“Midgets suck. Get an MGB.” That was the considered opinion of my friend Chad when I expressed my intention to buy a rather crusty 1970 MG Midget back in the late 1980s. Luckily, I resisted peer pressure and bought the car. It turned out to be one of the best automotive decisions I ever made. Take that, foolish Chad! However mistaken he may have been, Chad’s viewpoint illustrates the challenge that the MG Midget — and its alt-badge doppelgänger, the Austin-Healey Sprite — have faced since they were new. Both models have been overshadowed by hugely successful stablemates in the form of the MGA/MGB and the Big Healeys.

From Bugeye to Spridget

The Austin-Healey Sprite actually came along first, in 1958. The Sprite Mark 1 is better known as the Frogeye or Bugeye Sprite. These are instantly recognizable by the happy frog face at the front of the bonnet, but the thing to note is the feminine curve of the rear fenders. Mark 1 Sprites are unlike all others. Austin-Healey made 48,987 of these, and they are prized (and more valuable) today. For the 1962 model year, BMC made both Austin-Healey and MG versions of the car. The company also changed the bodywork to the fundamental look that the Sprite and Midget would carry through the rest of their production runs. The rear end got squarer, with a real trunk lid, and the front bodywork went more in line with the forthcoming MGB. Somewhat paradoxically, given the high values of Austin-Healeys today, the Midget was the upscale brother of the pair, with a bit more chrome and a nicer interior. Collectively, the cars became known as “Spridgets.” Underneath, the Sprite and Midget were always identical. The cars used a dual-wishbone front suspension with the Armstrong lever shock absorber serving as the upper control arm, and ¼-elliptic rear springs supporting a solid rear axle. Drum brakes were used on all four corners. Under the hood was BMC’s 948-cc A-series engine with a pair of SU carburetors, mated to a 4-speed manual transmission with no synchro in first gear. The driveline was rated at 46 horsepower and 53 foot-pounds of torque.

Rapid development

Spridget upgrades came quickly with a shift to the 56-horsepower 1,098-cc engine and front disc brakes during 1962. Semi-elliptic rear springs and proper roll-up windows were added in 1964. However, the most important changes came in 1966 with the hot new 1,275-cc engine. This upgraded A-series delivered 65 horsepower and 72 foot-pounds of torque, but it could easily be pushed to Mini Cooper S standards of 76 horsepower or better. For many Spridget enthusiasts, 1966–67 is the apogee of the breed, with the 1,275-cc engine and the early painted metal dashboard. These are the nimblest, best-looking, and most powerful Midgets. MG introduced a padded foam dashboard to enhance crash safety for 1968, and virtually all of them decayed within a few years. Then the 4.22 final drive was jacked to 3.90, giving the Midget better freeway manners but kneecapping its acceleration. Further changes continued to diminish performance from this point onwards. In 1971, Austin-Healey sold the last of the Sprites. It was all MG from there, and in 1972 a bodywork change gave the Midget rounded rear wheelarches. Those arches look great, but they are not as strong as the square arches that went before, so they were discontinued after 1974. All told, there were more than 80,000 Mark 3 MG Midgets made between 1966 and 1974. The last big change came along for the 1975 model year. The 1,275-cc BMC A-series engine was abandoned in favor of the 1,500-cc engine common to the Triumph Spitfire, and huge, ill-fitting rubber bumpers were applied front and rear to meet U.S. safety standards. The Midget also got a higher stance to meet bumper-height requirements. “Rubber bumper” Midgets, as they are known, are the least-desirable cohort, but MG made 73,899 of them through the end of production in 1979.

Why choose a Midget?

I said that buying a Midget was one of the best automotive decisions I ever made, and I stand by that assessment. Driving a Midget is both fun and educational because it’s one of the most rewarding momentum sports cars. The 0–60 mph time was always north of 15 seconds, but if you can summon the courage to dive into corners fast, a Midget will not let you down. They’re light, tossable, forgiving, and offer more room for a tall driver than you expect. Six-footers can get in and drive comfortably. Most importantly, an MG Midget is among the least-expensive ways to add a British classic to your collection. It’s rare to see one top $10,000 at auction, and you can find them on sale for less at any British car gathering. The usual car-buying rules apply to Midgets — check for rust and overall condition. The transmissions were a weak point, so check to see if it pops out of gear, especially on older models. But don’t get too hung up if there are projects in the car’s future. All parts are readily available, including all the body panels. If you’ve had the idea to go out and enjoy a Midget or a Sprite, it’s time to ignore your inner Chad and take the plunge. You won’t be sorry you did. ♦

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