The MG Midget is a perfect beginner classic – something we hope to prove with our very own 1970 example, in association with Teng Tools
This is our 1970 MG Midget project car, owned by its previous keeper since 1975. At that time, the car had just 14,777 miles on the odometer. In 2019, Classics World took ownership and set about returning the little MG sports car to its former glory.
As an initial inspection and drive revealed, our car was largely mechanically sound but had quite a few underlying issues that would need sorting. Our next job was to try and draw up a provisional list of jobs to be done.
Here, we’ll chronical our experiences with our MG Midget project car. Stay tuned for updates!
Part 1: Assessment
Our biggest concerns when viewing our potential MG Midget project were the previous repairs to the sills – it was not clear how far back the restorers had gone when doing this work, nor how many layers of steel, nor how much filler there was in the sills, arches and A-pillars. Certainly, there was a worrying amount of what looked like glassfibre in both front inner wheel arches where they closed off the sill panels.
Helpfully, the previous owner dug out some of his records. He told us that the last repair to the sills took place around 2001 or 2002, with the welder asked to remove the debris of what should have been an original and an over-welded sill, and replace them with new ones properly. Previous sill overplating happened in 1980 or so to achieve an MoT pass, along with a new gearbox.
There were no holes or obvious structural issues that the previous MoT inspection had missed, and from 10 yards away the Midget actually looked pretty sharp. Closer inspection reveals poor panel gaps around the bonnet, doors and bootlid; hardly surprising on an unrestored car fast approaching its 50th birthday.
Upon opening the bonnet, what had looked like extensive surface rust on the inner wings and bulkhead in pictures was in fact the remains of the car’s original orange paint. Another plus was a 123 distributor fitted by the previous owner.
The slam panel had clearly taken a knock in the past and been beaten back into shape. As a result, the front wings had been tack-welded to it rather than bolted, and nothing lined up perfectly. We could live with this for a while but made a note to invest some time and money into this area.
The interior was all present and correct, with a decent-enough vinyl roof. The original seats were okay, while the previous owner had fitted three extra gauges below the dash, along with a stereo. One of those gauges was a temperature gauge; a cheaper option than buying a replacement for the combined oil pressure/water temperature gauge as fitted by MG.
Having inspected the Midget carefully, the MG was taken out for a spin with the previous owner in the driver’s seat for insurance reasons. The run went really well, with a good turn of pace from the 1275cc engine, no crunches from the gearbox and a surprisingly crash-free ride.
A deal was done soon afterwards and an ambitious plan to drive the Midget 153 miles home to Lincolnshire kicked into action – further than it had been driven in the previous three years! The odds did seem stacked against us, with torrential rain forecast and the M6 closed for the night, but we made it.
Soon afterwards, we’d created a list of jobs to do – sorted by priority, with MoT requisites placed first and foremost:
Required for Mot
- Fix offside front sidelight
- Grease suspension and steering
- Service brakes
Fix before driving
- Investigate why headlights get brighter as engine revs rise.
- Stabilise idle speed.
- Replace indicator stalk
- Find and fit original steering wheel
- Fit LED bulbs to the instruments
- Fit new tyres
- Dig around in sills and wheelarches to see what’s underneath
- Replace all coolant hoses
- Replace fuel lines with new ethanol-resistant pipes
- Investigate weep from radiator filler plug
- Sort out heater tap and cable
- Fit hazard warning lights
- Investigate rattle from gear stick
- Fix broken quarterlight bracket on driver’s door
- Refinish Rostyle wheels
- Rebuild seats
- Second set of keys for emergencies
- Fit new boot handle
- Investigate broken bolt on driver’s door handle
- Improve fit of front panels
- Paint engine bay
- Investigate rear light fitment
- Straighten or replace nearside rear bumper
- Straighten front number plate
- Fit audible warning for indicators
- Replace driver’s door seal
- Fit correct oil/water gauge
Even if we don’t end up addressing all of these jobs, it’s a great place to start with our MG Midget project. Of them all, it’s the bodywork investigation that has the potential to be the most arduous and expensive. However, there’s little point in fitting shiny new handles or fresh tyres to a rotten body, so we have decided to bite the bullet and tackle the metalwork first. Watch this space!
Part 2: Bodywork
There is no point fitting shiny widgets to a rotten shell, so we started work on our 1970 Midget by delving into those suspect sills to see how much metal remains beneath.
As is usually the case with any classic car, potentially the biggest jobs in terms of both time and money concerned the bodywork. In particular, the sills were clearly standing proud of the front wings and so were probably over-panels hiding rust. There was also considerable filler in the A-posts and in the rear wings above the sills. None of this would have caused an MoT failure given that the areas in question were demonstrably solid, even if there was no way of telling exactly what was hiding underneath – such are the limitations of an MoT, or indeed any visual inspection of a car with shiny outer panels.
It little sense to invest serious time and money in addressing the more obvious issues if the basic structure was rotten, so the bodywork was chosen as the first item to be ticked off the list This meant a trip to Alan Denne’s workshop – Alan has been in the bodywork trade all his life and has helped us with a number of previous projects. He had also just finished restoring his own RWA Midget, so the scars of the model were still fresh in his mind. The images here show a lot of the main problems we discovered but there are some key takeaways here.
For one, you should not assume that excessive amounts of filler are always hiding rust. The nearside A-post’s outer skin was covered in filler and sanding this off could have revealed a real mess, but as it happened the amount of filler appeared to be completely over-the-top. The A-post itself was sound, and if only a thin skim had been used, it could have been flatted back to a much smoother finish.
There was, however, the expected rust at the bottom of the A-post where it sat on the top of the sill. This is prime rust territory on an MG Midget, and ours had been brazed at this point. Brazing such a repair was legal at one time, but it is not any more for a structural repair like this. There should be a visible seam at the bottom of the A-post where this sits on the sill panel’s top face; people used to braze this area because you could run the brass right into the joint and it would look original – the inward facing flanges were spot-welded at the factory, but there isn’t enough access to do that (or use plug welds) on the completed car.
Instead, when making a repair these days, people tend to weld across the join and then cut a groove into to get the correct look while maintaining the required strength. On further inspection, we found that the braze here was even weaker than normal because it was not even joined to the sill! We will have to make up a new section for this area.
We suspect that the reason so much filler had been used was not because the A-post was rotten, but in order to bring its face out to match the extra width of the sill below it. That’s because there were clear signs that a repair sill had simply been welded over the top of the original panel, and of course as well as harbouring rust, the double thickness of metal would have moved the sill outwards.
Removing the filler from the front of the sill panel showed that previous visitors had cut the new sill panel on its vertical face and welded it to the side of the existing panel. Presumably this had been done to avoid having to remove the front wing, which explains why the hole in the bottom of the A-post was not repaired. This method of welding on the new panel made us wonder how much of the old sill was left behind – but the only way to know for sure was to cut the front section off.
Before that we moved to the back of the sill. There should have been another seam here where the rear wing sits on top of the sill, much like at the foot of the A-post. Ours had been filled, but there was a crack across the filler and the gap between the door and the B-post was not right. We were keen to find out what lay under the filler – and that meant more destruction.
We sanded off clouds of filler but unfortunately there was not much of it by the shut line where we wanted to remove some thickness to open up the door gap. As we worked through the filler, a picture of past repairs emerged.
It seems that in the past, a few flat pieces were brazed in to repair some rust in the bottom of the rear wing, but like the front, not actually joined up to the sill. In this section you can get to the front part of the join from inside the car, so there’s no excuse for not doing a proper job; however, there is no such access at the back, so you have to do the same as at the bottom of the A-post in that section. In other words, you need to weld the two together and then cut out a groove for the correct look.
We continued sanding back the filler to determine how far it went, and a third of the way along the rear wheelarch we finally started to see the original paint. That meant we could be confident that we had got beyond the full extent of the previous repairs. Next we had to cut above the braze line and see what we have behind in the way of metal.
First though, we returned to the front to cut off the forward section of outer sill to see how much of the old panel they had left behind there. We found there were about two inches of the old sill left, but that it was not finished properly at the ends. This also revealed that the closing panel on the footwell had not been seam welded fully. At least the inner sill felt good from inside the car further back by the seat and the crossmember.
Then, having gone this far, we decided to just cut the rest of the sill off and have a proper look along its length. This then revealed that the inner panel had gone at the bottom in places, which to be honest was no great surprise. This meant that we needed an inner sill as well as the outer panel. Still, they were great value at £15.95 and £39.95 respectively which, when you see how much metal is included and how complex the outer sill pressing is in particular, is really quite astonishing.
By the end of the day, Our MG Midget had made the full transition for car to project. There was less metal left than we had hoped initially, but this is pretty much par for the course on a 50 year old classic. However, I had the distinct impression that this was not going to be a quick project with just a few localised repairs.
Words: Simon Goldsworthy