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Fiat X1/9 VS MG Midget

Spendthrift Sports Cars Published: 28th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

What The Experts Say...

Spridget specialist Mike Authers of Mike Authers Classics recalls having a few X1/9s pass through his hands but doesn’t remember them being anything special. He loves the classic appeal of the Brit as well as its simplicity and rates the car better than the big brother MGB in terms of handling and fun. Rust is the only real concern, especially on the unloved rubber bumper models but a tip top Midget can now easily sell for fi ve fi gures. “They’re still extremely popular – they’re still a great little car”, he told us.

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This is the car the new Midget should be was an often read judgment on the Fiat X1/9. With its advanced mid-engined chassis and super sharp 70s styling it was everything the old school Brit wasn’t when launched in 1972. Fast forward almost 40 years and both make inexpensive fun starting sports classics even though they appeal to two very different types of sports car buyer. So what’s right for you?

Which one to buy?

Tradition vs technology

By the time the X1/9 met an expectant motoring world the MG Midget was very much in the autumn of its happy life. Based upon nothing more exotic than the Austin A35 (albeit with rack and pinion steering) the MG Midget – along with the Austin-Healey Sprite which was killed off in 1972 – hardly pushed the boundaries in design, unlike the very 1970s Fiat which was virtually all new. When the Fiat hit the streets, the MG, and Triumph’s Spitfi re for that matter, became ancient overnight and far form improving the Brits, British Leyland spoiled it in 1974 by ditching the faithful and frisky A-Series engine in favour of the 1500cc Triumph unit which itself dated back to the early 1950s! Worst still, along with the MGB, the Midget suffered the indignity of having to defy the laws of physics and have its suspension jacked up as well as being further hindered by weighty rubber bumpers just to please the safety-mad US market. Not that the Fiat didn’t escape such legislation. Come 1979 and the X1/9 had its lovely lines spoiled by blocky bits of rubber as well but at least they weren’t as bad as the MG ones. Also Fiat added compensations such as a perkier 1.5-litre engine and a fi ve-speed gearbox although during the 80s the purity of the X1/9’s styling was diluted with unnecessary fripperies and bling. In common with the Midget, the earliest X1/9s are the best looking by far. The decision on what classic sportster to buy rather depends how you like your sports cars and both styles have their merits and by and large have stood the test of time quite well although naturally the MG is the classical looker and less likely to fall out of fashion. In terms of civility the Fiat wins hands down. The Midget was always austere and you got minimal kit for your money to the point of not even having any sun visors! In contrast the Fiat was always well appointed and more so in later 1500 guise. Specialeditions such as the Lido are pretty luxurious, although the frail trim of the Italian might now not look as inviting as the brochures depicted all those years ago!

What’s the best to drive?

Fiat – by a country mile You need to be an ardent Midget fan not to concede that the Fiat is in another league and from another era. Not for nothing was the X1/9 dubbed a baby Ferrari thanks to its thrills behind the wheel. Although not fast, the Fiat thrives on hard use and soundsentirely contented when doing so. The delicate touch handling remains excellent to this day and you really feel that you’re driving something special in the X/19 because it requires a more calculated approach when trucking on. In contrast the MG Midget is like a miniature Morgan by comparison with appreciably lower cornering limits, although its traditional front-engined rear drive layout can withstand a much harsher, heavier-handed driving style. Best of all, like the MGB – perhaps even more so – the real beauty of the MG comes from its utter predictability meaning you can have tremendous fun without breaking the speed limit. Sitting over the rear axle the MG Midget responds like a go-kart although sadly rides like one, too. While the X1/9 is the purist’s pick, those new to mid-engined cornering may fi nd the car too darty and nervous (especially in the wet), while with less weight up front the front brakes are more prone to locking in the damp. What the Midget loses in precision it counters with its confi dencebuilding feedback. Plus with the myriad of suspension tuning upgrades around from specialists, this old timer can be made to handle very well indeed. Like the Fiat, the older, smaller engines are the sweetest and lose little in performance. The Midget performance was tardy by 1972 standards yet feels brisk thanks to the amount of noise generated by the engine and serious wind roar. In this respect the Fiat X1/9 is the more civilised to use even if the Targa top isn’t exactly silent. However it is beautifully easy to remove and store in the front luggage compartment – so much so that we’re amazed why this type of hood design virtually died a death by the time the X1/9 bowed out in 1989! Early 1300cc X1/9s are fussy at speed, less to the fi ve-speed 1500 which makes the Fiat better suitedto modern use than the absurdly low geared MG. However a £1500 Ford Sierra gearbox conversion changes all that and gives better ratios.

Owning and running

Only one winner here…

And of course it’s the MG! A steam age design the Midget may be but at least this means that it’s a DIYer’s dream. Not so the Fiat where its mid-ship engine can beawkward to get at. Being a more modern design there’s extra diffi culty in servicing the valve clearances plus there’s a cambelt to renew before it snaps. Amazingly, the X1/9 came with a useful compact toolkit when new, meaning you don’t need to lug yours around – although many do transportone around up front… for no other reason than to improve wet weather braking! Like all MGs, parts supply and specialist support for the Midget is second to none and every nut, bolt, widget (and even newbody shells) are available. X1/9s aren’t that bad to maintain at home but parts availability, especially body and trim, isn’t good.Also the X1/9 suffers from a nightmarish clutch hydraulics. And as any owner will tell you, unless you fi t an electric fuel pump (a Punto one is popular) hot starting is an absolute pig on today’s unleaded petrol. Both cars can rust with the best of them – the difference being that you can obtain body parts for the MG. However the Midget’s lowly valves encourage lots of bodging and you sadly see plenty of thison X1/9s too.

And The Winner Is...

You tell us! Logically speaking the more modern Fiat wins hands down in virtually every area. Its 1970s style may not appeal to ever ybody but it looks what it genuinely is, a baby Ferrari that was even designed and built by the legendar y Bertone. But classic cars aren’t about logic which is why the pre-historic Midget still holds massive sway in the UK. The MG is certainly easier and cheaper to keep mobile than the Fiat plus will always serve up spor ts car smiles per mile cheaper than any rival. Anyway MG did fi nally make an X1/9… it’s badged the MGF!



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