MG Midget

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MG Midget

MG Midget

1961 - 1980
L4 BMC "A" Series
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4 spd. man
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3 star
MG Midget
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3


Originally designed by Donald Healey and his team, the car may have started life as an Austin-Healey Sprite, but was always manufactured by the MG Car Company at its factory in Abingdon, Berkshire. MG developed and improved the Sprite to the point where they felt it was fit to be known as the first post-war MG Midget.

Over the years, the two models came to be given the joint soubriquet 'Spridget', and from their inception, Spridgets became popular cars to use in 'grass roots' motor sport events all over the world, because of their predictable and entertaining handling characteristics and the ready availability of tuning parts, both from the manufacturer BMC and from independent tuning concerns – particularly Alexander Engineering and Speedwell Performance Conversions.

MG Midget MkI (1961 – 1964)

The first version was essentially a slightly more expensive badge-engineered version of the Austin-Healey Sprite MKII and retained the quarter-elliptic sprung rear axle from the original Sprite. The engine was a 948cc A-Series with twin SU carburettors producing 46 hp (34 kW) at 5500 rpm and 53 lbf·ft (72 Nm) at 3000 rpm. Brakes were 7 in (178 mm) drums all round. A hard top, heater, radio and luggage rack were available as factory fitted extras.

In October 1962 the engine was increased to 1098cc, raising the output to 56 hp (42 kW) at 5500 rpm and 62 lbf·ft (84 Nm) at 3250 rpm and disc brakes replaced the drums at the front. Wire spoked wheels became available. The doors had no external handles or locks and the windows were sliding Perspex side-screens. A heater was an optional extra. Production was 16,080 of the small-engined version and 9601 of the 1098. A car with the 948cc engine was tested by the British magazine The Motor in 1962 and had a top speed of 87.9 mph (141.5 km/h) and could accelerate from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 18.3 seconds. A fuel consumption of 40.2 miles per imperial gallon (7.03 litres/100 km; 33.5 mpg-US) was recorded. The test car cost UK£689 including taxes.

MG Midget MkII (1964 – 1966)

Externally the main changes on the Mark II were the doors, which gained wind-up windows, swivelling quarter lights, external handles and separate locks. The windscreen also gained a slight curvature and was retained in a more substantial frame. The hood (US – top), though modified, continued to have a removable frame that had to be erected before the cover was put on. The rear springs were replaced by more conventional semi-elliptic types which gave a better ride. The engine block was strengthened and larger main bearings were fitted, increasing the power to 59 hp (44 kW) at 5750 rpm and torque to 65 lbf·ft (88 Nm) at 3500 rpm. A total of 26,601 were made.

The following road test was conducted by Sports Car World in 1966 on the Mark II Midget. FOLLOWING a preview of the MG Midget, we took our time about putting the car to test We wanted to live with it a while without being rushed through testing procedures owing to the queue of frustrated would-be Fangios who eagerly grab every new sports car as if it were their own speciality. And, happily, we are able to report that our time with the revised and renamed Sprite was well worth the patience.

Adding flower to the test of the MG Midget is unnecessary. The basic design has been with us for some length of time and anyone who has been around sports cars knows the value that was always built into the former Sprite. The big news, though, is in the mechanical departments. BMC, already updating the MGB and preparing to launch the MGC, wasn't ready to let the MG Midget fend for itself just on a change of name - no matter what kind of magic the name MG might conjure in the heart of the purist. So they took the best of everything and built a new car inside the current shell.

For power, engineers plucked out the proven Mini Cooper S unit of 1275cc. They detuned it with smaller valves and a milder camshaft than used in the Coopers and held the power at 65 bhp at 6000 rpm, giving 72 lb/ft of torque at 3000 rpm. Compression ratio was kept almost the same. The new engine really turned the little Midget on. Not that it was any slagbox before. With the former 1100cc motor, the car was still light enough to be able to hold its own with any medium-sized sedan in traffic light derbies, yet it would be completely content to idle along at very slow speeds without kick-back or fuss.

Not that the 1275cc version is much different. Helped by a relatively low final drive gear ratio, the Midget is one of the most flexible sports cars around. Geared to run 15.5 mph per 1000 rpm, the 4.22 rear end brings the tachometer red line to 6300 — although the engine is just as happy to spin closer to seven grand — and a top speed of over 100 mph. The Midget would easily pull a higher rear end if you wanted some spirited cruising in the country, but as a dual-purpose sports car the ratio choice currently used is excellent for every need.

MG Midget

MG Midget
Small shortcomings do remain in the Midget design. There is a slightly cramped feeling in the driver's seat — owing to the steering wheel coming back to the driver too far. Actually, this could be turned around to read that the seat doesn't adjust back far enough to allow even a semi-straight armed driving position — and a tallish driver could well find himself experiencing slight pangs of arm fatigue on long journeys. Whatever the driving position may be to the tall enthusiast, the car is nevertheless comfortable. Passengers have oodles of room for feet and elbows and excellent vision from a normal sitting position. With the side windows wound up and the hood down, there is hardly any wind-blown discomfort, rather a touch of fresh air wafting over the top of the windscreen lightly to fleck the occupants. For a full blast of air and a carefree feeling, simply wind the lot down and hold on to your hat.

The cockpit is fully carpeted, and this extends back to the parcel shelf behind the seats — even when the hood is folded. While overnight bags can be carried on this shelf, any other holiday luggage or parcels will fit easily into the surprisingly-large boot. Our first impressions of the Midget gave full details of the hood and its new design, so there's little need to go into that again. But we will applaud the company's foresight in supplying a small tonneau cover which clips over and around the folded hood, returning the car to a clean and uncluttered sight.

Handling, apart from the available extra torque, is not seriously changed. The car continues to understeer with regular tyre pressures — which probably keeps the boy-wonders out of potential trouble - but anyone with a bit of thought and driving nous can soon work out a good balance of tyre pressures to bring the car back to some semblance of neutral handling. In fact, it's damned hard to get the car to break the tail loose unless you time your actions and reactions to the split second, on the right corner with the right type of slippery road. Other than going through all of this hard work (you want to try it some-

time) you're probably as safe in the MG Midget as in any other car on the road in its class. On dirt or in the wet, the car is a ball in semi-experienced hands. Almost like a toy. It can literally be chucked around to adopt impossible angles; then brought back into line without turning a hair. A lot of the excellent handling and traction qualities found in the MG Midget can be attributed to the fact that BMC fit radial tyres as standard — a most welcome move. So, before jumping into the big 'uns and dreaming you're a boy hero right from the start, take a trip in the Midget. It'll give you all the experience you'll want from a sports car, boasts all the features of its big brother and is one hell of a lot of fun to boot. But at A$2480, where have the cheaper sports cars gone?

MG Midget MkIII (1966–1974)

The engine now grew to 1275cc using the development seen on the Mini-Cooper 'S'. Enthusiasts were disappointed that this was a de-tuned version of the 75 bhp @ 5800 rpm Cooper 'S' engine, giving only 65 hp (48 kW) at 6000 rpm and 72 lbf·ft (98 Nm) at 3000 rpm. A reduced compression ratio of 8.8:1 was used instead of the 9.75:1 employed on the Cooper S engine. The Midget used the 12G940 cylinder head casting that was common to other BMC 1300 cars, whereas the Cooper 'S' had a special head with extra-large valves: however, these valves caused many 'S' heads to fail through cracking between the valve seats.

The detuned engine was used for reasons of model range placement - with the Cooper 'S' spec engine the Midget would have been faster than the more expensive MGB. The hydraulic system gained a separate master cylinder for the clutch. The hood was now permanently attached to the car, with an improved mechanism making it much easier to use. There were minor facelift changes to the body in 1969, with the sills painted black and a revised recessed black grille. Rubery Owen "Rostyle" wheels were standardised but wire spoked ones remained an option. US-spec cars received several safety additions: a padded fascia (dashboard) with smaller main gauges; collapsible steering column, scissor-type hood hinges, a third windshield wiper, additional side marker lights, and anti-burst door latches. The rear axle gear ratio was increased in 1968 to 3.9:1, giving 16.5 mph for every 1000 RPM. The increased gear ratio gave the 1275 model slightly better fuel economy than the 1098 model.

In August 1971 the compression ratio on North American engines was reduced to 8.0:1. Engine power output fell to 54.5 bhp @ 5500 RPM and 67 lb-ft of torque @ 3250 RPM. The square-shaped rear wheel arches became rounded in January 1972. Also in this year, a Triumph steering rack was fitted, giving a gearing that was somewhat lower than earlier Midgets. A second exhaust silencer was also added in 1972. Alternators were fitted instead of dynamos from 1973 onwards. For 1974 model year, rubber bumper extensions were added to the chrome bumpers to meet the first US bumper impact regulations. Many consider the round-arch Midgets with chrome bumpers produced for model years 1972 and 1973 to be the most desirable. These round-arch cars started leaving the Abingdon factory in late 1971. Between 1966 and the 1969 face lift 22,415 were made, and a further 77,831 up to 1974.

MG Midget 1500 (1974–1980)

To meet US federal regulations, large black plastic bumpers (usually called rubber bumpers, despite not actually being rubber) were added to the front and rear and the ride height was increased. The increased ride height impacted handling, and an anti-roll bar was added to help with higher centre of gravity. The A-Series engine was replaced by the 1493cc unit from the Triumph Spitfire and a modified Morris Marina gearbox with synchromesh on all four gears. The increased displacement of the new engine was better able to cope with the increasing emission regulations. Although the horsepower ratings were similar (65 bhp - home market) the 1493cc engine produced more torque. The increased output combined with taller gear ratios resulted in faster acceleration, (12 seconds 0-60 compared to 13 for the 1275cc version) and top speed of just over 100 mph.

In the US market British Leyland struggled to keep engine power at acceptable levels, as the engines were loaded with air pumps, EGR valves and catalytic converters to keep up with new US and California exhaust emission control regulations. The home market's dual SU HS4 carbs were swapped for a single Zenith-Stromberg 150 CD4 unit, and the power fell to 50 bhp at 5000 RPM and 67 lb-ft of torque at 2500 RPM. The round rear-wheel arches were now square again, to increase the body strength. The last car was made on December 7, 1979, after 73,899 of the last version had been made. The last 500 cars were painted black. There was no Austin-Healey Sprite equivalent. A limited number of MG Midgets were titled in 1980, and appear as 1980 models.
MG Midget
MG Midget
MG Midget
MG Midget

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Also see:

Sprites and Midgets
MG History
The MG Story
MG Performance Chart
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