These are truly small cars. Anyone larger than 5'9" driving one looks like a trained circus bear in a parade

The early '60s were the golden age of the British sports car. The British Motor Corporation (BMC) aimed to have a product for every possible driver. MG dealers were clamoring for a car smaller and cheaper than the MGA. A badge-engineered version of the Austin-Healey Sprite Mk II seemed like just the thing. A different grille and a piece of bright trim on the hood and on the sides turned the Sprite into a Midget, a name revived from the 1930s. But the cars are so similar that they are known by the collective appellation "Spridget."

Both cars shared the basic underpinnings of the Austin A30 and the BMC A-series engine displacing 948 cc, which put out around 45 hp. Mk I Midgets also shared the side curtains of the Sprite Mk II. These were incredibly basic cars with slab sides and few compound curves. The characteristic upswept seam on the side just below and forward of the wind screen was a holdover from the Bugeye Sprite.

Although basic, the Abingdon factory turned out a quality product, and most early Midgets had decent panel fit, nice paint, and Spartan but charming interiors, with seats featuring contrasting piping and a set of Smiths gauges. In 1963, displacement increased to 1,098 cc and front disc brakes were added.

By 1964, the Midget came perilously close to becoming a real car. Opening quarter windows, roll-up windows, and outside door handles became part of the program and horsepower increased to 59 hp. One thing, however, that would be impossible to address throughout the 18-year production life of the car was the lack of cockpit space. These are truly cars for small people. No matter how far back you adjust the seat, the wheel is in your face. Footwell space is limited and is further intruded upon by a massive floor stiffener that runs horizontally through the middle of the floor. About 5' 9" and 160 lbs is the upper end. Anyone larger driving the Midget looks like a trained circus bear.

After 1966, Midget development is marked by a series of displacement increases designed solely to keep pace with ever-tightening U.S. emission regulations. The first bump was to 1,275 cc; it was a detuned version of a saloon motor-that of the Mini Cooper S. The "Leylandization" of the car in 1970 saw all of the nice BMC touches eliminated, including the pretty grille, side trim, and nice upholstery. An odd split rear bumper was added for 1971 only. Wire wheels, formerly common, became scarce in favor of Rostyle styled steel wheels.

What was generally accepted as a pretty styling change came about from 1972-74. The rear wheel arches, which always looked odd, went from a flat-topped design to rounded full arches. These so-called "round arch" Midgets looked great; however, nobody in the new Leyland crew seemed to remember that the flat-top arches were essential to the way the rear crumple zone (such as it was) absorbed a hit. Without them, the cars folded up like a cardboard box. And so they went away after 1974.

The 1975 model year brought twin atrocities for MG fans. First, the venerable A-series motor was replaced by a Triumph 1,500-cc engine with a single Zenith carburetor in the U.S., and next, the infamous rubber-bumper solution to U.S. 5-mph impact laws. For some reason, the Midget seems to have come out slightly better looking than the MGB in this regard, but still, condition is the only reason to buy a rubber-bumper car. One positive came with the change to the 1500 engine-for the first time, the Midget had a fully synchronized gearbox. Even with the "big engine." 0-60 times were still around 15 seconds. Still, they seemed quicker because of their size. And there is fun to be found in driving a Midget on a twisty road where you can explore the car's limits at the same speed at which the stock broker in his leased BMW 3-Series is drinking his latte and texting someone while steering with his knees.

Midgets are generally mechanically robust, especially the pre-Triumph-engined cars. Lack of smoke, oil pressure around 60 psi, and no ominous noises usually means all is well. Cars with a crash first often suffer from a noisy first gear. Within reason, this is okay. Everything is cheap and straightforward, with an emphasis on cheap. Invariably, when you see Moss ads touting "fuel pumps from $39.95," it's the Midget part they're referring to. The 155/80/13 tires are likewise the loss leaders in every weekend paper's tire ad.

Like every other British car from the era, the Midget's semi-unit structure is rust-prone. Floors, trunk floors, fenders, fender wells, you name it, it'll rust. Western cars are almost always better in this regard. On chrome-bumper cars, the bonnet lid protrudes and has almost always been tapped. Look for excessive filler in the nose. On wire wheel cars, check to make sure the splines don't have play in them and that they are greased. The only thing more annoying than being passed by one's own wheel that has detached itself from an axle is not being able to get a frozen wheel off an ungreased spline when the tire has flattened in the middle of nowhere.

As with nearly every affordable classic, paradoxically, the most affordable ones are always the most expensive examples of the marque. Even with parts prices as cheap as a Midget's, buying a cheap, bad Midget and restoring it is beyond folly; it's downright idiotic. Especially when there is a decent supply of good cars out there.

Midgets, because of their size, were often bought by petite women who tended to take good care of them. There are still cars in the hands of long-term female owners. Look for a car that has always been properly cared for (i.e. hasn't been sitting in a yard and used as a rolling dog kennel), drive it, and fix the little things that will inevitably go wrong, but at small expense.

Top dollar is around $4,500 for a rubber-bumper car and $6,000 for a chrome-bumper, round-arch car. Over the last five years, they have appreciated modestly, but still represent the absolute entry-level of traditional British sports cars, with the added benefit that it is virtually impossible to get much less than 30 mpg out of one and you can park it almost anywhere. If you can squeeze into a Midget, it can make an entertaining, cheap, and disposable urban car for those not willing to plunk down twenty grand for a Smart car. In fact, if you've been looking for an excuse to shed a few pounds, buying a Midget and slimming down until you fit into it could be just the ticket to fiscal and physical fitness.

Comments are closed.