we’ll call it the Mk1.5 but MG didn’t) with a stronger version of that engine. Crucially, this model now boasted front disc brakes. Proper door handles and wind-up windows came with the Mk2 Midget, of 1964. You also got plusher seats and a revised facia and a standard heater. On the mechanical side, the Mk2 ditched those rear quarter elliptic springs for longer, and more efficient, half elliptics, but it was hardly advanced engineering. The Midget was growing up (no doubt the rival Triumph Spitfire was an influence) but, at the same time, it lost some of its character. The roadster-style hood (which stowed in the boot) went in 1966 when the Mk3 debuted, to be replaced by a convertible affair, which swung back into a well between the space behind the seats and the boot. (We used to get an extra passenger sitting sideways, knees under chin, in that space, but with the hood change the facility was lost.) Good news for the Mk3 was the introduction of a 1275cc engine. The bore and stroke the same as the iconic Cooper S, but without the special bits. The Midget of 1969 (still a Mk3) was little more than a face-lift of the previous model. The final fling came in 1974, but at this point the car loses its heritage. Crash requirements and emission regs in the USA (always a big market for the Midget) dictated a raised ride height, black plastic deformable bumpers, and a ‘lean burn’ version of the 1493cc engine used in the Triumph Spitfire. So, what’s the best buy? I did promise a choice, so here goes. First off, I’m for the last of the Mk1 models, the one with the ‘10CC’ version of the 1098cc engine, the front discs, but still the roadster hood and the sliding sidescreens. Here you’ve got the simplicity of the first BMC Midget, along with the best engine to date, with a better-braking bonus. Second choice homes in on the first of the 1275cc models, the Mk3 of 1966 to 1969 with the chrome bits. Here you’ve got an engine that – with big carbs, a modified head, road/race camshaft, and extractor exhaust – can give 100bhp without risk of implosion, along with improved half-elliptic rear suspension. You’re also likely to get the often-fitted wire wheel option, rather than the rather tacky Ro-Styles.
Behind the wheel?
Simple and pure fun, Midget feels like a cut-price Seven
Getting in and out of a Midget can be a trifle undignified until you learn the technique, especially on the chromebumpered cars which sit an inch lower than the 1500. In all versions you sit extremely low down, so headroom is surprisingly ample. On the other hand, it does mean that the exhaust is liable to bottom out at the slightest provocation, or even if you just eat an extra pie for lunch. The screen is only shallow, but because it is so close to your face, you still get a decent view out the front. Rearward vision is OK, with a decent hood, but can be abysmal if the rear screen has gone opaque (as they all do). Lower the hood however, and it becomes fantastic.This is what motoring should be! The rack-and-pinion steering is delightfully light, but with the right amount of feel and the little A-Series willing, if somewhat lacking in oomph. But, of course, the tuning potential for more go remains considerable. Non-synchromesh on first is a bit of a bind, and it’s a noisy old box too, but you soon get used to it. If you do increase engine power by a fair wedge, the disc brakes become marginal (try harder pads), otherwise they’re adequate. By modern standards the Midget is tiny, but that’s one of the endearing factors of the car. It’s light and precise, which is why it’s still a car to have if you fancy trying your hand at club motorsports. All Midgets, even the sacrilegious Triumph-engined cars, are fun to drive and what a sports car should be.
The ride has always been in the rodeo class and the Midget bounces about over imperfections in the road. This is most pronounced in the early cars, with their quarter elliptic rear springs, and least so on the heavier 1500 but the Midget is eminently chuckable around corners and, since you are virtually sitting on the rear axle, any sliding is easily noted and dealt with.
The Daily Option?
Take a Mk1, slot in a 1275, tune it – now that’s an MG Midget
If you are willing to accept a cabin that’s cramped, draughty and lacking in creature comforts, then a Midget can be both great fun and cheap-as-chips to run on a daily basis. The heater (only standard from 1969!) is reasonable, helped in part by the close proximity of the engine, gearbox and exhaust. You do tend to switch it on in autumn and leave it on until spring, though, as the heater tap is inconveniently located under the bonnet. The dynamo is fine for most of the year, but can struggle to keep up with all the electrical ancillaries in the depths of a cold, wet and dark winter. If your commute entails a lot of crawling through traffic, you can rob the alternator from a late-model Mini to help out. Midgets are far from ideal if motorways figure highly in your driving routine. As well as feeling rather vulnerable alongside the heavy trucks and SUVs, Midgets are happiest cruising around 55-60mph. On a more mundane practical level, boot space is limited, but there is additional stowage space behind the seats.
Ease of ownership?
The Midget is a very simple classic to own and run, but you should be under no illusion that it is as easy as a modern car. There is no button to electrically fold the roof – instead the hood needs careful folding to avoid cracking the plastic windows and you even have to get out of the car to do the job, for heaven’s sake. It is not totally watertight either, and you must be prepared to invest a little more time in the car by, for example, drying out damp carpets promptly before they rot out the floorpan. Similarly, the mechanical components are simple and robust, but on a 35+year old car things are going to require work. You don’t need to be a mechanical wizz to fix a Midget, but you do have to be willing to learn the little jobs if you don’t want it to become a very expensive hobby. On the bright side, all the help, advice and spare parts you need are out there. Since 1991, you have even been able to buy complete new bodyshells from British Motor Heritage, if full fat restoration is your game – at £5400 plus!
Midget (GAN1) introduced alongside the facelifted Sprite in June, to sit alongside the bigger MGA. Essentially it’s the Sprite with different badging and with more (ahem) luxurious trim. Costing £670, 16,084 were made.
Bigger 1098cc engine taken from the Morris Minor in October. Power usefully goes up from 46 to 55bhp, still but peaking at 5500rpm plus there’s also a stronger gearbox and front disc brakes are now fitted. Car known as GAN2 by MG.
Revised (GAN3) MG Midget arrives with wind-up windows (at long last) and an improved 1098cc engine that proves to be more durable and smoother running than the original although power remains the same. More than 26,000 are produced.
MkIII (GAN4) Midget spells an engine capacity rise to 1275ccand power is accordingly hiked to a healthy 65bhp. This slashes the 0-60mph sprint to 13 seconds with a lot more torque and makes it the best Midget yet and 13,722 were made as a result.
British Leyland Motor Corporation make Sprite and (GAN5) Midget largely indistinguishable. Rear bumper is split either side of a square number plate, British Leyland badges adorn the front wings and the rear silencer now runs across the car.
Round rear wheelarches are introduced, which many enthusiasts rate as the best looking Midget of them all, although they soon revert back to the stronger square-cut types (better rear-end crash resistance) for the impending introduction of the Triumph 1500-powered model in 1974.
US emissions regs get the better of the A-Series… Still officially ‘MkIII’ (GAN6), but universally referred to as the 1500, ride height is raised to bring new large black bumpers to required safety height. Marina-sourced gearbox means synchro on first!
MG’s golden jubilee year is celebrated with a run of special edition Jubilee Midgets, all painted green and boasting wide gold side stripes (Of all the unloved rubber bumper breed, this limited edition is the most valued and prices reflect this).
Head restraints, radio console and inertia reel seatbelts made standard, plus the axle ratio is raised to a more relaxing 3.7:1 that summer. Two-speed wipers, hazard warning lights and – more importantly – dual circuit brakes follow all in 1978.
New look instruments now shared with the Triumph Spitfire, but the oil pressure gauge is replaced with a simple warning light. The last Midget is
produced that November, after a production run of almost 20 years and 238,565 units.
Even at 50, the MG Midget has the cheeky charm of a pugnacious youngster always looking fun and looking for fun. Rough and noisy, the MG feels faster than it really is, so while a land speed record is out of the question, you know you can pass those wallet wobbling speed cameras with a clean conscience… In fact the MG is as much in tune with today’s fun motoring as it was all those decades ago – what a shame no car maker offers something similar today.
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