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
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.
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.