MG Midget & Spridget
Everybody knows that MG stands for "Morris Garages". But what's the difference between an 1961 Austin Healey Sprite Mark III and a 1961 MG Midget? Well, I was surprised recently when I read that they are basically one and the same - so much so that they are often called "Spridgets". A slightly nicer interior, vertical grille bars, and MG badges were all that separated them. The Sprite is shown here.
These cars were made for nearly 20 years without any real significant body changes except for wheel arches, windshield curving, and better-operating convertible tops. Engines and chassis bits were upgraded, and the improvements seemed to leap frog the Midget's main competitor, the Triumph Spitfire, back and forth.
But the MG Midget name dates back even before Sprite clone. The MG TC Midget Roadster pictured to the left was the first British car to make significant inroads into the United States. American servicemen returning from Europe after World War II liked the light, nimble, and sporty MG. It had a 1250-cc 4-cylinder, a 4-speed manual transmission, and topped out at 78 mph. More than 10,000 TC Midgets were made from 1945-1949, and they cost 528 pounds when new.
I remember the more modern MG Midgets from my high school days. Please accept these as approximate used sports car prices in the mid 1970s: MG Midgets sold for around $1,400; an MGB at that time would go for about $3,000; a TR6 around $3,000. A good Spitfire would fetch $1,500, and a Porsche 914 was about $4,000. This was fairly big money back then, as a brand new base 1974 Mustang II was $2,895.
The MG Midget Mk. I (1961-1964) was introduced with a 948-cc engine, twin SU carburetors, 46 horsepower, with drum brakes all around. For 1962, the engine was bumped up to 1,098 ccs and 56 horses. Disc brakes were installed on the front to compete with the Spitfire. Wire wheels were optional. At the end of the run, 16,080 Mk. Is were made.
The MG Midget Mk. II (1964-1966) saw significant changes. The doors were greatly improved with crank-up windows, swiveling vent windows, and external handles and locks. The windshield received a slight curve, and semi-elliptical rear springs were fitted. The power was bumped up to 59 horsepower. MG produced 26,601 Mk. II Midgets.
For 1966, the MG Midget Mk. III (1966-1974) added a crucial convertible feature ... an easier-to-use, permanently-attached folding roof. The Mk. III received a 1,275cc engine, but that larger engine was still good for only 65 ponies. The 1969 Mk. IIIs came with black-painted grilles and lower body sills, and "Rubery Owen Restyle" wheels were standard (wire wheels were still optional). 1972 Mk. IIIs had round wheel arches, a Triumph steering rack, and a second muffler. A total of 100,246 were made over the eight-year model run.
The MG Midget 1500 (1974-1980) did the unthinkable--it used a Triumph Spitfire 1500 engine until the model was canceled because of strict American pollution requirements. Though MG and Triumph had merged in 1968, they were still rivals.
The Midget 1500 received black "rubber" bumpers, the A-Series Spitfire engine, the Morris 4-speed transmission, and the rear wheel openings returned to a square shape to strengthen the body. A total of 73,899 Midget 1500s were made; the last ones for the UK market were black.
Like the MGB, TR6, and Spitfire, American regulations damaged the spirit of these sports cars. The cars had to be raised to meet bumper requirements, then detuned to meet emissions specs. To balance power and emissions, the MG Midget used the rival Spitfire's engine. Some fans claimed heresy; others saw it as the only way the car could survive.
As opposed to production models, MG Midgets were lowered to the ground as much as possible for racing. An ingenious lowering method was to enclose the exhaust system in the drive shaft tube, which made it possible to lower the car from 4-5 inches to 1.75 inches off the ground.
The Midget pictured here competed in SCCA Class "F" and was so light, it needed 150 pounds of ballast to meet the minimum weight requirements. It has a dry-sump 1275cc engine that makes 140 horsepower, with a top speed of 135 miles per hour. Originally modified by BHP Developments in 1990, the car has a front motor mount made from sandwiched aluminum that ties the steering rack and front suspension together for added vehicle rigidity.
Jeff Lane, owner of The Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, raced this car. It was retired, then restored to perfect running condition by Chuck Callis.
A lot can be said about a car that lasts almost 20 years and still looks fresh without major redesigns. Timeless? Proper? Done right from the beginning? Nearly 30 years after the car ceased production, it still has hordes of loyal followers.
According to Wikipedia: "On May 24, 2008, the Official UK Golden Anniversary of the introduction of the Austin Healey Sprite, "Spridget 50 - The Big Party" was held at the British Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon, Warwickshire. Up to 1,000 Sprites, Midgets, and derivatives were in attendance - a record number. The event was jointly organised and promoted by the UK's Midget and Sprite Club, Healey Drivers Club, MG Owners Club, Austin Healey Club, and MG Car Club - the first time an event of this size has been supported by all of the marque-representing clubs. More information and many photographs at http://spridget50.org/index.php."
Over the last few years, there have been reports that the MG Midget nameplate may be revived, on a version of the now-defunct Smart Roadster. It's a promising base for a reconstituted Midget; the Smart Roadster was light (1,742 pounds), had 81 horsepower (101 in the Brabus special edition), and came with either a solid Targa top or electrically retractable soft top. Top Gear named the Roadster the Fun Car Of The Year in 2005..
I'm hoping the new one is as successful as the original.
"Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car" magazine (February, 2009) supplied some technical details, Wikipedia and Google gave specifications and images. The Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, exhibited the 1949 MG TC Midget and racing Midget.
--That Car Guy (Chuck)