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An “everyman” roadster, the MG Midget is the perfect starter classic
Before there was the Mazda Miata, there was the MG Midget. Well, technically the Austin-Healey Sprite was first. That car rolled out of the MG factory a few years before the badge-engineered Midget debuted. But the Midget was in production for far longer (1961–80, compared to 1958–71 for the Sprite). Semantics aside, the Sprite/Midget (aka “Spridget”) was the tossable little everyman sports car three decades before the Miata took up the mantle in 1989.
And since the death of the British sports car at the end of the 1970s, the MG Midget remains one of the two least expensive (the Triumph Spitfire being the other) points of entry into that segment of the classic market. Endlessly fun to drive, simple to work on and cheap to buy, there’s tons of appeal for buyers across the demographic spectrum. But even as more and more classic sports cars have appreciated beyond the reach of many enthusiasts, the Midget has remained pretty much as cheap and cheerful as it’s always been. Prices have inched up a bit, but value trends show them staying steady for the foreseeable future.
How the MG Midget was born
The Sprite, which spawned the Midget, started as a collaboration between Donald Healey and the British Motor Corporation (BMC), which owned MG, to sell a bare-bones sports car at the very bottom of the price spectrum. The Sprite used a modern unibody construction and offered sharp handling, while power came from a 948-cc version of the famous BMC A-Series engine. This first “Bugeye” Sprite—a car so fun that it’s literally smiling at you—was a huge hit, although a more practical and conventional-looking “square-body” version came out in 1961. Its success encouraged MG, which was assembling the Sprite anyway, to start producing its own version the same year.
Little car with a big personality
It may not exactly be politically correct in this day and age, but MG began using the Midget name at the end of the 1920s and continued to use the label on the T-Series cars into the mid-1950s before resurrecting it for its re-badged square-body Mk II Austin-Healey Sprite. Midgets and Sprites are identical for the most part, but early Midgets have extra chrome trim and a nicer interior (including available leather), which resulted in a higher price when they were new. The 1964 model year brought the first major update with the Midget Mk II, which featured wind-up windows, lockable doors, available wire wheels, suspension improvements, and a few more horsepower.
Acceleration in all Midgets is modest, to put it nicely, but 1966 brought a lot more pep under the hood with the famous twin-carb 1275-cc version of the A-Series. It was similar to the engine found in the Mini Cooper S, although down to 65 hp compared to 75 hp in the Mini, thanks to lower compression and smaller valves. There weren’t many more changes, aside from minor cosmetic updates for several years. The Sprite dropped out of the lineup in 1971, leaving the Midget to carry the cheap roadster torch for nearly another decade.
The biggest update in the Midget’s history, both on top and underneath, came in 1974 with the addition of energy-absorbing black plastic bumpers similar to the MGB, and the 1498-cc engine from the Triumph Spitfire under the hood. While the Midget and Spitfire had been chief rivals in the entry-level sports car market, they came under the same corporate umbrella with the creation of British Leyland at the end of the 1960s. Both little roadsters soldiered on through 1980 mostly unchanged, but that year the MG plant in Abingdon closed after operating since the 1920s. With the disappearance of MG and Triumph, the traditional British sports car was gone. But it wasn’t forgotten; those roadsters became collectible classics.
MG Midget values are stable
Speaking of collectibility, Midget values are very similar across the board, with only the Mk I (1962–63) and Mk II (1964–66) commanding a significant premium, but even those are well within the realm of affordability with #1-condition (Concours) values at barely $18,000. We have no record of any production Midget selling for more than $19,000 at auction. Values took a big dive in 2009, as they did for most classic cars at the time, and stayed mostly flat for the next seven years. From 2016–18, average values have risen by a noteworthy 15 percent, but with cars this affordable you’re still talking about a few hundred bucks rather than a few thousand. And there’s no reason to expect bigger changes in the near future.
It’s a similar story with buyer interest (measured by insurance quote activity), which had been largely flat before an increase in the past two years. About half of Midget quotes come from Baby Boomers, and about a quarter each come from younger Gen X and Millennial buyers. Compared to other classic British cars, Midgets have 30-percent more quotes from the two younger generations, which is likely due to their lower price.
An MG Midget for you is out there
Because Midgets have never been anything but cheap (some of them for over half a century now), many cars have had all sorts of work and modifications done, reversed, and redone over the years. For example, later 1275-cc engines are commonly fitted to early 1098cc cars, as are brake upgrades, Weber carbs and five-speed gearbox conversions. A lot of people also (mercifully) yank the rubber bumpers off Mk IV cars. Plenty of Midgets have been painted half a dozen times or more, and some have been turned into race cars and then put back to street trim.
But while such modifications and checkered histories can wreck the value of more expensive classics, that’s not necessarily the case with Midgets. As long as any alterations are done reasonably well and tasteful, they don’t necessarily harm the value of a Midget since all of the above is common. And in the case of 1275 and five-speed swaps, they make the car both more usable and fun.
Provided you check for the usual rust and overall soundness, you can’t really go wrong with a Midget. While the Mk IV offers more creature comforts and more torque from its 1500cc engine, the earlier chrome bumper cars have more of a proper classic charm to them, and BMC’s A-Series engine has more tuning potential as well as more aftermarket support. Your Midget will break, but when it does you’ll find that parts are widely available and that the Midget is so darn basic that most DIY-ers with a little mechanical know-how can usually fix it themselves. It’s also one of the easiest and most popular ways to go vintage racing. Finally, despite its name, a six-footer can drive a Midget comfortably, provided he’s OK with a little wind in the hair (and on forehead).
Some collector cars are cheap to buy because they’re expensive to own. Well, the MG Midget is cheap to buy and cheap to own, a rare combination. In terms of fun and style per dollar, it’s hard to beat, and still makes an ideal starter classic.