Thomas Butler 1970 Midget

This is my 1970 MG Midget, built at Abingdon-on-Thames, England, and her story. The MG Midget was derived from the Austin-Healy “Bugeye” Sprite of 1958. The initial concept of the bugeye was to build a sports car around existing standard components as cheaply as possible. This entry level sports car was intended to be serviceable, or tuned for racing, by the owner. The car utilized existing technology and components from the Morris, Austin and Healy automobile lines, of which Morris Garages, or MG, was a part. They were proven, reliable parts designed in the early and mid 50’s, except for the brakes, which Lockheed designed specifically for this car. These cars were the first British cars built using unitized construction, and performed so well they became proven class winners on the famous racing circuits of Europe. Except for the major facelift from the Bugeye Sprite to the MG Midget Mark I in 1961 and minor component upgrades along the way not much changed between the 1958 car and the 1974 MG Midget Mark III. The 1975-1979 Mark IV was basically the same car except for a 1500cc Triumph engine, raised ride height, and rubber bumpers. Early cars were a 948cc Mark I, then a 1098cc Mark II and a 1275cc Mark III.

My wife saw this particular car for sale at the corner of Wilbur and Bryant in Walla Walla, and it reminded me of a TR4 I had in college that got totaled by a guy in a Lincoln. This sad little MG had been a “get to” project for the prior owner for many years. She lived in a garage on Shelton Avenue for many years before I got her, and before that I was told she had lived on School Avenue in a barn for at least a decade.

When I got this car she was a tired little lump. Oh, I did drive it home, in first gear, utilizing the hand brake and hand signals. Stupid. The brake hoses had holes in them, not that the brakes would have worked anyway. The suspension was broken, front and rear. The fuel tank had 3” of rust in it. This was not even the original engine, it was an older unit from a previous model! There were more problems with the carburetors and exhaust than you could shake a stick at. And the wiring, I have no clue how it got so badly botched and cross-wired! At least she was basically rust free, even though original yellow and later blue paints showed through a bad red re-spray. And I knew she would be fun, and this was a cheap way to relive youth, have a midlife fling with a little red convertible.

Now in 2008 when I got her I was about 45 years old and I’d never really worked on a car before, other than oil and filter changes. I discovered the beauty of that standardized, reliable 1950’s British technology. It’s simple. It’s mechanical, not electronically controlled. Armed with the Hayne’s Manual I went to work. I took my time and figured it out. I rebuilt what I could and replaced what I couldn’t. I had lots of help along the way. I talked to a gentleman who had owned MG’s in the past, and he told me from the beginning this is not a big performance car, so don’t get too ambitious (good advice!). The catalog, website and people from Victoria British (LMC) are helpful and informative. John Twist of University Motors has many technical videos online, and these are invaluable, to see someone who was an original factory trained technician and dealer work on the car. I turned that little car into a fun machine. 

Today she is quick, safe and reliable, or as the MG moto goes “Safety-Fast”. I drive her to work at the College, on the weekends, and with the grandkids. There is always more to do, and I have a 1275cc block in the garage to rebuild in the future. But for now she’s OK, so OK in fact that finally in the summer of 2016 I got her painted, Damask Red with Black bonnet, boot and side-winders. Function before beauty.

She’s not fast off the line nor will she fly down the highway. She is like strapping a big go-cart to your ass. You sense everything. The steering is precise, going right where you point her, which makes cornering is a thrill. She likes to be double clutched. She is happiest above 2500 rpm. A car like this is driven, not drove. And I like to drive. And the memories and stories will continue to grow with my MG.