Wednesday, July 1, 2009

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1975 MG Midget

I've seen surprisingly few British Leyland products in San Francisco, despite many residents' fondness for quirky foreign cars. This 1975 MG Midget is only the second or third Midget I've had the opportunity to find parked, and the first one I've been able to shoot for a feature.

The MG Midget began as a spinoff of the Austin Healey Sprite MkII (not the well-known MkI "Bugeye" model) in 1961. It eventually outlasted the Sprite, continuing production with various changes and improvements but maintaining the same basic body, until 1979.
This one is a later-model Midget from the Leyland era, "federalized" for sale in the US with horrible black plastic bumpers and squared-off wheel arches in the rear for body strength. Power came from a 1493 cc four-cylinder sourced from the Triumph Spitfire and routed through a four-speed manual transmission based on the unit from the rather un-sporting Morris Marina.
And in case you wondered why it's called the Midget, here's why.

The Midget is a tiny, tiny car. That's a Toyota Tacoma pickup behind it, which by pickup truck standards is a compact. Interestingly, this light blue Midget is an earlier model, built sometime between 1968 and 1971 judging by the side markers, Leyland badge on the front fender, and the squared-off rear wheel well (it would be rounded on 1972-74 models). This one also sports the useless but much better looking dainty chrome bumpers that would probably offer adequate protection if the colliding vehicle was a Hot Wheels car.
This cheese-orange Midget featured above is just not beautiful. Never mind the body damage, the real problem is the big ugly bumpers, pressed-steel wheels, and the sheer Leyland-ness of it all. It lacks the elegant simplicity of the quintessential classic British sports car, something the original MGB did so well before it, too, was ruined by the curse of black plastic federal bumpers. Older Midgets look better, though they are simply too tiny for my tastes. Don't get me wrong, I love a number of old British roadsters including the aforementioned MGB, the Triumph Spitfire and TR6, Austin-Healey 3000, Sunbeam Tiger, the [pre-V12] Jaguar E-Type, Jensen Interceptor, various Aston Martins and of course the AC [Shelby] Cobra (which I would consider to be as much American as British after what Carroll Shelby did with it). The Midget is a cute little car in its purest form, but I think it would require a ride in one to convince me that it's an actual, capable sports car and not a toy with license plates.

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