(first posted 8/4/2012) The world was once a very different place. Automotive scale has changed dramatically, more in terms of height than length. Sure, American cars were long in the sixties, but they weren’t three times as tall as an MG Midget. Stature is everything now; just ask the young guys yearning for some in their jacked-up F350s with giant exhaust stacks. Did men have more self confidence in themselves and their bodies fifty years ago? Can you even imagine a car company using the word “Midget” nowadays?
Thanks to taxes, narrow roads and lower incomes, midgets were a way of life in Great Britain. And the Midget name was a proud tradition at MG, used continuously for almost thirty years by their sports cars (like this M-Type), except for the larger or more exotic ones like the Magnette. Strictly speaking, the TD and TF were still Midgets, in MG-speak. But with the arrival of the new MGA, the Midget name went into hiatus, albeit briefly.
That rightful inheritor would have been the 1958 Austin Healey Sprite, known as “Frogeye” in the UK and “Bugeye” in the US. A brilliant update on the idea of the minimalistic sport car, the Sprite’s production in Abingdon, MG’s home plant, and its success almost assured that MG would shoehorn in on the action.
My brother had one of these, and driving one or riding in one is about as close to wearing a car as it gets, especially if you’re over six feet. It felt like your feet were up against the back of the grille. I really wish I had one in my closet.
In 1961, the Sprite was restyled, now called the Mk II. And sure enough, it now had to share its new body with the reincarnated MG Midget. Somehow, it didn’t ever work so well for me as a Bugeye replacement. It looked like it was a bit depressed compared to its perpetually perky predecessor.
The Midget wore the new duds better. It cost a bit more than the Sprite, which mostly went for a proper chrome grille and a chrome molding down the side, making it look decidedly less austere. The earliest versions still had the 948 cc version of the A-Series four, making 46 hp. A 948 cc Midget clicked off the sprint to sixty in 18.3 seconds, as tested by The Motor. For 1963, an 1100cc version was installed, with a noticeable bump in performance thanks to its 56 hp. These early versions still were true roadsters, with attachable side “curtains” (no roll-up windows).
Our featured Midget is a Mark III, which first appeared in 1966, now with roll-up windows and the 1275 cc A-Series engine with 65 hp. But what they didn’t get was the 75 hp Mini-Cooper engine, which had a better-breathing head. That would have made the “Spridgets” faster than the MGB, a no-no.
This particular one appears to be a 1972 model, or possibly a 1973, as the rear wheel arches became rounded from the former squared-ff ones with the ’72 MY. Why? Hm, maybe the money might have been better spent elsewhere? It doesn’t have the nicer classic chrome grille either, and is starting to sport the various attempts by BL to make it look more seventies’ contemporary.
The black sills were one such measure, as well as the mostly-black grille. The earlier ones did look a bit slab-sided. Wire wheels were optional, and not all-that common on these cars originally. Undoubtedly, many of them have been retro-fitted.
The cockpit: yes, this may explain why so many of today’s big guys are driving F350s. It is a cozy affair. There was a reason why the older MG roadsters all the way through the MGA had low-cut doors: it allowed one’s shoulders and arms to hang right over them. Not with these, so a midget diet or the right genes are called for.
But with the right body size and a healthy dose of self-confidence, these make for a very good time. And they’re getting restored more and more, by the enthusiastic following they’ve acquired. Any part imaginable is readily available by an industry dedicated to supplying vintage Brit sports cars.
Did British cars suffer the worst in the seventies? The combination of emission, safety and bumper regulations were a cruel triple-blow to all of them, but probably none more than the Midget and MGB. Big plastic bumpers ruined their cute faces and butts, and under-hood, things got really scary.
The 1275 cc engine was getting strangled by reduced compression and incremental de-smogging, so beginning with the 1975 model, the Midget was given the Triumph Spitfire’s bigger 1500 cc motor. And curiously, the square rear-wheel cut-outs were back again, since the round cut out reduced structural integrity. But EGR and catalytic converters took any spit and fire out of the Triumph mill, leaving it with a midget 50 hp. The last full model year was 1979, by which time it was another rolling relic. Or had been for quite awhile. This one’s gleaming twin exhausts suggest that it’s anything but stock. Maybe even an engine swap, or two.
Unadulterated driving pleasure in its most distilled form, that’s what keeps the Midget’s appeal alive. One just has to watch out for all those big vehicles threatening it on all sides: trucks, trains, and even bicycles.