Blogs at Amazon

« Ford Ranger | Main | Volkswagen Karmann Ghia »

MG Midget & Spridget

Midget Sprite 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.

The Lane Museum 3 14 09 027 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.

Midget rear 2 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.

Midget_poster 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.

The Lane Museum 3 14 09 016 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.

Midget-interior 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."

Midget smart car 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)

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00e54ed05fc2883301156e50836f970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference MG Midget & Spridget:

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Like most British cars of that vintage, they were somewhat ... er ... ah ... "maintenance intensive." Between repairs, though, they were glorious fun.

It is worth noting that that MG Midget was the clone. The Sprite came out in 1958 with the famous bugeye nose, no trunk lids, and side curtains. When it was 'upgraded' with a conventionally styled nose and tail to become the Sprite MKII, MG got their own version called the Midget MKI. When they received roll up windows, they became the Sprite MKIII and the Midget MKII. Under the skin, they're really the good old Bugeye Sprites of the '50s.

By the end of Midget production, they were considered to be among the worst cars on the market. And we're talking about the late '70s US auto market, one of the worst collections of junk in history. Basically all the safety rules and the urge to upholster the interior added a huge percentage to the weight of the car. Bumper and lighting height regulations were met by lifting the car, ruining its handling. Primitive emissions controls strangled the 1.5 liter engine to that of the .95 liter engine that had 300 lbs less car to push around 20 years earlier. And the marxists that built the cars did so as badly as possible to punish the bourgeoisie for being in a position to buy a sportscar.

I loved these things when I was a 7 year old. They were just my size. I still like the early ones with the simple removable weather gear and the greater interior space created by the lack of door panels and wind down windows. Too bad the ones I coveted in the '70s were the product of a British auto industry that had forgotten what product was all about. I had a friend who bought what looked like a near perfect last of the line Midget to drive while he restored and modified his Spitfire 1500. When the Spitfire was complete, the Midget sat forlornly at his parents house. I asked him what he wanted for it, and he just said, "I won't sell it to a friend." And that is why MG went away. Eventually all their potential friends had owned one or known someone who did.

Pop culture reference: When Ashton Kutcher's "That 70s Show" character, Michael Kelso VW Van was wrecked (by being parked on Mount Hump without a parking brake) he replaced it with an MG Midget.

And that was the alpha and omega of my Spridget knowledge until this post appeared. Nicely done!

That more than 200,000 of these truly awful cars were built over 20 years speaks to the indomitable spirit of the British, the undying appeal of the roadster, and the sagacity of P.T. Barnum.

The first convertible I ever rode in was a Midget. Thankfully, I contracted the less-severe form of British roadster-itis and bought a Miata.

I remember the MG. Every friend that had one worked on it constantly. It stayed off the road having repairs done more that it was driven. They will have to do a lot of work on making a better vehicle to revive that profitably.

On the other hand, my screenplay for "The Legend of Dirty Bum" is for sale on Amazon.com and I will donate a couple of dollars for each sae to help Houston area homeless people. More useful than an MG, I'd say. ;-)

Peace,
David Peterson Harvey

I owned a '71 Midget. It was the only sports car that I could afford, or so I thought. In the first 45,000 miles, I replaced the clutch twice; the headlight switch came apart in my hands twice and the brake system had to be replaced. And I was rather easy on the beast. It was fun on the back roads but totally out of place on freeways. That's what is meant by "sports car." It is of absolutely no practical use but one hell of a lot of fun. It's most unfortunate that British Leyland got ahold of this mark among others. They were clueless!

My first car was a used 1958 bug eye Sprite, bought in 1964. It had its adventures, just driving it. It had been in an accident and was poorly repaired and drove a little sideways. It always rained inside the car, even with the top up and the windows on. And it was slow, but it sounded great. It also had no synchro in first gear, as I recall.

My most interesting adventure was when I was driving along a two lane road and the steering wheel came off in my hands. I was able to stop by braking and luckily the car swerved to the right rather than the left into on coming traffic.

Never a dull moment with that car.

In high school I had a bud with a '73 Mk. III MG Midget, and I had a '74 Fiat X1/9. For all the jokes about Fiat reliability, it was as stone ax reliable as a Toyota compared to that MG. The Midgets were pretty cars - nowhere near a beautiful as the X1/9, IMO, but if you love Brit roadsters... - however, the Midgets were cursed with godawful engineering, build quality, and had resultant abjectly poor reliability. I'm trying to think of a less reliable automobile than that MG... I can't.

The wife used to drive a Triumph Spitfire, and it was a fun car. Sort of an early Miata.

Anyway, one day reverse went out, and when she heard the cost to repair, she turned it over to be cannibalized. It sat in a garage's back lot in Snellville, GA for years, and then one day it was gone. Into restoration, I hope.

Me, I'm hoping to find a Fiat 124 Sport to play with.

What am I thinking. It's people haulers for me, for at least another 10 years.

The MG Midget - What a dreadful automobile! I and everyone I knew back in the late seventies had a drop-top foreign two-seater at one time. Spitfires, MGB's, Midgets - and in my case a couple of Fiat124 Spyders at different times. Both of my Fiats were like advanced alien spacecraft compared to the others - especially my best friend's MG Midget. Most Gawd-Awful car ever made. Ever. Seriously. Of all time. Except for the Trabant, maybe. And that's a close call.

I had a 1965 MGB. It had a slight problem with the transmission, necessitating double clutching between 1st and 2nd gear. That was not a problem as I cruised through campus on those warm spring days in Bloomington, Indiana, circa 1968. Nubile young ladies in halter tops and short-shorts lined the road. Life was good. :-)

I know I am a heretic but the MGB inspired me to buy a Miata in 96. I did not have the mechanical appititude to own a MG.

Well, you live and learn. Always thought the TC and TD were simply precursors to the A. I had an A . . . and traded it in when I got married. Should have kept the A. LOVELY car! Much more a sportscar than the B I got a while later. Thanks for a nice article.

I've owned the same Mk2 Sprite for twenty years and have always been using it as a daily driver. It's agility and small size makes it an exciting car to drive anywhere, although freeway driving is an exhausting chore. I've driven a miata but prefer the Sprite's amazing handling. Weather protection is classic '60's, i.e., you might as well ride a motorbike for all the good it is at keeping you dry.
Many times I've parked it near much more exotic cars, but everyone wants to come over and talk about the Sprite. It's very simple to work on and not expensive to fix either. I'm surprised so many comments in here claim they're unreliable; I've found that if you follow the service schedule thoroughly they're o.k. If you don't, it will play up, because cars of the era were more maintenance intensive. The only design flaw I've found is that the gearbox isn't very tough by modern standards, but then I guess 3 box re-conditions in 20 years ain't bad. A lot of these cars ended up with students who couldn't afford to service them regularly; that might be why some people have experienced rough examples.
Steve McQueen (alongside Stirling Moss, amazingly) raced Sprites for the Austin Healey works team at Sebring. Before he was racing seriously, he was racing one of these! Truly a great car, but only one for sports car purists who think a roof is for wimps.

A 1966 MGB came home with me from Europe after discharge from the service. I've never enjoyed a car as much since. A little hydraulic fluid in the leaky aircraft-type shocks periodically, a good solid rap on the electric fuel pump now and then, the ability to change points and condensor regularly, and understanding the mysteries of twin semi-downdraft SU carbs (what you really needed was a good ear - you balanced them by sound) was all that was needed to keep it on the road. Highly recommended - a good blanket for your date in the winter to make up for the pathetic little heater box located behind the speaker on the floor up near your ankles! Drove mine round trip coast-to-coast the summer of 1967. Now, that was a sports car, though the TC and TD purists wouldn't agree; the "B" had crank-up windows, they had flaps!

Posts on the Spitfire and MGB Series are in the works. Please stay tuned!

Sheesh. So many complaints. So few owners?

My first car was a Bugeye. It had been stripped for circle-8 racing: I made it street legal again, and rewired it ...really, there was no "re-" about it, as the car had *no* wiring: I built the wiring harness up by using the fuse block out of a 1954 Chevy and stringing 16ga wiring (purchased from JC Whitney) to the lights and such. (Funny: I had less electrical problems with that car than any of the ones with stock Lucas - the prince of darkness - electrics.) I was 16.

I had two MGA's (I totally disassembled and restored the second one: it - somewhat later - paid for my marriage and my son). Two Midgets. One TR3. One Spitfire.

And when they needed worked on (and they all did), they were always easy and cheap to fix.

I learned to wrench from those cars.

I loved driving them fast ("fast" is a *very* relative term) along back country roads, and the curvier the better; they taught me to drive a line. I remember midnight drives in the foothills during the full moon with the lights out.

Pure magic.

I owned a 67 "B" that I bought from my brother in 71 and drove for at least 6 years. No real heat (I was in Vermont at the time), an electrical system that would go haywire when it rained, a fuel pump that had to be beat with a hammer to get it working, and I would have to put it in gear and rock it back and forth to get the starter motor to unbind from the ring gear. But when you had those twin SU's tuned just right, it was perfect for those Vermont mountain roads. I then even had a 80 B (probably one of the last, built on a Friday after long lunch at a pub). Leaked a a quart of oil on the way home from the dealer. A little more dependable than the 67. Drove it for 9 years. The last day I had it, the 6 inches of rubber fuel line going to the engine split open and started spraying gas all over the engine and was lucky I was only on the road 5 minutes and engine was still cold. Still regret not finding a way to have stored it somewhere. But they both had developed a lot of body rot from road salt and were just falling apart. Loved them both.

Thanks for the memories. My first car was a brand new blue 1970 MG Midget. I never had any problem with it. It is true that the 1st gear was not synchronized. It was a fun car - basically a go-cart with a body. It didn't like going faster than 70 on California freeways -- it started to shake like a helicopter at about 70 - but was great fun with the top down on the back roads. I then got a new blue 1975 Corvette which remained my daily driver for 34 years and 230,000 miles. My sister inherited the Midget and then traded it for a Ford Cortina -- what was she thinking?

Theodore's Miata is a wonderful car, a true classic.

But to damn the Spridget by comparison is rather ludicrous. Its handling is magical when compared with any American car of the late fifties, when the Sprite first appeared. Not in the Alfa Romeo class, but then neither was its price.

Come to think of it, NOTHING was in the Alfa class, back then...

I admit that I never really understood the MG lust. They always looked pretty bland to me. Triumph, I can see; those are neat, neat, NEAT looking cars (esp. the Spitfire and TR-6, hubba).

These things seem like the most popular car ever for people who will "fix it up and drive it someday", emphasis on the "someday" aspect.

I had a '78 MG-B and a '79 Midget Special (with the Triumph 1500 engine) at the same time; I dearly loved MG's. I came home from a business trip and noticed the Midget wasn't in the parking lot - I asked my wife (at the time) where the Midget was and she replied that she had grown tired of it being hard to start so she sold it! It is one of the reasons our marriage ended... I still have the '78 B and it is still a "daily driver", easy to work on and maintain, very reliable, and I think it is still one of the most beautiful cars on the road, as well as truly fun to drive. By the way, y'all know MG's are soon to resume production in a new assembly plant in Oklahoma - it will be good to see new MG's on the road again!

To MBA4: I just finished a post on the MGB Series, but it may not be up for a while. Until then, please enjoy this... I know you'll appreciate it as much as I did:

http://www.britishv8.org/Articles/BritishMotorHeritage-MGB.htm

I once beat two(!) late '70s vintage MG Midgets on the freeway with my Volvo 850 Turbo. Felt relly good.

I bought a used '62 Midget out of Canada; IIRC, they weren't sold in the States until '63. Maybe the earlier cars were better made, and surely were mechanically simpler, because after I synchronized the carbs, my '62 gave me no trouble at all. I didn't keep it long however, since it wasn't useful enough, wouldn't carry enough junk.

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In.

Pictured above: This is a forlorn Chevy Vega photographed by reader Gary Sinar. (Share yours)

Powered by Rollyo

Car Lust™ Contributors

August 2014

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31