MG Midget Buying Guide

The MG Midget has been providing cheap thrills for decades, but you must choose your example carefully. Here’s how to buy the best

MG Midget Buying Guide

How much to pay

• Project £600-1200 • Good £2600-5000 • Concours £7000-12,000 •

Overview

Practicality ★★★
Running costs ★★★★
Spares ★★★★★
DIY Friendly ★★★★
Investment ★★★
Desirability ★★★

Throughout the 1960s and '70s, Britain led the world when it boiled down to affordable sports cars. It might not have been much good at producing the most sophisticated machines, but if you wanted exciting, cheap automotive fun, it was invariably a British brand to which you turned. And few were more affordable than the MG Midget, along with its badge-engineered Austin-Healey Sprite cousin.

The original Austin-Healey Sprite arrived in 1958. Known as the ‘Frogeye’ (or Bugeye in the USA) there was no MG equivalent. In layman’s terms, the MkII Sprite was a MkI Midget and this lack of synchronicity remained – although the MG outlived the Austin-Healey by almost a decade. In this guide we’re looking at the Midgets with an A-Series engine, with the Sprite, Frogeye and Midget 1500 getting their own guides.

The MG Midget used to be ludicrously cheap, but as restoration costs have soared and the number of good survivors has dropped, values have steadily been rising. They're still relatively affordable though, and because they’re so well served by clubs and specialists, they’re a breeze to own.

Your AutoClassics MG Midget Inspection Checklist

Engine

Most MG Midgets were fitted with BMC’s A-series engine (948cc, 1098cc or 1275cc), which is renowned for its oil leaks. If maintained and not driven too hard, you can expect between 70,000 and 100,000 miles between rebuilds; if there’s much less than 40psi of oil pressure at 1000rpm (once warm), the engine will need serious attention very soon.

No A-series engine is especially quiet. A rattling timing chain and noticeable tappet noise are to be expected; it’s possible to fit a Duplex assembly to address the former. If there’s a really loud rattle as the engine is started it’s probably a damaged carburettor heat shield. These get over-tightened but replacements are available.

The 1275cc engine fitted to later cars can suffer from a failed head gasket, so look for a white emulsion on the underside of the oil filler cap, indicating coolant mixing with engine oil. For a while, the correct mechanical fuel pump wasn’t available so batches of Midgets were converted to an electric pump, but the correct bits are available again.

Gearbox

Midget gearboxes don’t have to transmit much torque, but they still wear out. Once a rebuild is due the signs will be obvious; it might jump out of gear, while it will baulk as you change down (all four gears were fitted with synchromesh). Everything is available to rebuild a Midget gearbox and exchange transmissions aren’t especially costly.

Some early cars were prone to breaking their halfshafts – if the engine has been pepped up this is especially likely. If there’s any obvious knocking or whining you’ll know that something needs to be repaired; it could be that the diff needs a rebuild, fresh universal joints might be needed or the driveshaft splines might be worn.

Suspension and brakes

The rack-and-pinion steering should be light and positive; if not, the front suspension has worn. The front trunnions and kingpins need to be lubricated regularly to prevent premature wear. You can check if an overhaul is needed by jacking up the car by its front crossmember and gripping each front wheel at the top and bottom. If play is evident with the footbrake applied, the kingpin has worn.

The rear lever arm dampers tend to last well but those up front don’t last long; a bounce test will soon show if they’re ready for replacement. It’s possible to convert to telescopics which isn’t straightforward and doesn’t affect the driving experience, but the dampers last much longer.

The disc/drum brakes work fine, but everything is controlled by a dual master cylinder that also controls the clutch hydraulics. If this has failed (the leaks will be obvious) you’ll have to replace it and replacements are costly – although at least they are readily available.

Bodywork

It’s the bodywork that causes the most problems for Midget buyers, with very poor cars often tarted up with filler to look presentable. Use a magnet to check for this, focusing on the sills and the rear spring mounting boxes. If the latter have collapsed through corrosion, the back of the car will be sitting low; there should be a three-inch gap between the top of the rear tyre and the wheelarch.

The A-posts also rot, so check for even door gaps; if they’re all over the place the A-posts are probably rotten. If the door gaps are narrower at the top, the bodyshell is probably sagging which means the car may be beyond economical repair.

The battery tray rots through, the brake/clutch master cylinder can leak brake fluid and strip the paint on the panelwork beneath and the boot floor rusts where it joins the rear panel. Also check the footwells, the floorpan behind the seats and all of the obvious places such as the sills, wheelarches, lower rear wings and valances.

Interior

The Midget’s interior is basic, although later cars have more trim than their predecessors. Early cars got rubber mats but most cars now sport carpets, along with an aftermarket steering wheel; original wheels can still be sourced if you prefer originality.

Check that the instrumentation is all present and correct as finding suitable replacement parts can be a lot harder than you might expect. One thing that may not be working is the revcounter, which is driven mechanically via the dynamo. Replacements are costly but what’s fitted isn’t inherently unreliable.

The electrics give few problems, but any car that’s had extras spliced in may have been bodged, so check that everything works. Everything is available if you need it – including replacement looms.

History

  • May 1961: The Sprite MkII and MG Midget are launched with a 948cc engine.
  • Oct 1962: A 1098cc A-Series engine replaces the 948cc edition.
  • Mar 1964: The Midget MkII and Sprite MkIII arrive, with more power, wind-up windows and a revised dashboard.
  • Oct 1966: The Midget MkIII and Sprite IV go on sale, with a 1275cc engine and a folding roof.
  • Oct 1969: There are now Rostyle wheels, black sills and slim-line bumpers.
  • Jan 1971: Sprites now carry Austin badges, but the model dies in July; the Midget gets round wheelarches in August.
  • Dec 1972: An alternator is now fitted.
  • 1974: The Midget 1500 arrives, with rubber bumpers, square wheelarches and an all-synchro gearbox.
  • 1977: Headrests and inertia-reel seatbelts are now fitted.
  • 1978: Dual-circuit brakes are standardised.
  • Nov 1979: The final Midget is built; the last 500 feature a black commemorative badge.

AutoClassics says…

You’ll be doing well to find one of the earliest cars with a 948cc engine; these are best avoided anyway, as they’re too weedy with the original powerplant. You’re much better off going for a car with a 1098cc engine or, even better, something with a 1275cc unit.

There are so many upgrades and accessories available for these cars that you must pin down exactly what it is that you’re buying. Sympathetically upgraded cars are worth buying, but cars with garish interiors will be hard to sell on. Most changes are subtle though, with owners keen to retain the charm of one of the most charismatic classics that you can buy.

Specifications

Sprite MkII/Midget MkI
  Power 56bhp
  Top speed 88mph
  0-60mph 17sec
  Economy 34mpg

Sprite MkIII/Midget MkII
  Power 59bhp
  Top speed 92mph
  0-60mph 14sec
  Economy 32mpg

Sprite MkIII/Midget MkIII
  Power 64bhp
  Top speed 94mph
  0-60mph 14sec
  Economy 34mpg

Picture courtesy of MagicCarPics

Looking for that ideal MG Midget for sale?

Have a browse through the MG Midgets for sale in the AutoClassics classifieds

Cars