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MG Midget

Mighty Midget Published: 24th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

MG Midget

Fast Facts

  • Best model: 1275 models
  • Worst model: 1500 Midget
  • Budget buy: Early 1098cc cars
  • OK for unleaded?: Needs convert/additive
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L3490 x W1370
  • Spares situation: As good as it gets
  • DIY ease?: Morris Minor simplicity
  • Club support: Superb
  • Appreciating asset?: Yes, but taking time
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Former as a starter sports
Cheeky looks have lasted very well but the car can rot like mad so check everywhere for rust and every money saving bodge around Cheeky looks have lasted very well but the car can rot like mad so check everywhere for rust and every money saving bodge around
Spartan cockpit is easy, cheap to resto. No sunvisors! Spartan cockpit is easy, cheap to resto. No sunvisors!
A-Series unit is so well known; Triumph unit is weaker A-Series unit is so well known; Triumph unit is weaker
Ro-Style rims suit car well - don’t go overwide on tyres Ro-Style rims suit car well - don’t go overwide on tyres
Late 60s/early 70s cars are best of the bunch. Sprite name killed off in ‘71 and until recently carried no price premium but this appears to be changing now Late 60s/early 70s cars are best of the bunch. Sprite name killed off in ‘71 and until recently carried no price premium but this appears to be changing now
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Don’t let anyone tell you that this miniature MG isn’t a real sports car…

Pros & Cons

Packaging, DIY ease, spares and support, fun to drive, value for money, decent image
Tight cockpit, sparse equipment crude ride, many bodged examples around
£500 to £10,000

As with the Triumph Spitfi re, there are those who reckon the MG Midget (and the rarer Austin-Healey Sprite for that matter) aren’t real sports cars. They are pretend performance tools. And, while it’s true that the Spridget - a charming nickname to group Sprites and Midgets together – used nothing more exotic than Austin A35 hardware with Morris Minor steering, let’s not forget that Colin Chapman hardly used anything more glamorous when he cobbled up the legendary Lotus 7. Quite rightly, one magazine opinioned that if the car is a pretend sports car then it’s a ‘pretend Lotus’. And, without the acronym, and prices, that go with the Lotus badge, too!


The MG Midget came about partly because the existing ‘Frogeye’ Sprite was built at the MG factory in Abingdon anyway because wasn’t suitable for the Longbridge production line! It was therefore natural to build an MG version, which was launched in June 1961, alongside the MkII version of the Sprite. Simply a more sober update on the original fun-fi lled Frogeye, the new cars featured fi xed front wings with a separate bonnet, instead of the novel fl ip-up front end on the original Sprite, plus they also boasted a proper boot with its own lid at the stern. The engine was still BMC’s 948cc A-Series, with twin SUs and better breathing, while underneath coil and wishbone type front suspension was employed, along with quarterelliptic leaf springs at the rear. These springs were mounted to the underside of the bodyshell, just behind the front seats, putting quite a strain on the body, with only old-hat lever-arm dampers for company. The new cars still featured the very precise rack-and-pinion steering, though. The next major change came as early as 1962, when the more powerful 1098cc engine was adopted for both models, together with an improved baulk-ring synchromesh gearbox and front disc brakes, to rein in the 56bhp. Enthusiasts dub these models the MK1 1/2 Midget and MK2 1/2 Sprite. The next official mark change didn’t come until the 1964 MkII Midgets and MKIII Sprites. These cars featured worthwhile ‘luxuries’ such as an improved hood, winding windows no less and a revised dashboard. The engine remained the 1098cc unit, but this was strengthened with wider diameter main bearings for a longer service life. The rear suspension saw the original quarter elliptic leaf springs replaced by semis, to improve the coarse ride (sort of), although purists reckon the handling suffered as a result. In 1966, the MKIII Midget and MKIIII Sprites were launched, with a detuned 1275cc version of the Cooper S engine slotted in, jacking up the power considerably to 65bhp. An improved hood design and a bigger cockpit aperture also featured on the Mk3. Arguably, these are now the pick of the crop because you get the classic Midget interior with old-style toggle switches (not the naff plastic ones from the early 70s), plus you’ve got a good hood and the best engine. The 1275cc models were slowly improved during the 60s, with a higher-geared differential from October 1968 on, for more relaxed motorway cruising – well, again, sort of! From October 1969, a new black front grille replaced the more stylish chrome affair (another reason to choose the ‘66-‘68 models instead), plus there were some interior trim changes. In January 1971 the agreement with Healey expired and the Austin Healey Sprite was just called the Austin Sprite, being killed off altogether in July. Thankfully, Midget continued and the ’72 range featured round wheelarches, instead of the previous squared-off type. The advantagehere was that wider wheels could be fi tted to customise the cars if desired. However, this only lasted for a couple of years, before the most radical change to the design occurred, in October 1974. The old-style square arches returned because they made the car better protected against rear impact, as dictated by US legislations, apparantly. But that’s not all, because, as we know, 1974 also marked the ruination of this great little sports car, when horrid rubber bumpers were grafted on front and rear, again for US crash legislation regs, plus the ride height was also increased for the same reason – albeit as crudely and as cheaply as cash-strapped MG could get away with. Big brother MGB also fell foul of the changes, which had a correspondingly negative effect on the handling, although the Midget didn’t suffer as bad as the MGB. But we’re not fi nished yet! Worst
of all, the trusty A-Series was ditched in favour of arch rival Triumph’s 1493cc unit, as fi tted in the Spitfi re, to meet US emission standards. However, it gave slightly less power than in the Spitfi re, due to its installation – just to compound matters and rankle MG devotees perhaps? Finally, Leyland then added a wider ratio Morris Marina gearbox into the mix. It was an MG Midget Jim, but not as we know it, as a certain Mr Spock might say. The Midget always lacked continual development and improvements its in-house rival rom Triumph seemed to have lavished on it, but matters improved a bit when head restraints, inertial seat belts, two speed wipers and a radio console were introduced in 1977, with dual-circuit braking the following year. The last Midget rolled off the production line a year later, in December 1979, a shadow of its former self. Uglier and heavier than the lean and mean eager little sportster of the start of the decade, it was a sad ending to a great little car.


If you want to savour sports car motoring how it used to be in its most basic form back in the 1960s, then it has to be with a Midget or Sprite. Comparisons with its deadliest rival – the dreaded Triumph Spitfi re – are inevitable, but really it all came down to image and the Midget was generally considered more manly than the sissy Spitfi re! The Canley roadster was the more sophisticated and luxurious. With an Austin- Healey Sprite or the MG Midget you just got the bare essentials, like it or lump it. As compensation you got one of the most fun-fi lled sports car, irrespective of price. ‘What it lacks in ride and comforts, it makes up with outstanding agility and responsive handling’, said Motor when commenting the now unloved 1500 model back in 1975. Whether or not it was because the engine was a Triumph by gad, or those horrid rubber bumpers, but the 1500 was never the best Midget. To this day it remains the cheapest model but, the added torque of the larger engine over the A-Series (it was quoted as the same 65bhp) is noteworthy and gives the MG nippy, if noisy, performance. The recorded 0-60mph in 11.9 seconds was as fast the MGB. Certainly, the Midget suffered less from the raised ride height and de-toxed engine to meet US laws than the MGB and still handled tidily and predictably. So, you want one, but will you fi t in one? The Midget truly lives up to its name in this respect and anybody who is remotely burly built or approaching six foot tall will fi nd it exceedingly cramped in there (you’ll probably to have the seat right back and reclined slightly, to get comfortable, though there is plenty of leg room under the dash). And, make no mistake, the Midget is very noisy; the old gearbox on A-Series models wails like a banshee, while engine and wind din makes the legal limit a test of endurance on all models – but at least you’ll be kept legal!


The very best, mint condition non Frogeye Sprite or Midget (the AH name is starting to carry some weight on this car) would have to be something special to be worth over £10,000, with most top examples selling for nearer half this. At this price, it’s arguable that restoration of
a basket-case isn’t economically viable, especially if you’re considering a re-shell – unless the car is particularly special to you or like working on classics as much as driving them! Logic would dictate that you buy the best example you can fi nd for around £5000 and just try to keep it that way. Anything under £2000 is likely to be more body fi ller than steel, since rust is the worst enemy of these cars. Like-for-like, thecheapest buys are the post -74 re-engined rubber bumper models. The bumpers look even more ungainly on the Midget than the well sculptured type found on the MGB but, at least the driving experience remained much the same. A good one will be just as much fun as a late ‘60s 1275 model, the most desired and the costliest.


There’s heaps you can do to a Spridget and, best of all, there are plenty of cars out there on sale that already have been tuned and improved over the years saving you the time and hassle.The A-Series is super-tunable in the time honoured way and a good 1275cc unit can hit 100bhp reliably, although around 80bhp is more tractable and cheaper to obtain – and more than enough to put a smile on your face. That said, a good number of owners now go another power route and install the later K-Series Rover engine or even a Fiat twin cam, both of which dedicated kits are available. Don’t both trying to fi t a B-Series as the unit is physically larger - some have done it by butchering the rear bulkhead or even by extending the snout. As the Spridget never came with an overdrive option (and that includes the 1500 where the Spitfi re offered it) perhaps the most desirablemod is fitting the five-speed unit from a Ford Sierra, which gives a long legged overdrive gait and more effective intermediate ratios. It costs around £1500 including the ‘box from specialists but is money well spent. The A35-derived chassis can be improved immensely with telescopic dampers at the rear, replacing the old lever-arms, along with an axletramp kit to present the assembly joining you in the passenger seat under power! Don’t go mad on tyre choice though; even MG tuners say that5.5 rims are more than okay for road use with good quality 165/175 tyres. If you intend to keep the car standard, consider investing in an uprated radiator on the 1500, where the reduced rubber bumper ‘mouth’ can lead to cooling problems. If the cabin needs a retrim then you can go all upmarket but we reckon it should be left pure and simple!

What To Look For

  • The fi rst thing to look for is rust, followed closely by corrosion, then fi nally steel oxidation… Get the message! These cars can rot in a big way. Being so close to the road doesn’t help, with water and salt having a fi eld day on the underside. Look closely for rot in the sills (black underseal paint that follows the upward curve at the front of the sills can be a clue to fi ller underneath, since originally black paint was only ever applied in a straight line along the lower section of the sills). Also check the thin A panel which the doors hang on as this usually rots where it meets the sills.
  • Underneath, check the rear leaf springs where they meet the bodywork, especially just behind the seats where rust can really take hold. On the early cars with quarter-eliptic springs, the full force on the springs is fed into this area and so it’s crucial that the steel is sound here.
  • If a car is really rotten, the footwells can fi ll with an inch of rainwater as you drive along, so also check the fl oor and bulkhead here for rust. The fl oor usually rusts where it meets the sills and in some cars it’s only the central transmission tunnel that’s holding the whole thing together. If the main body strength has gone, the car can sag into a banana shape, often seen by imperfect door gaps as panels fall out of alignment.
  • Other areas to check for corrosion include the leading edge of the bonnet, the lower edges of the doors, the boot fl oor and the bulkhead behind the seats inside the car – this should be checked by lifting the carpet inside. Door shut gaps are critical; if they snag the body then apart from door drop it could signal badly fi tted sills or a shell that’s structurally had it…
  • There’s a body seam on each side of the car, between the upper edge of the sill and the lower edge of the rear bodywork panel. These should be clearly defi ned in the form of a groove; if full of body fi ller expect extensive body bodging (it’s one of the best tell tale signs on a Spridget as it’s often overlooked).
  • If the car is structurally sound, then buy it! All the mechanical parts are relatively cheap to replace in comparison to a major body rebuild. This is thanks the ‘parts bin’ approach taken throughout the car’s life. How hard is it to fi nd a rusty Marina for the gearbox, for instance?
  • Of course, it’s still worth checking the mechanics and you’ll fi nd that gearboxes on the A-Series car can start to sound like a bag of nails after a while, thanks to weak synchromesh and none at all on the fi rst gear of some cars.
  • If anything, the Triumph engines are weaker than their A-Series equivalents, suffering from premature wear in the crank and bearings.
  • Those old A-Series engines are long-lasting if properly maintained; you should typically see at least 120,000 miles between stripdowns. Wear in the pistons, rings and cylinder bores are common – watch for smoking from the exhaust when accelerating hard – and listen to tappet and timing gear noise.
  • The 1493cc Triumph-sourced engines tend to be less durable than the A-Series units, suffering from early wear of the crankshaft and bearings (number three pot is the worst affected). Excessive end fl oat on the crankshaft (due to wear of the crankshaft thrust washers) is an old Triumph characteristic and a sign that the unit is due for a rebuild. Movement can be assessed at the crankshaft pulley as the clutch pedal is alternately depressed and released.
  • Check for weak synchromesh on second gear, for ‘worn bearing’ grumbling noises from the gearbox and fi nal drive, and, on 1500s, ensure that the gearbox operates quietly. Look for oil leaks too (very common). That said, those old BMC ‘boxes are typically noisy.
  • You should also check the front suspension as this incorporates king pins and bushes, plus threaded fulcrum pins. Regular lubrication is essential for long life (every 1000 miles).
  • You can check the king pins for wear by raising (and properly supporting on axle stands) the front of the car and attempting to rock the wheels in and out. Assess the extent of wear in the fulcrum pins and bushes by levering up and down beneath each front wheel/tyre in turn, while an assistant watches for excessive wear in the components.
  • On a more minor note, it’s also worth checking that things like the hood (which are rarely water tight) is okay, plus see if the seller has any extras to include in the sale such as a tonneau cover or hardtop roof – many have.
  • Trim is simple and Spartan but at least it is easy and inexpensive to restore and even upgrade. Look for damp damage and musty smell. Sun visors were never fi tted!

Three Of A Kind

Triumph Spitfire
Triumph Spitfire
Arch rival to the Spridget, the Triumph Spitfi re outlived it by a couple of years and outsold it in every year they competed, except in 1969. A more refi ned, civilised and arguably prettier car than the Spridget, although not half as macho looking or performing. Most folks will like the more controllable feel against the more skittish Spitfi re. Spares and support is equally excellent and they represent similar top value for money and economy of running, especially with overdrive.
Fiat X/19
Fiat X/19
What the Spridget (and the Spitfi re) should have evolved in to; mid-engine, exotic design, targo topped. Small wonder that the lovely little Fiat X/19 was dubbed a baby Ferrari. Launched in 1972, it still sets standards for handling and poise and while pace isn’t great it’s more than adequate plus the ‘1500’ cars boast fi ve-speed transmissions. Rot like mad and the hydraulics often play up. And this Italian isn’t as simple, sleep-peasy or as cheap to keep as a Spridget.
With prices starting from just a couple of grand a later MGF is a far more modern alternative as a starter classic. As modern as the Spridget is dated, the mid-engined, gas-suspended MGF is a really good, underrated car with strong performance and precise yet very userfriendly handling – unusual for a mid-engined design. Cheap to buy but can be a money drainer to keep, while the K-Series engine is notorious for popping head gaskets at £700 a time.


Midgets have much to commend them. You’ll enjoy the sort of ‘earthy’ old-school sports car thrills and spills Morgan enthusiasts spend thousands more to achieve, plus it’s as simple and cheap as a Morris Minor to keep! If you’re after an affordable and a sensible entry into classic sports car ownership then no other roadster supplies it like this MG.

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