by That Car Guy
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 has been with us for quite a while! This 1949 MG TC Midget Roadster (Made from 1945-1949) is the first British car to make significant inroads into the United States. American servicemen returning from Europe after WWII liked the light, nimble, and sporty MG. It has a 1250cc 4-cylinder, a 4-speed manual, and tops out at 78 mph. They were made from 1945-1949, 10,000 were made, and they cost 528 Sterling Pounds when new.
Though relatively small, this car made a trip up Pike's Peak with four people on board!
I remember MG Midgets from 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 $2895.
The MG Midget MkI (1961-1964) was introduced with a 948cc engine, twin SU carburetors, 46 horsepower, with drum brakes all around. In October, 1962, the engine became 1098cc with 56 horses, and disc brakes were installed on the front to compete with the Spitfire. Wire wheels became an option, and 16,080 MkIs were made. Again, an Austin-Healey Sprite with badge engineering.
The MG Midget MkII (1964-1966) saw significant changes! The doors were greatly improved with crank-up windows, swiveling quarter lights (We Americans called them 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, and 26,601 were made.
For 1966, the MG Midget MkIII (1966-1974) got the best thing you can have on a convertible... an easier, permanently-attached folding roof! It also got a 1275cc engine, but only 65 ponies. The 1969 MkIIIs came with black-painted grilles and lower body sills, and "Rubery Owen Restyle" wheels were standard (Wire wheels were still optional). 1972 MkIIIs had round wheel arches, a Triumph steering rack, and a second muffler. 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 till its last days because of strict American pollution requirements. Although 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 for body strengthening. 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. They had to be raised to meet bumper requirements, then detuned to meet emissions specs. To balance power and emissions, the MG Midget used the Spitfire's 1493cc engine and transmission from 1974 to the last car on December 7, 1979. Some fans claimed heresy, others saw it as the only way the car could survive.
Somewhat inversely to production models, MG Midgets were lowered to the ground as much as possible for racing. An ingenious method was to enclose the exhaust system into the drive shaft tube, lowering the car from 4-5 inches to 1.75 inches off the ground.
This car 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? Maybe 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."
There is an attempt to revive the car. A version of the Smart Car Roadster may be built with the MG Midget name. Introduced in 2003 and ending in 2005, the Roadster weighs 1,742 lbs, has 81 horsepower (Except for Brabus special editions with 101 horsepower), and costs nearly the same as an MX-5 Miata.
I'm hoping the new one receives the support and success of the original.
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
"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.