Inexpensive Sports Car: 1979 MG Midget 1500


When I first saw this MG Midget submitted by Jim S, I was struck by the lack of rust. I’ve had more than a few Spridgets in my time, and fighting rust, especially in the vulnerable area of the door hinge pillar, is a full-time job. This one looks quite attractive, especially considering the buy-it-now price of $1,600 here on eBay. The little MG is located in Pinellas Park, Florida. Unfortunately, there’s a problem.

The car doesn’t run. Actually, according to the seller, it doesn’t “tick over.” Apparently the ignition lock is missing, along with the side mirrors and luggage rack (what an odd combination of things to not be there?) However, given that the late Midgets feature the Triumph 1500 cc engine so beloved by Josh (not), I feel confident that this car could be put back on the road for a reasonable amount of effort, even if a junkyard Spitfire engine needs to be sourced. What do you think?


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  1. Kevin Harper

    I like the midgets and spits like this, but the 1500 engine in these is junk. The problem with them is that the crank tries to elongate as the revs rise taking out the thrust bearings.
    I would be interested in doing an engine swap, but not something rediculously powerful. I would choose something like a ford zetec or if I wanted to go more period a pinto or Fiat twin cam. They all give enough power without overpowering the chassis or making it unpleasant to drive. The biggest problems with the DOHC engines is the height of the engines so a pushrod engine may fit better.
    This looks like a good candidate for a swap, a nice car but not to nice.

    • Alexander

      I once looked at a Midget for sale where someone had sloppily swapped in a Chevette engine as a substitute. Whatever the validity of the idea, it was such a half-posteriored job that I fled.

  2. Cory

    To me, rust free is the most valuable part of any classic. Chasing rust is a never ending expense. These are cheap to rebuild, and engines are plentiful. The door mirrors and luggage rack are easily removed and I would guess some one helped themselves to them. The ignition lock I’m not sure of. Could be some one lost the keys and removed it themselves

  3. another bob

    Cheap to buy, but what is the total cost to driving it? Brakes, electrical, cooling, rad? Clutch OK? I’d suggest just buying a beat up Miata and enjoy the great handling and endless parts supply.
    Better yet, spend a couple of grand more and buy a great Miata. I find Midgets kinda ugly compared to the great looking MGB.

    • cory

      I tend to agree. the rubber bumpered midgets were some of the worst handling. The extra weight of the bumpers, combined with the raised height, and miserable power made them awful. They are nearly impossible for a full sized adult to get in and out of. I would probably go mgb if I got back into them.

  4. ClassicCarFan

    @Kevin Harper
    “but the 1500 engine in these is junk. The problem with them is that the crank tries to elongate as the revs rise taking out the thrust bearings.”

    Who on earth told you that? The crankshaft in a three-bearing design tends to whip and flex at higher revs, if anything causing its overall length to shorten marginally.

    The real issues with the thrust bearings on these Triumph 1500 engines is that the thrust bearings are not very well retained, so once the thrust bearings do wear beyond a certain limit if not monitored – there is a possibility that they can actually fall out of their locations. Once they fall out, the crank can float back and forward excessively which can run the block quite quickly.

    The 1500 Triumph engine is not a bad unit. More torque but less revable than the A-series it replaced in the MG Midget. FWIW the 1500cc engined Midget is the quickest and fastest production model Midget.

    You have to keep in mind that the MG die-hards like to slam the 1500 Triumph engine mainly because they were so insulted that BL chose to put a competitor’s engine in the MG. The 1500 engine is fine.

  5. Kevin Harper

    @ classic car fan

    Actually is was a professor of mine who was big into English cars back when I was in engineering school.
    From my work on them, and my professional work where i do a lot of failure analysis it probably does both. As the revs, coupled with the input pulses and the lack of support between cylinders 1 and 2. As well as 3 and 4 the crank is trying to straighten itself out. When you lift and quit creating power it may contract. The first one wears out the bearings and the second one spits them in the pan.
    As far as not being a great engine. I have always thought it was very weak, but that is from perspective as most of the engines that I was use to working on from that era were either German or Italian. Both the Fiat 128 13/1500 and vw 1600 SOHC were far ahead of the BL 1500.

  6. Rob

    Personally I like what Elan Clenet did with the Midgets back in the late ’70s, tho he kept the doors the same when he built his Series I Roadster out of the MG’s, ‘n like Cory said, ‘They are nearly impossible for a full sized adult to get in and out of’.. but still with his mods, ‘n the 400ci Ford motor, it made cruising highways much easier..

  7. ClassicCarFan

    @Kevin Harper.
    Well I stand corrected. I’d never heard that elongation theory put that way, but I guess it sounds credible.

    I’d agree with you that the Triumph 1500 engine did not necessarily stand up to comparison with some other engines of the era from other manufacturers, like the Fiat twin-cams or maybe the emerging all-alloy OHC motors from the Japanese. The Triumph engine is truly a 1950s-based design which just stayed around until the 1980s, just like the A-series did.

    My argument was more to point out that the when you compare the 1500 Triumph motor with the 1275cc A-series motor it replaced in the MG – the 1500 is not really inferior. In reality, they are very similar type of design.

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