Classics World’s Paul Wager test drives and reviews the 1961 MG Midget…
When we noticed this classic MG described as an ‘ex works’ car, it prompted some unscheduled research in the CCB office: surely in 1961 the motorsport weapons of choice for BMC’s competitions department were the Healey 3000 and the Mini? And sure enough, the term in this case doesn’t refer to a rally-prepped car but the fact that this Mk1 Midget began life in the ownership of its maker as a press and publicity car.
Indeed, it’s said that this particular example appeared in the early brochures and press photography for the Midget and there are magazine road tests and adverts in the history file to support this.
Manufactured in May 1961, this MG Midget dates from just before the model’s official announcement in June of the same year, which supports its history as a publicity tool. The Mk1 Midget was effectively a badge-engineered version of the Austin-Healey Sprite and was mechanically identical but boasted more external trim, leather seats and obviously different badging and grille treatment. Back in the early ’60s, the idea of luxury was rather different from today’s car market and the MG was marketed as being an upmarket alternative to the Healey-badged car.
Underneath, the layout was pretty much identical to the original Frogeye Sprite, retaining that model’s unusual hybrid chassis/monocoque construction, semi-elliptic rear springs and A-Series engine, but the Midget and Mk2 Sprite gained more conventional styling with wing-mounted headlights. Unlike the Frogeye, these later cars also possessed a proper opening bootlid, although the need to retain sufficient strength in the rear of the bodyshell resulted in those squared-off rear wings.
When new, the early Mk1 Midgets used the 948cc A-Series carried over from the Frogeye and offering 46 bhp, although this was upgraded a year after launch to 1098cc and 56bhp. This particular example though boasts the 1275cc engine introduced with the Mk3 Midget and good for 65bhp which makes for an altogether more exciting experience. Although it might seem slightly sacrilegious, this is pretty much a bolt-in modification and very much an accepted upgrade.
Elsewhere, the full restoration which this Midget has received has been done well and the only issue we could find was a slightly odd fit to the bonnet which could no doubt be cured by adjusting the hinges to lower the trailing edge. The fresh-looking paintwork is superb and the interior has been refurbished very neatly, retaining the simple but effective original bucket seats.
ON THE ROAD
Every time I drive a Midget I’m caught out by its diminutive size and it always takes a few seconds of mental readjustment when climbing aboard, especially with the roof up. Once inside though, a Midget is generally perfectly civilised, offering almost as much elbow room as, for example, a Mk1 MX-5 and certainly feeling less intimidating than the Lotus Seven-style cars.
As usual with Ben Mather’s cars, the Midget is very much on the button and with a whiff of choke fires eagerly. The basic nature of these cars makes them great fun to drive, even pottering round the yard at relatively low speeds and like the Frogeye, just 30mph feels more like twice that speed. From even a limited spell behind the wheel it was obvious that it feels nice and tight and has clearly been put together by someone who knows what they’re doing.
This Midget is hardly the entry-level classic that its later rubber-bumpered cousin is, but it’s just as much a part of the MG story as an MGA worth twice as much. It’s also just as much fun as many much more exotic ’60s sports cars with the bonus that parts support is simply tremendous. With its recent rebuild and interesting history, this is an ideal candidate for someone who wants the purity of an early Midget without the hassle and cost of sourcing and restoring one.
Tech Spec MG Midget
Engine: fitted 1275cc
Top speed: 95mph
Fuel consumption: 40mpg
Gearbox: 4spd manual