RE­CAP­TUR­ING MG MAGIC

Putting an MG sports car on your drive­way needn’t be wal­let-bust­ing, es­pe­cially if you’re tempted by ei­ther of these al fresco favourites

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - This Week -

For many a clas­sic en­thu­si­ast, buy­ing a sports car with an oc­tagon badge on its nose is the re­al­i­sa­tion of a dream. Through­out the 1950s and 1960s, cars leav­ing Abing­don were not only bound for UK show­rooms but deal­ers in coun­tries across the globe, such was their pop­u­lar­ity ow­ing to the fun they of­fered and the free­dom they rep­re­sented. And yet, while many as­pired to own an MG, it was a dream that was far from out of reach; es­pe­cially mov­ing into the 1970s when the af­ford­abil­ity of­fered by these cars was brought to the fore.

The same is true to­day; MG re­mains one of the most pop­u­lar brands in the UK thanks to the range of clas­sics in its back cat­a­logue, with the 1970s rub­ber-bumper Midget and 1990s MGF in par­tic­u­lar pro­vid­ing phe­nom­e­nal value for money. A bud­get of £5000 guar­an­tees you’ll be sit­ting be­hind the wheel of a fine of ex­am­ple of ei­ther of these B-road cham­pi­ons.

But pick­ing the best is go­ing to tricky. The MG Car Club’s brought one of each to its head­quar­ters, sit­u­ated within strik­ing dis­tance of the old Abing­don fac­tory, to help us find out. But there can be only one win­ner... The two MGs fea­tured here – the Midget be­longs to Roy Lo­cock and the MGF to Carol Bradley – couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent in the lives they’ve lead.

Roy’s 40-year old car – per­haps bet­ter known as Brid­get the Midget – is said to be the first MG to cir­cum­nav­i­gate the globe and has vis­ited no fewer than 52 dif­fer­ent coun­tries in his own­er­ship. It’s been al­most a decade since he em­barked on his 39,000-mile round-the-world jour­ney in his baby MG, and he’s since driven it to the Arc­tic Cir­cle, Rus­sia and South Africa.

Like­wise, Carol’s MGF is not your typ­i­cal 18-year-old car, with just 49,000 miles recorded, though ap­pear­ances sug­gest it’s spent much less time than that on the road. It’s proof that you can end up with some­thing re­ally rather smart if you’re just that lit­tle bit more gen­er­ous with your bud­get, should you set your heart on own­ing one. It’s also a lim­ited edition, one of a run of 500 home market (out of an over­all to­tal of 2000) cars pro­duced in 1999 to mark the 75th an­niver­sary of the MG mar­que. It’s fin­ished in Mul­berry Red and wears 16in al­loy wheels.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, they’re very dif­fer­ent to drive. We be­gan in the Midget, a car that in pe­riod was crit­i­cised for its ‘rub­ber bumpers’ (re­quired as a re­sult of US safety reg­u­la­tions and which, aside from be­ing di­vi­sive in styling terms, also raised the ride height). As a re­sult, the han­dling isn’t as pre­dictable as its A- Se­ries pre­de­ces­sors, but only in sit­u­a­tions where you push hard. Lift-off over­steer is some­thing to bear in mind while pi­lot­ing a Midget 1500, but since this was some­one else’s cher­ished car we took a more cau­tious ap­proach to cor­ner­ing, which at worst high­lights a de­gree of body roll that would be com­pletely alien to an MGF driver. On the plus side, the ride is sur­pris­ingly good for a tiny sports car, even if (as here) the sus­pen­sion has been low­ered from its fac­tory tippy-toes.

The cabin it­self is best de­scribed as cosy (though we’re sure there are oth­ers with far less com­pli­men­tary de­scrip­tions) and the seats are far more com­fort­able and sup­port­ive than they might first ap­pear. Ped­als are tightly spaced, the gear­stick falls nicely to hand and the smaller di­am­e­ter steer­ing wheel in Roy’s car aids en­ter­ing and ex­it­ing.

How­ever, the Midget’s rack-and-pin­ion steer­ing is eas­ily one of its high­lights, be­ing both quick and ac­cu­rate. Less than per­fect sur­faces high­light a ten­dency for the car to wan­der on oc­ca­sions, some­thing that the driver soon learns to keep in check by al­most sub­con­scious mi­cro-cor­rec­tions at the wheel.

‘A bud­get of £5000 guar­an­tees you’ll be sit­ting be­hind the wheel of a fine of ex­am­ple of these B-road cham­pi­ons’

The MGF, on the other hand, boasts stu­pen­dous amounts of grip and is im­pres­sively flat through the cor­ners thanks to its Hy­dra­gas sus­pen­sion. And yet, while far from re­mov­ing feed­back from the road en­tirely, it’s even more cos­set­ing than the Midget, and in­deed many of its con­tem­po­rary ri­vals – Mazda MX-5 in­cluded.

The Grena­dine Red leather and wood ve­neer do much to im­prove upon the stan­dard black plas­tic dash­board, but what the MGF lacks in vis­ual drama it more than makes up for in terms of its com­fort and well laid out con­trols. On the other hand, its elec­tric power-as­sisted steer­ing isn’t quite as direct as the Midget’s – feather-light in­puts are great at park­ing speeds but not so wel­come at higher speeds, and any­one who isn’t fa­mil­iar with mid-en­gined cars may be ini­tially rather un­nerved by how light the nose can feel un­der hard ac­cel­er­a­tion.

The Midget 1500 is so-named be­cause it adopted of the 1493cc four-cylin­der over-head­valve en­gine from the by then in-house ( but very much still ri­val) Tri­umph Spit­fire. 0-60mph comes in just over 12 sec­onds, which may not sound overly quick but it feels a lot nip­pier than that fig­ure might sug­gest, be­ing so small and, more im­por­tantly, light.

Although some may crit­i­cise the Midget for be­ing un­der­geared, it only feels as though it’s run­ning out of puff when it ap­proaches the na­tional speed limit on mo­tor­ways, while the nar­row spread of torque means that it does feel sport­ing. The four-speed gear­box isn’t al­ways smooth in op­er­a­tion but it is quick to en­gage, re­quir­ing only very short throws be­tween ra­tios. Carol’s MGF is free-revving, even in non-VVC (vari­able valve con­trol) spec, and the throt­tle re­sponse im­pres­sively sharp. While there isn’t much to re­ward the Midget driver brave enough to reach into the higher ech­e­lons of the rev range, the MGF not only of­fers its best per­for­mance here, but sounds amaz­ing while do­ing so, emit­ting an in­fec­tious rasp­ing howl from its twin-exit ex­haust pipes.

Ob­serv­ing the pair side-by-side, it’s pleas­ing to note that although the pro­por­tions of the MGF are very dif­fer­ent to those of the Midget as a re­sult of its mid-trans­verse-mounted en­gine, there are clear nods to the past on the ’F, most no­tably demon­strated by the grille treat­ment. Park­ing an MG RV8 be­tween our pair (while ig­nor­ing the dif­fer­ences in size) would serve to high­light how the styling of the MG sports car evolved over the years.

Un­doubt­edly, they are two very dif­fer­ent takes on the sports car for­mula, but they are most def­i­nitely both MGs through and through.

Words Chris Hope pho­toG­ra­phyS­tu­art Collins

Very dif­fer­ent sports cars with very dif­fer­ent driv­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics, though both have pure MG DNa.

each spe­cial edition MGF 75 le has an in­di­vid­ual num­ber shown in­side (carol’s is num­ber 879).

The Midget’s orig­i­nal dash­board had to be re­placed fol­low­ing its round the world jour­ney as the glue had dried out.

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