MG Midget, now there's a name, probably the best known of all the MG names, and for sure the one attached to the greatest number of MG types. M, C, D, J, P, Q, R, TA, TB, TC, TD, TF, MkI, MkII, MkIII, and 1500, as I say a an awful lot of Midgets. Some of these are pretty rare, the C-type of which only 44 were built, J4 (9), Q-type (8), and the R-type with just 10 being made, but the rarest of all - the three alloy coupes constructed in 1962, two for Dick Jacobs, and one for John Milne. Like those other earlier rare cars these too were built purely for racing, but also like the earlier cars, they were based upon a very good production car.
The first 'modern' Midget appeared in late June 1961, a slightly more luxurious version of the Austin Healey Sprite MkII which had appeared earlier that same month. It was an instant success, becoming almost an institution for a generation brought up on earlier Midgets, yet even now celebrating its fiftieth anniversary the car appears just as fresh and desirable as when first launched, a real compliment to its designers.
Based on the original 1958 MkI Austin Healey Sprite, usually referred to as the 'Frogeye', the car was originally designed by the Healey Motor Company for BMC, under their partnership agreement, the idea being to produce a small sports car to fill a void in the market, vacated by Riley, Austin, Singer, and above all the hugely popular MG sports cars of the pre-war years. The idea was to use as many parts as possible from the then current BMC range to keep costs down, hence the Sprite was designed around the front suspension, engine, gearbox, and back axle, from the Austin A35, while it's excellent steering and rack came from the Morris Minor. Initially, the car was to have identical front and rear panels, again to keep costs down, but this proved impractical, however it does explain the overall outline of the MkI Sprite, and why the headlights look like an afterthought!
Launched in May of 1958 it was an immediate winner, for the Sprite offered exactly what its creators intended, sporting motoring for minimum cost. Built at the MG factory in Abingdon, 49,500 were produced between 1958 and 1961, but sales began to wane fast, the car being criticised for both its appearance and the lack of an opening boot. A successor was required quickly to counter both, and for reasons best known to themselves, BMC management requested the Healey Motor Company to redesign the front along traditional lines, while MG the rear, with an opening boot. Just as well both design teams got along, for who knows what might have resulted otherwise! In secret, collaboration took place between the design teams, for BMC had to be kept in the dark, ensuring that both ends would fit, and work aesthetically when brought together. As things were being finalized it was thought an MG alternative might double the cars appeal, it could easily be produced alongside the Sprite, and with a little extra trim could be sold for a slightly higher price. With purchase tax that came to £669 15s 10d, for those who can remember old money, or £669 76p for those who can't. (Thats the price of the car - not the difference between the two for the extra trim)! The Midget always represented good value for money with low running costs, and still does.
The first MkI Midget when announced was fitted with a 46.5bhp 948cc BMC "A" series engine, with simple interior, side-screens and stowaway hood. It differed from the Sprite by having a traditional MG style of grille and a little extra trim, initially a white instead of a black steering wheel, and other small detail differences, the uncomplicated but very attractive car bringing under one litre motoring back to MG enthusiasts for the first time since 1936. This didn't last long though for throughout its 3 year production period until 1964 the MkI Midget was constantly being improved. In 1962 a more powerful version was introduced fitted with a 1098cc 56bhp version of the same engine, and in 1963 further improvements arrived in the form of front disc brakes and better interior trim. At this point also the engine received additional refinement by the fitting of larger 2" main bearings, this was in answer to criticism of the engine being somewhat rough at higher revolutions, therefore by the time the MkII was announced the original car had been developed considerably.
The car pictured here is a late MkI dating from 1964, and is fitted with the large bearing 1098cc engine, disc brakes, better interior, and also has optional wire wheels not available until disc brakes became standard. It is probably the most desirable of the MkI cars, with reasonable power output, comfy interior, and the best of about half a dozen designs of side screen, but still utilising quarter elliptic rear suspension from the original design, which some drivers prefer. All Midgets are noted for their superb handling, even today there are few production cars that can match a properly driven Midget across its homeland of rural English byways, but some feel the quarter elliptic car, while slightly more nervous, has a sharper overall response. The pictured car also has a rare now, but fairly common then, Ashley fast back hard top. (These tops were manufactured in a small building where London's third air terminal stands today - Stanstead Airport).
Except for the war years, and a short period from 1955 to 1961, MG Midgets had been available continuously since 1929, and due to building them from slightly modified saloon car parts, had always represented astonishingly good value for money. Some diehards thought the last of the true Midgets was the TF, in the eyes of others the TC, and yet more the overhead cam PB of 1936. However, the proof of the pudding as always is in the eating, for with the exception of the P-type, each successive version sold more cars than its predecessor, with the final 'modern' Midget outselling all the previous cars put together! Like today, there has always been a hunger among keen drivers for great handling sports cars, not all have deep pockets however, and for this reason good value cars like the Midget have always been very popular, look no further than the Mazda MX5 for a modern comparison. The MkI Midget set new standards for performance, handling, and value in 1961, and with nigh on 360,000 Spridgets built in total, it seems the drawing office at Abingdon, as always, got things spot on.