Talk to me about MG Midgets

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2,540
Location
Rochester, MI, US, World
So my hunt continues for a fun little warm weather car for $3,500 - $4,000. So far I have been hunting for mainly NA Miatas, but in my area, it is quite difficult to find a decent one in that price range. Granted, fall and winter are better shopping seasons for these cars. On the other hand, I noticed several low mileage (likely restored), late 70's MG midgets with no rust, and appear to be well taken care of. All are priced in my price range, and look to be quite fun little cars. Yes, I know about the terrible electronics systems. Aside from that, who has any experiences with these cars? Any other fun cars I should consider in my price range? Whereas I prefer a convertible, it is not a necessity.
 
Messages
7,485
Location
S California
I was a mechanic at a British Car dealership when they were new. They're a lot of fun to drive but there is a lot to do to maintain them. They are not like a modern car. You'll have points to set, valves to adjust, wheel bearings to grease and lots of lubrication points. The electrics are not all that bad but the rubbing block on the points is prone to rapid wear and you'll need to know how to set them and adjust the timing. If you want a hobby that will keep you out of trouble this would be a good choice. And these cars will probably appreciate in value so you can tell everyone that it's an investment. And don't worry, almost everything you need to do can be accomplished in your driveway. They were made to be easy to work on and the engine can be rebuild over and over again. Just one other thing. A very important tool for these cars is a big hammer. And don't forget the Liquid Wrench for taking things apart with that hammer and maybe a map gas torch.
 

Klutch9

Thread starter
Messages
2,540
Location
Rochester, MI, US, World
Originally Posted By: OneEyeJack
I was a mechanic at a British Car dealership when they were new. They're a lot of fun to drive but there is a lot to do to maintain them. They are not like a modern car. You'll have points to set, valves to adjust, wheel bearings to grease and lots of lubrication points. The electrics are not all that bad but the rubbing block on the points is prone to rapid wear and you'll need to know how to set them and adjust the timing. If you want a hobby that will keep you out of trouble this would be a good choice. And these cars will probably appreciate in value so you can tell everyone that it's an investment. And don't worry, almost everything you need to do can be accomplished in your driveway. They were made to be easy to work on and the engine can be rebuild over and over again. Just one other thing. A very important tool for these cars is a big hammer. And don't forget the Liquid Wrench for taking things apart with that hammer and maybe a map gas torch.
That sounds right up my alley! I love tinkering and adjusting things. I'm also handy with vehicle maintenance and have a large array of tools.
 
Messages
17,301
Location
OH
A late 'seventies Midget (last model year was '79) won't have points, it'll have the even worse Lucas electronic ignition. I replaced this horrid setup on my old B with Luminition and never had another problem. This also gave an instant 20% improvement in fuel economy. My B was transformed into a 30 mpg+ econobox. Gas was then around a buck, but my income in the early 'eighties meant that every little bit mattered. The late Midgets also has the awful Triumph 1500 engine. The earlier A series is preferable in every way. Then there's also the need to remove the engine and gearbox as a unit to replace the clutch, but this is true of the B as well.
 
Messages
1,503
Location
Ohio
Fortunately, I've learned a lot from the one I have. Late 70s Midgets are cheap and plentiful. Most people don't like them as much because they are laden down with smog controls, a single barrel carburetor, and are heavier than the older ones. Some folks think the rubber bumpers are ugly, too. The 1500 engine used from 75-79 is the same as the one in the Triumph Spitfire. Parts aren't too hard to find. Moss Motors and Victoria British are your friends for finding parts. The factory electronic ignition used in those years is doomed to fail, they were notoriously unreliable. Pertronix makes a nice replacement. A tip, since I had to install one, the resistor attached to the pedal box is NOT the ballast resistor, it's part of the original system. The ballast resistor is actually resistance wire built into the wiring harness, not a discrete resistor. Just keep the existing wiring if you go the Pertronix route. Don't leave Pertronix ignitions on with the engine stopped for more than a few minutes, they tend to fail. The 1500 Midgets aren't particularly fast. They are up to 4000 RPM in 4th gear at 70 MPH, and it's screaming at that point. The 1500 engine has notoriously weak crank bearings and rod bearings, so running in that region isn't kind to them. There is a 5-speed conversion available, but it's expensive and not trivial to install. Thrust bearings are a weak point. If you ride the clutch a lot, the rear thrust bearing takes the force of the springs, and it wears the bronze plating off. Then it starts wearing rapidly, to the point wear the crank travels far enough to allow it to slip out. Check the crankshaft endfloat, it's the best indicator of the health the the thrust bearing. There's actually a guy who designed a better thrust bearing for the TR6 engine, which uses exactly the same thrust bearings and has the same problem. If the thrust bearing falls out, it's very bad news, like connecting rods going through the side of the block. Vapor lock was a big problem my car had. I believe it was '78 or '79 there was an improved fuel pump that included a thick insulator to help insulate it from the hot engine block. Most folks I know get a Facet electric fuel pump, mount it just in front of the gas tank, and either leave the mechanical pump in the fuel line or bypass it completely. I think most folks use 155-80R13 or 165-70R13 tires on them. The original tire is a 145-SR13, which translates to a 145-82R13. Good luck finding those. Don't go wider or you'll be scrubbing the sidewalls on hard turns. Watch out for rust in the door pillars and the side rails. Otherwise, they are a blast to drive, because they are small, extremely nimble, and pretty zippy.
 
Messages
17,301
Location
OH
If you want an MG, drive a Midget and a B. You'll buy the MGB. I had one and really liked it. Not the most reliable car going but easy to fix and parts are still readily available. Everybody and his mistress have Miatas. An MG is something vintage and neat. Even a 1980 MGB is a vintage car. It just got built with few changes for so many years.
 
Messages
42
Location
IL
sign up for the Spridgets list at www.team.net and ask there. I've had my 1275 Midget since the mid-80's. Anything can be fixed or removed on these cars except rust, but knowing the easy way vs. the hard way is important. And you don't have to worry people telling you about what the factory recommended because the factory has been gone for 35 years
 
Messages
3,558
Location
SE Pa
Originally Posted By: fdcg27
If you want an MG, drive a Midget and a B. You'll buy the MGB. . . .
But drive an MGA, and there is no going back. My neighbor had one of these (a '56) that a co-worker sold to him in the mid-60s for $35. There wasn't a dang thing wrong with it. My neighbor drove it for a few months, and it was a blast to drive. Then he parked it on his front lawn, where it sat -- for 20 years. And he wouldn't sell it. It never saw the road again. It broke my heart to see the floorboards slowly rot away on it. I tried to get the engine up and running at one point in the early 80s, but the car was so far gone by that point that it was a lost cause. I can only imagine what a mint '56 MGA would go for these days. Not $35.
 
Messages
17,301
Location
OH
Okay, but 10K will buy you a very nice B and 5K will buy you a decent driver. 10K might buy you a parts car in an A, with another 5K needed to put it on the road. They actually drive about the same, but the B features such advancements as a steel floor, unit constuction and a folding top as well as real windows. The B's structure is much stiffer over any irregular surface. My old B was actually stiffer than is my 318iC and rode better. It also seemed to handle better, although the BMW has more grip. The BMW's IRS offers no real advantage over the B's live axle on leaf springs. Between the two, though, I've always thought that the MGA was the better looking car as compared to the MGB, especially the earlier pre-bashed grill models of the A.
 
Messages
772
Location
Ohio
I have a soft spot for MGs. My first car was an MGB. I've also had some experience with older Midgets. But after owning a Miata, I would never consider another MG. The Miata I owned was beat on and had almost 200K on it when I sold it. Even after a hard life, there was no comparison between them. The Miata is vastly superior in every way and represents an amazingly good execution of the 2 seat compact sports car. It's everything an MG could have been but never was. You won't find a more fun-to-drive 2 seater in the Miata's price range. I wouldn't be surprised if the cost to maintain and drive an MG for the first year or two would make up the difference in price between it and a reasonably nice Miata.
 
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5,653
Location
Central IA
I like the MG's and the Triumph Spitfires and GT6 for brit cars. But they are a chore to keep going properly compared to a Japanese car. The car I wish I had bought when they were cheap years ago is a 240z
 
Messages
7,485
Location
S California
Originally Posted By: fdcg27
A late 'seventies Midget (last model year was '79) won't have points, it'll have the even worse Lucas electronic ignition. I replaced this horrid setup on my old B with Luminition and never had another problem. This also gave an instant 20% improvement in fuel economy. My B was transformed into a 30 mpg+ econobox. Gas was then around a buck, but my income in the early 'eighties meant that every little bit mattered. The late Midgets also has the awful Triumph 1500 engine. The earlier A series is preferable in every way. Then there's also the need to remove the engine and gearbox as a unit to replace the clutch, but this is true of the B as well.
If you're going to get into Midgets you gotta go with the earlier ones. You don't need the smog stuff or that Lucas solid state ignition or a non Midget engine. Don't forget the odd Sprite, either.
 

JDW

Messages
665
Location
South
I had a GF one time that had one , That thing one could not ride in it with bare feet the floor board would set your feet on fire !
 
Messages
7,485
Location
S California
Originally Posted By: JDW
I had a GF one time that had one , That thing one could not ride in it with bare feet the floor board would set your feet on fire !
That was one of many no cost extras. At least with an early Midget or even a previous generation Sprite, you were involved in the driving and the ownership experience. When regulations redesigned the Midget it lost all it's true character. I also owned an right hand drive 49 MG-TC with a 1200cc engine that produced several horse power. The car was an experience to drive and own. You could drive 10/10's around the freeway off ramps, sliding like a dirt tracker and never pass a Japanese import on your best day. You knew every nut and bolt because you probably just tightened them the week before. The end came suddenly with someone offered me 3 times what I would have asked, in cash and I sold the car. On my next drive to work I discovered that I made a terrible mistake.
 

crw

Messages
1,715
Location
Pocatello, ID
I had a 1978 Triumph Spitfire when I was a college student. It was a fun car, but my mistake was treating it like my daily driver and also trying to deliver pizzas in it. It broke down every two weeks. But you can do anything with it... I rebuilt the clutch master cylinder for example, and didn't even need to jack the car up. Another time, running out of gas while the gauge said I still had a quarter tank left. A new adventure every day. Well worth it if it's just a weekend toy, and you have support vehicles nearby for any out-of-town excursion! ;-)
 
Messages
17,301
Location
OH
I used my '76 MGB as a daily driver for several years. We used to take it on out of town trips all of the time. It would even start easily in well below zero temperatures, did well in the snow and had decent heat. I was much younger then and thought much less of working on the car far more often than I have to these days. Not nearly as reliable as a Japanese car of similar vintage, but not a bad car to use, and it was always entertaining to drive. I can't think of an easier to drive stick and it was also easy to shift without using the clutch.
 
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