Background to the Midget

Back in the 1920's, the M-Type Midget had been developed from the baby Morris Minor. The result was a basic, cheap, fun two-seater, with sporting pretensions which triggered a whole dynasty of Midgets. It was the Midget series which had established MG as a manufacturer of sports cars with an excellent reputation in motor sport.
This range of cars had culminated in the TF which was seen as a Midget too far. By the time it was laid to rest in 1955, the design was out of date and out of step with what was required, since sports cars were becoming bigger, more sophisticated, more powerful, and more expensive. It seemed doubtful that we would ever see a Midget again.
In the late 1950's, yet another basic, cheap, fun two-seater was developed from a "baby" car. This time, the more modern equivalent of the old Austin Seven was used, the A30/35. This new two-seater car was the Austin-Healey Sprite, which appeared in 1959 and was built at Abingdon.
The Sprite was powered by an engine and transmission which had come straight from the Austin, and was a 948cc pushrod, overhead valve, four-cylinder A-series unit. In the Sprite however, it had been given twin SU carburettors and developed around 42bhp, which was sufficient to propel the little car to around 80mph. This car became known as the "Frogeye" Sprite due to its headlamps being set into the front of the one-piece front end, with a mouth-like grille being mounted on the front edge.
In 1961, the bodywork of the Sprite came in for a major restyling. The central cockpit portion remained essentially the same, but the front and rear bodywork was completely restyled and redesigned to give the car a more conventional squared-off appearance. The engine and running gear was essentially the same as the earlier Sprite, but output was up to around 47bhp, which lead to increases in performance also.
In this form, the car was known as the Austin-Healey Sprite Mark II, but shortly after a De Luxe version was announced. It had been re-badged to become known as the MG Midget.

Midget Design

From the outset, the Sprite had been designed to be of unitary construction, with the floorpan and body being built as one strong, rigid structure. Stiffness was provided by box-like sections sills and crossmembers, a deep transmission tunnel, the scuttle, and the box shaped boot. At the front, the crossmember for the suspension and steering was carried on a pair of chassis legs which projected forwards from the scuttle bulkhead.
The suspension was the same as the Austin upon which it was based, with double wishbones and coil springs where the upper wishbone was provided by the lever arms of the dampers. The Austin's steering was replaced by a rack and pinion set-up as used in the Morris Minor. The Minor was also the source for the hydraulically-operated rear brakes, although the rear axle was from the baby Austin. The axle was mounted on stiff quarter-elliptical springs controlled by lever arm dampers.
The original Sprite's one piece front end had been dropped in favour of separate wings, front panel, and a pancake type rear-hinged bonnet. The headlamps had been moved to the forward corners of the front wings, while the indicators and side lights were mounted immediately below this. A full-width grille filled the gap between the front wings and lights. At the rear, the "square" styling theme was continued and was extended as far as the tops of the rear wheel arches being squared-off. The rear lights were fixed in the upper extremities of the rear wings, and there was a separate boot lid. The flat windscreen remained, as did the removable soft top and side-screens.

The Midget Mk I & Mk II

The new Midget was to find a ready and enthusiastic market among the dedicated MG fans, as it was a sports car with all the all the traditional MG characteristics - it was small, inexpensive, fast, and safe with predictable handling. Above all, it was a fun car.
For 1963 the Midget Mk I was given a 1098cc version of the A-series engine, which developed 55bhp, and improved transmission ratios in an attempt to make the car more competitive with Triumphs recently announced Spitfire. At the same time, the twin-leading-shoe front drum brakes were dispense with and replaced with disc brakes. Also, centre-locking wire wheels became an option at this point.
In the following year, the Midget MkII was introduced. This car had improved rear suspension, with the quarter-elliptic leaf springs being replaced with semi-elliptic ones, to improve the lateral location of the rear axle and hence improve the car's tendancy to oversteer. Although the Mark II's bodywork remained the same, it was fitted with a new curved windscreen and the doors were fitted with wind-up windows and opening quarter-lights.


The Midget Mk III

The Midget Mk II had continued to sell until late 1965, when the Mk III model was introduced. Once again, the engine had been enlarged - this time it had the 1275cc A-series unit developed from the one used in the Mini Cooper S. This produced 65bhp and could propel the little car to speeds in the mid 90's.
Although there were no really obvious changes to the appearance of the car, there were minor ones. Perhaps one of the most important of these was the addition of a folding soft top, which replaced the one which had to be fully removed to be stowed.
In 1968, the Sprite version of the Midget Mk III (a Sprite MK IV) was dropped from the range leaving the Midget to continue along, which it did for some years. The 1275 Midget continued to sell well and had generated a loyal following, but since its nearest competitior was the Triumph Spitfire, many expected one of the cars to be dropped but neither were to get the chop - yet.
In 1972, the Midget received further styling changes, among them a new style of sculpted steel wheel, known as Rostyles. Also, at this point the rear wheel arches lost their squared off tops, becoming fully radiused. It was at this time that MG was facing increased work load to ensure that the cars met the increasingly strict environmental and safety regulations that were being implemented in the export markets, and in particular the USA. This work was such that it severely restricted the resources available for the development of new models. In the long term it was to be the eventual downfall of the MG.

The Midget Mk IV

In 1974 a new and, as it turned out, final version of the Midget arrived. It was known as the Mk IV although it was officially still the Mark III. This car was equipped with the 1493cc, four-cylinder, pushrod, OHV engine from its rival the Spitfire, which also provided the transmission. As with many large groups, rationalisation was now the name of the game for British Leyland. Furthermore, it was becoming increasingly difficult to make the A-series engine meet the required exhaust emission standards and still develop enough power, whereas this was easier with the larger-capacity Triumph unit. The bigger engine, capable of producing 66bhp, improved the Midgets performance significantly, making a top speed in excess of 100mph easily attainable.
Along with the new engine and transmission came what many saw as less desirable changes. One of these was the introduction of the "rubber-bumpers" which were designed to meet US crash test legislations. These added considerably to the weight of the car, but were sculpted such that the car was still instantly recognisable as a Midget.
Furthermore, to ensure that the bumpers were at the correct height, it was necessary to raise the ride height of the car by a couple of inches. This obviously had the effect of reducing the roll stiffness at the rear, but contrary to popular belief the cars handling was not really impaired by these modifications.

The End of the Midget

The Midget continued to sell well in its Mk IV form with only minor alterations until it was finally dropped in 1978. Many mourned its passing, but in truth it had come to the end of its line and the resources had not been made available to develop a successor.
The Midget had grown old gracefully from its Mk I original through to the Mk III successor, but it needed replacement at that juncture, when the design was 20 years old. Further development on the same chassis would have been doomed for any manufacturer, and it is a pity that more resources were not made available for sports car design back in 1970's.
Of this the second dynasty of Midgets, many of them (nearly 230,000 were produced) still provide their owners with the type of no-nonsense enjoyment experienced by their predecessors who bought MG's original Midget the M-Type around 70 years ago. Through their enthusiasm the MG legend will live on.