ON THE ROAD
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