Curbside Classic: 1974 MG Midget Mark IV – A Tiny Car At The Tiny Tap

On a balmy, May night about four years ago, I found myself back in my old Tampa neighborhood of Hyde Park.  I had lived maybe four blocks from the Tiny Tap Tavern when I was in my early twenties in the late 1990’s while I attended the University of South Florida, finishing my degree after a year-long hiatus.  I had spent many nights and many quarters at the Tiny Tap, loading up the jukebox and learning to shoot pool when I wasn’t attending class, studying, tearing it up at night in the historic Ybor City district, or working my early morning job as a greenskeeper at a local golf course.

La Teresita Restaurant. Monday, July 19, 2010.

Detractors of social media will tell you that participation in Facebook or other similar sites is a perfectly useless way to waste time with mere acquaintances and sometimes strangers, but for me, it has been mostly a really positive experience.  It has facilitated many in-person gatherings, much like the one on the evening I spotted and clicked a few frames of our featured MG.

I’m a Michigander through-and-through, but I thoroughly enjoyed living in Tampa, spending almost seven years there.  It was in this beautiful, multicultural, magical city that I began to find my way and my own voice as an adult.  It was on this night in May of 2013 that I had gathered a group of about ten close friends for a meal at my favorite, local restaurant – La Teresita Restaurant, pictured above and below – and for beers at the Tiny Tap in Hyde Park, afterward.

La Teresita Restaurant. Monday, July 19, 2010.

My exposure to Tampa’s Cuban-American population, influence and legacy was one of my favorite things about living in the Bay area.  I discovered some of the best Latin American restaurants and delicious meals I have ever experienced soon after arriving there.  To this day, just looking at a picture of my favorite feast – pollo salteado con arroz amarillo y papas fritas – can make my mouth water (as it is right now).  La Teresita, open since 1973 in a beautiful, Spanish architecture-style building, was already legendary among my fellow students, with its cafeteria being open twenty-four-seven and serving delicious Cuban and other Latin American cuisine in hearty portions for really inexpensive prices.  I liked that our featured car was the color of yellow rice.

Getting back to our yellow convertible spotted outside the Tiny Tap that night, 1974 was the last year for the Midget before the rubber baby buggy bumpers were applied (which were actually made of hard plastic, not rubber).  Granted, the ’74 had rubber “cow-catchers” front and rear to augment its chrome bumpers, but I feel they didn’t completely compromise the perky, cute overall look of this diminutive roadster.  In my opinion, the larger MGB wore its soft, black snout that arrived with the ’75s much more gracefully than the Midget – or shall I say, less awkwardly.  I also find the full, rear wheel arches of the 1972 – ’74 Midgets decidedly more attractive than the squared-off ones on the models that came before and after.

The ’74 Midgets were powered by a 65 hp (net) 1275 cc engine making 72 lb.-ft. of torque at 5,000 rpm.  That may not sound like a lot, but one must also consider our featured car weighed in the neighborhood of only around 1,600 pounds at the curb.  With its standard four-speed, zero-to-sixty miles per hour came in about 13.5 seconds, which was okay for the performance-strangled Seventies.  It probably felt a lot faster than that at speed, as tiny and low as it was.  A little car like this was all about fun, not out-and-out speed, and I can imagine its original owner taking it for joyrides around the Tampa Bay area, including on scenic, mansion-lined Bayshore Drive between Ballast Point and downtown.

Inside the Tiny Tap, the site of many fun nights of my 20’s.

This example was for sale, and while I don’t remember the exact asking price, I seem to remember a figure of (or close to) $4,000 on the sign behind the windshield.  It distressed me to see its bodywork fraying around the edges with rust that could become a serious problem if not attended to right away.  This little, classic drop-top seemed to be yet another example of a once-garaged beauty that had only recently been regularly exposed to the elements.  It seemed a shame.

As for this particular night when I saw this tiny, yellow car in front of my old, little, yellow bar, it reminded me of how many of my dreams for the future still seemed to remain there in Tampa’s tropical, urban paradise.  I had always hoped I would find a post-college job that would enable me to live there in moneyed Hyde Park in a place of my own, without roommates, that wasn’t a dump.  (The old house I shared with four other housemates back then was torn down about eight years ago.)  This area has changed drastically over the past twenty years since I lived there, with huge, “lifestyle” residential and retail complexes having been constructed since I left, seemingly catering to young professionals.

Just for this one night, though, four years ago, I almost felt the spirit of my twenty-two year old self sitting next to me at the Tiny Tap, at a crooked table with a bent coaster propping up one of its legs to keep it from wobbling on the broken linoleum.  Ray Charles’ “One Mint Julep” blared from jukebox as the strangely comforting aroma of stale, spilled beer, dish disinfectant and baked-in cigarette smoke wafted through the air.

Visiting and laughing with my old friends, I took comfort in the realization that despite the acquisition of a few of life’s battle scars that many of us had by that point, none of us had really changed all that much.  Dreaming of a moonlit cruise up Bayshore Drive, I envisioned handing the keys to my designated driver to what was now my MG sitting outside, as we planned the longest, top-down driving route in the balmy bay breeze to get a late-night Cuban sandwich at La Teresita.

Hyde Park, Tampa, Florida.
Friday, May 17, 2013, unless otherwise indicated.

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