The author recalls his ownership of a far from perfect but still charming MG Midget.
Although I couldn’t have known it at the time, moving to London in the spring of 1986 would prove to be a major landmark in my life. I had spent the previous two years working in Belfast but for compelling reasons, both professional and personal, I decided that, at the tender age of 25, it was time for me to strike out on my own and see if I could make a life for myself in one of the world’s great cities.
My arrival in London was, to say the least, inauspicious. I pitched up in a hired Austin Montego estate car, packed to the gunwales with all my worldly possessions. A friend had kindly offered me lodgings while I arranged something more permanent. I had already secured a job, working for one of London’s blue-blooded merchant banks. Unlike my job in Belfast, this did not come with the benefit of a company car, so that was an immediate priority for me.
Shorn of familial responsibilities and wanting a change from the eminently sensible cars I had previously owned or driven, I cast my eye around for something different. My budget was modest at around £2.5k, less than half the price of a new supermini at the time, but a second-hand Fiesta or Polo held little appeal. Instead, I set my heart on an MG Midget for its sheer charm and began scouring the small ads in AutoTrader.
Back in those days, the A23 in South London was lined with small-scale second-hand car dealers and I spotted a likely candidate at one such establishment. The car in question was a 1978 rubber bumper 1,500cc model in white with 50k miles on the clock. It looked very smart with its fresh paintwork and Rostyle wheels. The older and more cynical me would have treated the new paintwork with some suspicion, but I was naive and smitten, and the deal was done.
The Midget was an absolute hoot. It was like the proverbial roller-skate, with super-direct steering and enough power to make it fun to drive, but not so much as to overwhelm the rudimentary underpinnings. I recall that the gearchange was delightfully precise, with a short-throw gate. With the roof down on an early summer day, either in town or out on country roads, it was a joy to drive and seemed to put a smile on other road users’ faces.
Sensibly, the Midget had no radio fitted. At anything above 30mph, roof up or down, it would be too noisy to hear and, with the car parked on the mean streets of South London, it wouldn’t be long before the inevitable happened.
There were downsides to the Midget, however. The cockpit was cramped and luggage space was minimal, with the spare wheel taking up most of the boot. Motorway driving was a grim experience, thanks to the cacophony of road, engine and wind noise. The soft top was only marginally effective at keeping the rain out. I recall one long trip to Conwy in North Wales for a bank holiday weekend when it rained heavily all the way there. A missing grommet in the front bulkhead resulted in my left trouser leg being soaked from ankle to thigh by the end of a journey punctuated by a flat tyre.
Mechanically, it was pretty reliable over the two years I owned it. The only significant problem was occasional overheating, ultimately cured by a replacement radiator. I had it serviced by a local under-the-arches mechanic. On the second occasion, he blotted his copybook by dropping a heavy spanner, denting the front wing.
The Midget’s Achilles’ heel was, of course, corrosion. Underneath the freshly applied paintwork was plenty of filler and it didn’t take long for tell-tale bubbles to appear along the bottom edges of the doors and around the wheel arches.
For reasons that are too tedious to explain, after a year of Midget ownership, I briefly needed a larger, more practical car. A work colleague who had a collection of considerably more exotic cars offered to buy the Midget just for fun. I replaced it with a second-hand Lancia Delta. Nine months later, I sold the Delta and bought back the now refurbished Midget and was very happy to be reunited with it. I kept it for a further year before a change of job brought a new company car, a Mercedes-Benz 190E, so the Midget was sold on to another work colleague.
The Midget is still fondly remembered. It was absolutely the right car for the young, free and single me and it instilled a love for convertibles that remains to the present day. Home ownership and a new relationship brought a change in priorities, however, and it was time to move on.