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MG Midget vs Triumph Spitfire

STARTER SPORTS CLASSICS Published: 10th Sep 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

MG Midget vs Triumph Spitfire
MG Midget vs Triumph Spitfire
MG Midget vs Triumph Spitfire
MG Midget vs Triumph Spitfire
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Do these simple sportsters still hold appeal against an MX-5 as a starter classic?

Today, it might not seem like a logical decision for a sports car enthusiast to choose a Triumph Spitfire or an MG Midget, against say a Mazda MX-5, MGB or TR6, good little sportsters as they are. However, for classic motoring enthusiasts, it’s our passion that dictates most of our buying decisions, not cold logic.

Of course, it was a different matter when the cars were contemporary, when pragmatic factors such as fuel and insurance costs had to be considered – factors which are less relevant now that the cars are all classic purchases. MG and Triumph owners remain tribal, just like Spurs and Arsenal fans, but for the neutral buyer, which is the better car, the Midget or Spitfire?


Both cars are ultra-familiar sights and are both thoroughly well proven off-shoots of frumpy family ferriers. A Herald in drag the Spitfire may be, but the transition to Spitfire was as neat as it was clever. Most folks remain convinced that the Mk3 is the best of the bunch, and certainly it’s the quickest in standard tune, but the Stag-tailed Mk1V is more common and the last-of-the-line 1500 the easiest to live with on modern roads. If you hanker for a hardtop, then the Spitfire (available as a permanent fixed-head coupe when new, remember) is by far the most stylish of the pair

For this twin test, we’ll ignore the famous Frogeye because this car, while mechanically similar to the Midget, is now a separate classic in its own right. And also, while mentioning Midgets, much of our comments apply to the Austin-Healey Sprite which started it all and ran up to 1972. Apart from subtle badge and detail differences, these Healeys (both built at Abingdon alongside other MGs, incidentally) are rarer, but to date this doesn’t translate into higher values! 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 Midget wasn’t effected as much as its bigger brother. The biggest change was the fitment of the Triumph Spitfire 1500 engine to the MG, which changed the character of the car and, like the 1.5-litre Spitfire, these versions 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 great value for money.


When these classics first fought it out in the showrooms, the Triumph was always seen is the more effeminate, stylish choice. This comment applies less now, when both cars will seem rough when compared to modern cars, but the MG remains the more hard core of the pair.

With its lack of refinement and Spartan cabin, there’s a real Caterham-like character about the ‘Spridget’ (Sprite and Midget combined) and this extends to the go-kart-style handling, even if the penalty is a rodeo ride. What it lacks in power and sophistication, the MG makes up for in sheer driveability.

Naturally, given that it came from the same era, the Spitfire feels not dissimilar but definitely less rudimentary, thanks to a more luxurious feeling cockpit that offers a touch more space (MG didn’t call it Midget for nothing, as anybody above average height will discover!).

Performance is broadly equal, although the A-Series engine is lustier for its given capacity. Where the Triumph triumphs is with the availability of overdrive, making legal-limit cruising a lot less tiresome. Whether it was due to space restrictions or not, even when the MG gained the Triumph engine only four-speeds were offered.

In terms of handling, the Spitfire always suffered from its Herald rear suspension layout, causing the rear wheels to ‘tuck in’ during cornering – pretty nasty if you’re not familiar with this trait. The earlier the car, the more pronounced it was, but from the MkIV onwards this was quite well controlled.

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 if you require.

The same can be said for the MG, of course, and even in standard trim (which most won’t be after all these years) both provide genuine thrills behind the wheel and critically feel like a proper sports car should – more so the MG.

When it comes to the 1500cc versions, this longer stroke version of the 1296cc Triumph engine is not as rev happy and more a slogger, but on the other hand it provides more torque and 100mph performance on both cars. It affects the character of the Spitfire less and, with overdrive, makes it a pleasing car on quicker roads. Also, unless modified, the MG is less ‘chuckable’ round bends than the earlier versions due to its raised ride height.

Bear in mind that another reason the ‘1500’ isn’t particularly liked in this pair of sports cars, as opposed to the Dolomite saloon in which the unit first saw light of day, is also due to its weakness to run hot (smaller sports car grill areas not helping) and also a short service life of its crank bearings and shells.


This is where these spendthrift sports cars come into their own, and few rival classics are as simple or low cost to own and maintain as this penny-wise pair. 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 a complete nut-and-bolt restoration is 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 – and perhaps for a spot of light competition – but without sullying their basic character.

Perhaps it’s due to their bigger brothers continually grabbing the limelight that Midget and Spitfire values have, until lately, remained static. That’s changing for good examples, which is all the more reason to buy now if you want one. Projects can start from £500 or so, while pretty decent cars hover around the £3000 and above mark, with the best of the best carrying tickets of £5000 and over.

The earlier the car, the more valuable, is the general rule, especially with the Spitfire, despite the fact that the later cars are better drivers; around £6500 isn’t unknown for a Mk1 Spitfire 4, for instance.

The bargains are to be had with the 1500s, especially the MGs, where they are the least wanted. Like-for-like a 1500 can be a handsome £2000 less than an earlier chrome-bumper Midget. As we said at the start, 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 rarity of models.

And The Winner Is...

At the risk of starting World War 3, Classic Motoring is going to do a spot of diplomatic fence sitting! Let’s face it, both offer endearing traditional classic British sports car fun and are certainly very good value for money. Assuming that you can comfortably fit in a Midget or Sprite (and you might not) we’d opt for one if we were specifically after a chrome bumper model, simply because they are like a mini Caterham to drive, even if the ride is diabolical. But, if we were looking at a later car, perhaps due to their lower prices, then we’d fly away in a Spitfire because they wear their age better plus look and feel much the same as the original, as well as being more civilised. Ultimately, it will probably come down to what badge you prefer to wear – just like it did back in the 1960s – and your heart, rather than your head’s cool logic, will probably dictate your final purchase!

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