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Published: 9th Apr 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Spridgets were more than just sports cars – they defined you also as both an enthusiast and a person back in the 1960s and 70s. Were you one of them?

If there was a four-wheeled equivalent to the Mods & Rockers then it was surely the battle waged between Spitfire and Spridget lovers. Actually it didn’t seem like a fair fight as it was two against one; Spridgets were the combined forces of the MG Midget and the Austin-Healey Sprite, the latter which started the affordable British sports car market with the Frog-eye back in 1958.

Yet true to its name, the Triumph Spitfire fought valiantly against the odds and even outsold its rival when they ran in tandem every year apart from 1969. But why all this hatred, which never seemed to have afflicted their more mature adult brothers such as TR and MGB owners? In a word, culture.

What you drove defined you as a man as well as a motorist. Who better to recount those halcyon days than Classic Motoring contributor and former editor of Cars & Car Conversions, when it was in its prime, Paul Davies. Now a fully signed up fan of VW Campers and Porsche 911s (of which happily there is no cure), the only time you saw PD in a Spitfire was when he was testing one as he was resolutely on the side of the Spridget, alternating between the two. A few years ago he wrote this explaining the reasons why: “Those who piloted MG Midgets or Austin-Healey Sprites firmly believed their nimble little number was best, but the Triumph Spitfire boys just knew they were winning the battle for Britain’s roads. It was blokes with stringback gloves versus hairdressers with flared trousers (Remember an episode of Steptoe & Son where Harold sneeringly described his club ‘full of Rodneys in their Triumph Spitfires’-ed). Spridget owners could aim fire at the namby-pamby wind-up windows, the uncertain behaviour of the swing axle rear suspension, and the slightly feminine image of the Spitfire, and laugh.

“No battle about it really, the Spridget was the real man’s car, with a motorsport heritage stretching back to pre-war days. “In fact, from my own experience, there was even more of a war going on: most of the time, Sprite drivers didn’t speak to Midget drivers either!”

When Farina re-styled the Sprite for 1961, the MG Midget clone joined the line-up and the two ran side-by-side for 13 years. USA crash and emission regulations effectively killed the ‘real’ car off in 1974, when, for the rest of the production run, all you could buy was an asthmatic MG with rubber bumpers, massive ground clearance, and (whisper it) a Triumph Spitfire engine.

The war had been won, and the result was – topically in an election year – a coalition! And we think Spridgets are cars that should still get your vote…

Hardly a MAZDA MX-5

It’s a quarter of a century since the Mazda MX-5 came to these shores, ushering in a new era of affordable sports cars. Amazingly, before this modern classic was introduced, a young enthusiast had little choice if he or she fancied wind-in-the-hair motoring and one reason why both the Midget and the Spitfire lasted in production up until1980. Hardly cutting edge even when new, being a mix of Austin A35 and Morris Minor, Sprites and Midgets were the fun cars of choice for the motor racing clubman during the 1960s and 70s.

Cheap to buy, a blast to drive and super simple to fix and fettle at the kerbside, they could be raced or autotested (they called them driving tests then), autocrossed, sprinted or even used for hillclimbing events, yet still be used for commuting and taking that girl out for a spin.

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.

Thanks to their light weight and nimble nature, the later 1275cc Spridgets were almost as fast as the heavier MGB and they certainly handled better, even when the suspension was raised for 1975 model year cars to appease US crash laws. Of the pair, the Midget lives in the shadow of the Sprite, even if the MG was effectively the ‘de-luxe’ model – if you can count a little bit of chrome down the side as ‘de-luxe’.

Heaters were optional extras, the hoods were rudimentary – and you made your own kind of in car entertainment…

More fun than an MX-5? In many ways yes! That simple suspension resulted in kart-like handling because you virtually sat on the rear axle so feeling everything that was going on – too much so in many cases.

Steering was razor sharp and light so who needs power assistance anyway?

In contrast, the Spitfire seemed more suited for touring being better appointed, a bit roomier (it wasn’t called Midget for nothing) plus had the envious option of overdrive, something Spridgets never got, even the lastof- the-line Spitfire-powered versions.

That 1493cc Triumph engine, a descendant from the old post-war Standard unit wasn’t the only powerplant to nestle under that flimsy bonnet. Early in their lives, Spridgets could be converted by Jack Brabham to use the Lotus Elite 1216cc

Remember When… 1972

It was a sad year for Spridget fans when the Sprite was finally killed off, a year after losing its Healey heritage. Here’s a rough guide to what else 1972 served up…

Good old days? Well a typical house cost £7300, a London tube ride just 5p, a coffee in the capital 10p and petrol barely cost 35p a gallon! Against this you have to remember that the average wage was £25 a week.

Terrorism was gripping the globe and that summer it filtered into sport when Arab terrorists known as the Black September movement broke into Olympic Village in Munich, kidnapping the Israeli team. Eleven members were killed along with most of the captors at the airport when trying to flee the country.

Strikes were never far away in the UK – the most serious being the down tools of power workers which plunged the country into darkness during the early winter months. Remember that?

It was the age of the glam rock pop groups such as The Sweet and T. Rex. And teeny heart throbs such as The Osmonds, David Cassidy (and The Partridge Family), but nothing was as dire as the bag-piped Number One, Amazing Grace, by the Royal Scots Dragoon.Guards. Thank goodness for The Strawbs!

The last moon landing took place that December with Apollo 17. Ironically it was almost four years to the day Apollo 8 made the first historic flight to that planet.

On the TV (just three channels!) there was the prim and proper forerunner to Top Gear – Wheelbase – and the deadpan Drive In on ITV. Comedies included the far from politically correct Love Thy Neighbour and The Comedians. For drama do you remember the late Adam Faith in Budgie?

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