The truly affordable new sports car now seems to be a thing of the past, but there was a time when enthusiasts had their choice of cheap fun, exemplified by the Austin Healey Sprite and MG Midget.
From the original ‘Frogeye’ Sprite launched in 1958 through to the final MG Midget 1500 made in 1979, these cars offered cash-strapped sportscar fans some fun on the cheap. And the good news is that they still do, because while many classics have shot up in value so only collectors can afford them, the ‘Spridgets’ generally remain eminently affordable.
Ownership should be painless too; there’s a huge amount of new reproduction parts available, and what isn’t available can usually be be picked up second hand for very little money. Be careful when you are buying a project, as this can often work out more expensive in the long run.
Which MG Midget to buy?
Skirting around the very first Austin-Healey ‘Frogeye’ Sprites which pose a few different challenges, and are now substantially more expensive (read the full Frogeye Sprite buying guide here
), there are a few different options open to suit various budgets.
It is generally easiest to find a Triumph-engined Midget 1500, and this version is often regarded as the best all-round performer in standard form. As these were the last Midgets built (from 1974-1980), they are also generally slightly younger.
The very first Midgets featured 948cc A-series power, and it’s these early models that carry the biggest premium in original condition. From 1962, the engine size increased to 1098cc, however all Mk1 models can be identified easily due to the fact that they feature no external door handles or locks (unless retro-fitted). Unless you are a collector, or specifically want an early example, the later A-series cars are much easier to find.
Mk2 and Mk3 models are also much more usable and practical than early cars, as well as being easier to look after and find spares for, and if you don’t like the rubber bumpers of the later cars offer the best compromise. Go for a later 1275cc car for a fun weekend toy.
There is of course a huge number of modified Midgets on the market, and these shouldn’t be discounted, especially if you’re looking for a lot of fun on a modest budget. Engine conversions are not uncommon, but obviously you need to use caution and avoid anything lashed up by an amateur at home. There are of course Midgets that have been prepared for track use – just be careful to make sure that all of the FIA paperwork is in order, if you want to go racing.
Performance and specs
Engine 1275cc, four-cylinder
Power 64bhp @ 5800rpm
Torque 72lb ft @ 3000rpm
Top speed 94mph
Fuel consumption 34mpg
Gearbox Four-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
Kerb weight 685 kg
• The biggest likely problem is a rotten monocoque. What looks like a good car may be full of filler, so take a magnet to check closely.
• Rear spring mounting boxes are located in behind the seats; if these are structurally compromised a lot of welding may be required.
• Next up, you should give the sills a good poke, and inspect the A posts for the dreaded tin-worm. If the gaps between each door and A-post/B-post are even, then everything is probably in good shape.
• The battery tray traps water and quickly corrodes. Watch out for the brake and clutch master cylinder, which can leak brake fluid onto the surrounding bodywork, stripping the paint.
• Rust can attack the boot floor where it’s welded to the rear panel, along with the footwells.
• If the inner sills have rotted badly, repairs will be involved. Similarly, rear wheelarches and lower rear wings often rust, while tatty outer rear wheelarches suggest inner arches that are much worse.
• Aside from the Midget 1500, all Spridgets got BMC’s A-Series engine which is renowned for oil leaks because of its scroll-type rear crank seal.
• Expect noisy tappets and a rattly timing chain. Some people fit a Duplex assembly to quieten it down a bit.
• The A-series can take a lot of abuse, but will need to be rebuilt often. Earlier 948cc engines can generally cover 40k miles before the bearing shells are renewed, while the 1275cc engine will eat its piston rings at around 70k miles.
• A failed headgasket will generally display symptoms, so check for a mayonnaise-like substance in the oil filler cap. 1275cc engines suffer this the most.
• Some cars are fitted with an aftermarket electric fuel pumps. These generally give little trouble, but returning it to the original mechanical system is cheap and easy.
• With the 1500 Midget, the crank, pistons and rings all regularly wear out. Rattles when starting up give the game away, as does oil-burning blue smoke.
• If any Spridget’s gearbox is getting worn it’ll jump out of gear while on the road – rebuilding the gearbox isn’t especially costly.
1958: Sprite MkI introduced with a 948cc engine.
1961: Sprite MkII and MG Midget are launched.
1962: A 1098cc A-Series engine replaces the 948cc edition.
1964: Midget MkII and Sprite MkIII arrive, with more power, wind-up windows and revised dashboard.
1966: The Midget MkIII and Sprite IV go on sale, with 1275cc engine and a folding roof.
1969: There are now Rostyle wheels, black sills and slim-line bumpers.
1971: Sprites now carry Austin badges, but the model dies in July; Midget gets round wheelarches in August.
1972: An alternator is now fitted.
1974: Midget 1500 arrives, with rubber bumpers, square wheelarches and all-synchro gearbox.
1977: Headrests and inertia-reel seatbelts are now fitted.
1978: Dual-circuit brakes are standardised.
1979: The final Midget is built in November; the last 500 feature a black commemorative badge.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
Frogeyes are the most expensive models to buy, average cars starting at around £12,000. Mint examples will range from £15,000-£22,000. At the other end of the scale is the Midget 1500, which is the cheapest at around £4000 for a great usable example. Project cars can still be picked up for less than £1000, while a rough-and-ready car an be found from around £2000. All other Sprites and Midgets fit somewhere in between these two price points, with older cars generally more valuable than newer examples.
It’s generally accepted that the later Triumph-engined Midget 1500 is a great all-rounder – due to being the best developed. As the cheapest model, they’re still a bit of a bargain, and shouldn’t be discounted. It’s also worth noting that although later Sprites are rarer, and look slightly better than the MG, they’re not actually valued any higher.
There were many different tuned-up cars built in period, such as the Speedwell or Downton cars. Although they have a following, they aren't worth significantly more than standard cars. They're worth seeking out all the same though. Besides, if values of these cars ever start to climb significantly, it’s likely that these rarities will fetch more of a premium.