ON THE ROAD

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Epic Battles -

US car mag­a­zine Road & Track mem­o­rably kicked off its 1979 road-test of the new MG Midget 1500 by ask­ing, ‘Why would any­one want one?’ be­fore con­clud­ing that ‘MG has fallen into a state of dis­re­pair.’ Au­to­car, on the other hand, started its 1 March 1975 road-test of the new Tri­umph Spit­fire 1500 by calling it ‘a top­ping lit­tle sports car’ and con­clud­ing that ‘it has a lot to of­fer which no other car quite matches.’

‘No other car’ pre­sum­ably in­cluded its opin­ion-po­lar­is­ing MG brother.

From this, the unini­ti­ated could be for­given for think­ing that the fi­nal Spit­fire dis­ap­peared in a blaze of glory, look­ing ev­ery bit as hand­some as the 1962 orig­i­nal, pack­ing more power and han­dling like a boss, whereas the fi­nal Midget shuf­fled off to the knacker’s yard with an emas­cu­lated en­gine, Ma­rina gear­box and looks that only a mother could love. In short, the Spit­fire wins. Game over. Not so fast, though. Get past those bumpers, and the Midget’s cute looks are still very much in ev­i­dence. And while the Tri­umph en­gine is widely be­rated in MG cir­cles for be­ing as dron­ingly un­der­whelm­ing as the A-se­ries was chirpily en­gag­ing, it’s still the same en­gine that led to Au­to­car’s pe­riod gush­ing. Clearly, there’s more to this sib­ling ri­valry than meets the eye.

That said, the Midget still looks al­most squarerigged com­pared to the snake-hipped Spit­fire, whose lithe looks dif­fer lit­tle from the pre­ced­ing Spit­fire MkIV, deep chin spoiler and lairy bon­net sticker not­with­stand­ing.

It’s much the same story when you climb be­hind the cars’ re­spec­tive steer­ing wheels. The MG’s dash­board – an ex­panse of black crackle-painted metal in­laid with a smat­ter­ing of Smiths gauges – leaves nowhere to put your Ray-Bans, where the Spit­fire charms with a sweep­ing slab of tim­ber and a proper padded dash top. Each car, how­ever, leaves the driver’s bot­tom seem­ingly mil­lime­tres from the road sur­face and re­clin­ing in an en­gag­ingly sporty driv­ing po­si­tion, co­cooned by the sur­round­ing body­work. The

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