The MG Midget, THE Cult 2 seater sports car of the 1960s
The forerunner of the MG Midget family was designed and built in the late 1920s and was instrumental in keeping the British Motor Corporation solvent in the depression of the 1930s. It was seen as a plaything for the well off and as such, was a veritable status symbol for anyone who owned one.
Introduced in 1961, the MG Midget is a roadster based on the Austin Healey Sprite, a small British sports car. Originally sporting a 948cc engine, the MG Midget produced 46hp, which was shortly after increased to a capacity just over a litre to increase power to 56hp. Being produced as a relatively cheap sports car like the Sprite, the MG Midget had little features internally, with low costing options for the body too. Windows were Perspex screens, the roof was on a frame which had to be put up by the driver, and there was no outside handles or locks. With the increase in capacity saw the introduction of front disc brakes, from the previous drums.
Upgrades were added to the mark II Midget, with windows and handles added to the model, and the horse power increased to 59. The changes were most welcomed, and more changes were made to the mark III, with a new soft top which a lot easier and quicker compared to the self-assembled roof of the previous Midgets. Rostyle wheels were introduced, with changes to the wheel arches as they become more rounded from the previous squared appearance. Capacity was also increased, with the mark III now sporting a 1300cc Mini Cooper S engine, enhancing the output to 65hp.
With a new 1493cc engine, the MG Midget 1500 is fitted with the Triumph Spitfire engine and Morris Marina gearbox. With the wheel arches now squared like previous versions, the changes were made to meet the U.S regulations in the mid seventies.
Due to the many shared parts with the Austin Healey Sprite, the MG Midget and the Austin Healey Sprite have commonly been labelled as “Spridgets”. Popular by collectors and UK club racing, the Spridgets can be entered into the MG Midget challenge, ran by the MG Car Club.
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The MG Midget was one in a series of great small sports cars to come out of Britain. The winding narrow roads of the countryside gave purpose to this car, but it proved to be successful on racing tracks as well. Exciting and invigorating, an MG Midget is anything but boring. Racing along, only a few inches from the ground, you get wonderful feedback from the car so that you immediately know how the car is reacting. This comes as a great contrast to most modern vehicles, in which you feel strangely detached from the road.
The first MG Midget was built by ex-rally driver Donald Healey and started as the appropriately named Austin-Healey Sprite. Affordability was the name of the game. The original 1961 version had an A-Series engine and drum brakes, similar to the Mini of that period. As the MG Midget evolved performance improved markedly. These improvements included continual increases in engine capacity and other modifications that increased power output and handling without sacrificing reliability.
The little engine in the car was full of character and charm. It is a joy to rev up the engine to 5500 rpm and let it sing. Originally the 998cc Mark I only had 46 horsepower, but in 1962 this was increased to 1098cc and 56 hp. In 1964, the Mark II was released with a tweaked 59 hp engine and cosmetic improvements. The Mark III version was more of a thrill to drive, with its 1275cc 65 hp Mini Cooper S based engine making it far more sporty than the original version. Finally the Midget 1500 was unleashed in 1974, using the same 1493 cc engine as the Triumph Spitfire. The unfortunate thing about the 1500 is the distinctive plastic front bumper which was introduced because of US safety regulations. Some enthusiasts feel aesthetically this harms the classic car look.
The MG Midget was built alongside the Austin-Healey Sprite – it was simply a rebadged model for ever so slightly upmarket buyers – and so parts are interchangeable. For this reason, the Sprite and Midget are collectively known as the Spridget and has spawned a mini industry of enthusiasts. The fully modified modern racing version of this car has been known to keep up with a Lotus Elise, going from 0-60 in about 5 seconds.
There have been various efforts to update the Midget with a completely new chassis. A new MG was to be produced under ‘Project Kimber’; however, nothing has materialised. Completely unrelated to the original Healey, the new MG was going to be based on the Smart Roadster and may even have been called ‘Midget’. This car would have been produced in the UK under Chinese ownership, along with any other MG cars. It seems a great shame that this project did not go ahead because the Smart has great handling characteristics that would have appealed to a new generation of Midget owners.
Owning a Spridget gives you the chance to get your hands dirty and enjoy sports car performance at a reasonable cost. There is a great network of enthusiasts that make parts relatively easy to come by. Specialist equipment is not required for working on this car as everything is put together using good old nuts and bolts; this car was designed with maintainability in mind.
Brian is a keen motoring enthusiast who likes to get his hands dirty, and has a special love for the MG Midget classic car.
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