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MG Midget

MG Midget Published: 11th May 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

MG Midget

What The Experts Say...

Gary Lazarus is editor of Mascot, the magazine of the Sprite and Midget Club which has 1000 members and rising. He’s unusual insofar that he has also owned the deadly arch rival Triumph Spitfire (Mk3), and comes from a Triumph owning family. Gary is a Spurs fan yet lives a stone’s throw away from the Arsenal ground… Lazarus says the Spitfire feels more quality but the Spridget is the better driver although the Triumph the nicer tourer. The once disliked Triumph-powered MG is now coming into its own, especially with older enthusiasts, although the pick is always the short-lived ‘round arch’ 1275. Early sliding windows Sprites and Midgets next up. Prices? The ten grand Spridget isn’t far away Gary predicts and far from being starter classics, both are now liked for what they are.

MG Midget
MG Midget
MG Midget
MG Midget
MG Midget
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If an MX-5 sounds too smooth and sensible, then consider going back in time and opting for a Spridget or Spitfire to savour the thrills of real classic motoring

The term ‘starter classics’ can do a good many cars a grave disservice as it brackets them as little more than a foot in the classic car door and merely a stepping stone for something better.

Two of our greatest little sports cars suffer this slur, the Triumph Spitfire and the Austin-Healey Sprite as well as MG Midget, which for the sake of this feature we’ll call them Spridgets, Granted, while they aren’t the last word in image or sports car performance, they offer, in their own way, as much fun and owner satisfaction as a 911 or E-type plus at the same time are so low cost to own they’ll have you laughing all the way to the bank.

Even though they were part of the same company (British Leyland) when contemporary, the Spitfire and Spridget were fierce rivals in the showrooms and this spread to their owners whose allegiance to their badges verged on the tribal; it was City vs United, Mods and the Rockers but on four wheels.

Happily, such sibling rivalry is in the past – we’re all friendly, classic fans now – well, aren’t we? Oh well, where should your loyalties lie, Abingdon or Canley? Let us be the referee…



Both cars are thoroughly well proven off-shoots of frumpy family ferriers and that’s a good thing because their simplicity makes for low cost ownership. A Herald in drag the Spitfire may well be, but the transition from family to sports car was as neat as it was clever. Out of the five generations most folks reckon the Mk3 is the best of the bunch for a variety of reasons, not least it being the quickest of the range in standard tune. That said, the Stag-tailed MkIV is more common, is by far the most rounded and best handling with the last-ofthe- line bigger-engined 1500 the easiest to live with on modern roads. If you don’t particularly want a droptop, the Spitfire was available as a semi-permanent fixedhead coupé where the hood could be installed later as an optional extra.

For this twin test, we’ll ignore the Frogeye Sprite because this model, while mechanically similar to the Midget, is now a separate classic in its own right. Midgets and Sprites are the same in all but name, so much of our comments apply to the Austin-Healey. Both were built at Abingdon but, to date, the rarity of the Sprite, which was dropped in 1972, doesn’t translate into higher values but we think it will.

Like the Spitfire, the ‘mid-life’ models, in this case the 1275cc versions, preferably with rounded wheel arches, are the most desired. In tandem with the MGB, the Midget suffered from US safety bumper legislation changes in 1974, resulting in increased suspension height and rubber fenders, although in fairness the smaller sportster wasn’t affected as badly.

The Midget’s biggest change was the fitment of the Triumph Spitfire 1500 engine to the MG. Some Midget fans regarded this as sacrilege not least because it changed the character of the car and, in common with the Spitfire 1500, aren’t as well liked as the earlier versions – even among folk who have never even driven one! However, the flipside to all this prejudice is much cheaper prices and so better value for money. Try one!

When in the showrooms, the Spitfire was saddled with a hairdressers’ image due to its petite looks and the Spridget the more manly choice. However, sales figures don’t back this up and the Triumph is just as much a sports car as well as being the more comfortable and civilised. The 1500 is the best seller with some 96,000 made and the Spitfire’s best sales year was, astonishingly, as late as 1978.



Before we detail the pair, it’s essential that we warn newcomers to classics what they should expect. If it’s the feel-at-home comfort of an MX-5 you’re after then buy the Mazda because these Brits are from another era. Both cars are small; the Midget lives up to its name the most and larger, taller owners may find it too tight a squeeze – think Jeremy Clarkson and the Sprite he bought at auction to use on a rally! You’ll feel more comfortable in the Triumph but the severely offset pedals need getting used to.

Conversely, it’s the lack of refinement and Spartan cabin of a Spridget that gives it a Caterham-like character and this extends to car’s go-kart handling along with a bucking bronco ride. What it lacks in speed and sophistication the one of the same Austin-Healey and MG makes up for in sheer back to basics fun that easily surpasses the larger MGB’s character.

The Spitfire feels not dissimilar but definitely less rudimentary, thanks to a more luxurious-feeling cockpit that offers a welcome, added cabin space and more saloon-like fittings.

Performance is broadly equal – brisk but hardly quick – although the Spridget’s A-Series engine is lustier for its given capacity. Where the Triumph triumphs is standard fitment of an all synchromesh gearbox the availability of overdrive, something the later Triumphpowered MG Midget was never offered. Overdrive really transforms the Spitfire from a noisy sports car into a decent tourer with a surprising stride for such a small engine. It cuts down engine noise but the Spitfire isn’t MX-5 quiet plus you have to ignore the creaks and squeaks that are a consequence of its chassis construction. They came like it out of the showroom so expect a veritable cacophony after all those years and miles!

Sports cars are all about driving thrills and this pair serve it up in different ways. Spitfires have always suffered from that Herald rear suspension layout, which caused the rear wheels to ‘tuck in’ during hearty cornering – pretty nasty if you’re not familiar with this trait or fast with corrective steering lock. The earlier the car, the more pronounced it was, but from the MkIV onwards this was quite well controlled, best of all after March 1973 when the rear track was increased by two inches. So long as you don’t push it too hard the Spitfire won’t bite back under a closed throttle, plus there are enough upgrades to make a Spitfire handle go, stop and brake better, should you require. There’s no shortage of improvements you can make to the Sprite or Midget which can be made quite brilliantly although the rubber bumper models did suffer from the same fate as the MGB with a higher ride height that, even though it affected the smaller Midget less, needs addressing unless you find the added inches beneficial for getting in and out.

On all, the 1500cc versions aren’t particularly liked so much because it’s not especially sharp performing or nice to rev although it did result in the first 100mph Midget and one with a silent, smooth gearbox as well! Apart from the engine’s character, feeling more at home in the Dolomite saloon it originated from, another reason for such dislike stems from this engine’s weakness to run hot (the smaller sports car grille area not helping) and also the short service life of its crankshaft bearings and shells. If it’s a ‘1500’ that you particularly want we’d go for the Spitfire over a Midget where it feels more at home.



This is where these spendthrift sports cars come into their own, because few rival classics are as simple or low cost to own and maintain. Their simplistic make up means the DIY is both possible and a pleasure, more so in the case of the Spitfire, which offers unbeatable access to the engine and front suspension, care of its forward-hinged bonnet.

Parts supply on either car is superb and complete nut-and-bolt restorations are possible if you feel so inclined. BMH offers brand new bodyshells for MGs, while every panel along with new chassis frames are obtainable for the Spitfire. There’s a raft of well proven improvements for both cars and the only limiting factor is your imagination and budget. Most respond very well to a few selected mods to make them more agreeable for today’s roads but without sullying their back to basics character.

Perhaps it’s due to their bigger brothers continually grabbing the limelight that Midget and Spitfire values have, until lately, remained pretty static. That’s changing for the best examples, which is all the more reason to buy now if you want one.

Projects can start from £1000 or so, while pretty decent cars hover around the £5000 mark, with the best of the best costing under £8000. However, their low values mean restos are hard to justify and so many are bodged instead The earlier the car, then the more valuable it will be, especially Spitfire Mk3s which are the most wanted.

Best bargains come 1493cc-powered, especially the MG. Like-for-like a 1500 can be a handsome £2000 less than an earlier chrome-bumper Midget. As we said at the start, the rarer Austin-Healey Sprites don’t command a great price advantage – a few hundred at most, but we can see this significantly altering over the years due to their more prestigious badge?

And The Winner Is...

Excuse our splinters as we sit on the fence… but we’ll call it a draw. The Spitfire is the nicer, less basic bet and the overdrive certainly makes this Triumph a quieter, more relaxing cruiser, further helped by their more inviting interiors. But the Spridget promotes a larger grin thanks to its Caterham-like character. It depends what you want but don’t dismiss either as merely starter classics – they are well worth hanging on to.

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