The Midget 1500 may have had its rival Spitfire’s engine, but how do they compare on the road today? We put both to the test
Small, rear-drive open two-seater sports cars were very much in decline in the late 1970s and early ’80s as the hot hatch juggernaut slowly gathered momentum. Deadly rivals, the MG Midget and Triumph Spitfire were nearing the end of their lives, but the company that was building them by this point – British Leyland – proved beyond doubt that it had a sense of humour. After decades spent packing traditional A-series power, the last MG Midget was unveiled in 1974 with – gasp! – the 1493cc engine out of the new Spitfire 1500. Worse, the MkIII’s delicate chrome bumpers were gone, replaced by enormous black plastic affairs that, along with the new tippy-toes ride height, were British Leyland’s Heath Robinson idea of how to comply with the stringent US safety regulations.
The Spitfire 1500, meanwhile, escaped such ignominy (in the UK at least – very late US-market Spitfires also went down the plastic bumper route), retaining its external jewellery and gaining a meaner stance thanks to lower spring mountings and a wider track.
Today, both are still rear-drive sports cars with considerable grin potential, dedicated followings and the sort of dimensions that make the current Mazda MX-5 look like a Challenger tank. But which entertains the most?