Our Clas­sics

MX-5 V Midget spe­cial

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - This Week -

MIKE I’m the first to ad­mit that the Midget 1500 isn’t ex­actly a rock­et­ship. And yes, I know that ev­ery­one keeps go­ing on about how its Tri­umph en­gine doesn’t sound as nice as the old A-se­ries, or rev as sweetly, and blah-blah-blah. But the fact is, you could prob­a­bly put a lawn­mower en­gine into a Midget and it’d still be ex­cit­ing to drive, sim­ply be­cause it’s so tiny and weighs next to noth­ing. That, and the fact that your back­side feels roughly an inch away from the road. The MX-5 is great to drive – I ought to know, I used to have one – but only great to drive for a mod­ern car. Step out of a Midget and straight into an MX-5 – and I have, many times – and the Mazda feels, rel­a­tively speak­ing, like a bit of a hef­falump.

MUR­RAY Hef­falump? Right, let’s get this sorted right now. Per­for­mance can be mea­sured in cold hard fig­ures. Your 1.5-litre en­gine pro­duces a measly 65bhp, whereas my 1.8-litre unit blasts out 130bhp. Ex­actly dou­ble the horses. And it’s the same for torque – the Midget’s Tri­umph en­gine just about mea­sures 76lb ft of torque; the MX-5 a meaty 110lb ft. I won’t go into 0-60mph times be­cause I’m not too sure if the Midget does ac­tu­ally get to 60mph. I will con­cede, how­ever, that the Midget is a great steer, es­pe­cially in com­par­i­son to other cars of its era. Ob­jec­tively, though, the MX-5 is a much bet­ter drive.

HAN­DLING/RIDE

MIKE Oi, the Midget’ll do 70mph, thanks very much! And yeah, yeah, so the MX-5 han­dles like a boss. No, re­ally – it does. The thing is, it’s a more mod­ern car, so there’s more mass to shift, which the laws of physics state can only blunt the han­dling. The MG, on the other hand, is very much an ana­logue aba­cus to the MX-5’s elec­tronic cal­cu­la­tor. There’s no in­ter­fer­ence from power steer­ing or ABS brak­ing. Get it wrong, and it’ll bite – it is rear-drive, af­ter all. But get it right, and it’s an ab­so­lute riot in the bends, yet still irons out the bumps on longer jour­neys. The steer­ing is im­me­di­ate, too, with no elec­tronic in­ter­fer­ence or slop – turn the wheel an inch, and the car re­sponds straight­away. You don’t get that sort of re­ac­tion in a mod­ern, even one as good as the MX-5.

MUR­RAY

The MX-5 is a multi-faceted thing. On the one hand, you can have a Ja­panese im­port with the lower-pow­ered 1.6-litre en­gine, au­to­matic gear­box, and frip­peries like air con­di­tion­ing (I’m look­ing at you, David Simis­ter). On the other hand, you can have the ‘i’ model like mine – no power steer­ing, no ABS. And it’s all the bet­ter for it. Feed­back is in­stant and it’s so pos­i­tive – even af­ter five min­utes in one you can feel it work­ing with you. And the ride – be­cause it’s big­ger than the Midget and sits on 14in al­loys rather than cas­tors, it doesn’t get lost in pot­holes and won’t break your back on mo­tor­way jour­neys. X FAC­TOR

MIKE

OK, I guess we’ll have to agree that both cars han­dle and ride bril­liantly, if in sub­tly dif­fer­ent ways. Where the Midget re­ally does pull it out of the bag, though, is in how it makes you feel. Call it the X fac­tor, if you like. Ev­ery­thing that makes the Midget a bit tire­some as a daily driver in the 21st century makes you feel ut­terly ex­hil­a­rated on the right road on the right day. The noise. The vi­bra­tions. The smells. The way you have to con­stantly ad­just the steer­ing. The high revs at cruis­ing speeds. The less than per­fect driv­ing po­si­tion. The rush of air into the cabin. No-one used to driv­ing a new Mon­deo ev­ery day would put up with it, but for an adren­a­line rush on a Sun­day morn­ing blast, noth­ing else can touch it. Not even an MX-5.

MUR­RAY You’ve got me on this one, Mike. If you polled the gen­eral pub­lic, they’d say the Midget is much cooler. Plus, if you did the same poll with tra­di­tional clas­sic en­thu­si­asts – they’d say that the Midget is the only clas­sic out of the two of them. But peo­ple’s opin­ions change, and for the slightly more lib­eral­minded en­thu­si­ast, the MX-5 is a bang-up-to­date clas­sic. My big en­gine model, with man­ual box, and no elec­tric win­dows or steer­ing, is as close to a clas­sic as some­thing made in the 1990s can get. And you know what? It turns ev­ery trip in to some­thing spe­cial.

RE­LI­A­BIL­ITY MIKE

Hmm. Don’t feel like I’m on se­cure ground here. I bet the Mazda’s never bro­ken down, has it? The Midget, though… well, that turned break­downs into some­thing ap­proach­ing an art form be­fore I ironed out all the teething trou­bles. Thing is, peo­ple ex­pected break­downs back in the 1970s, but won’t tol­er­ate them now. Sub­tle up­grades – elec­tronic ig­ni­tion, a red-top ro­tor arm, an elec­tric fuel pump, a bet­ter ra­di­a­tor, etc. – mean it now starts first time, ev­ery time. Well, most of the time…

MUR­RAY I’m happy to say that my MX-5 has let me down on just two oc­ca­sions. I’m less happy to ad­mit that both were my own fault. The en­gine is al­most bul­let­proof – even if the cam­belt goes, it won’t wreck the non­in­ter­fer­ence en­gine. I agree with you, though – car tech­nol­ogy has ad­vanced so much in 20 years, it’s hardly a fair com­par­i­son. Plus, aren’t break­downs kind of fun, and part of get­ting to know your car? Say­ing that, the MX-5 does at least rust like a proper clas­sic.

Two sporty rear-drive rag­tops – but which de­liv­ers the big­gest driv­ing thrill? MX-5’s cabin is more lux­u­ri­ously ap­pointed than MG’s, but still spar­tan by mod­ern stan­dards.

Trans­mis­sion tun­nel and non-stan­dard Moto-Lita wheel dom­i­nate MG’s cabin. Twin-cam Mazda en­gine in­spired by Lo­tus. OHV MG en­gine nicked from Tri­umph.

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