English, small, open, two-seater, inexpensive, sports cars… Need one say anything else?
From 1958 to 1979 these little cars appeared in 5 different versions from the nifty Frogeye Sprite to the rather ugly rubber-bumpered MG Midget 1500. For my sins, I have owned, wore out, crashed, rebuilt, and restored a few of these fairly practical little cars ~ and I would rebuild / restore another at the drop of the proverbial hat. Mostly, the whole car comes apart using only a couple of 1/2 inch A/F spanners, (wrenches), and you can’t get much simpler than that.
By modern measure this is not a fast car, especially in any of its standard versions. However, perhaps with the exception of the original mini, (and the Lotus / Caterham 7), there are more spares, tuning parts and options available for the Sprite / Midget than for just about any car you can think of.
For a road trip, with a cute girl, these cars are utterly brilliant. On a really good road trip the destination and how fast you can get there is not the point. To me, the whole ethos of a road trip is enjoying the journey.
The Sprite / Midget is of unitary / monocoque steel construction, with the main strength being in the box-section sills, the facia / windscreen hoop, and the whole of the back end. Of course, these areas are where you’re likely to see rust appearing, or bodged repairs.
The doors and front end all bolt onto the facia / windscreen hoop. And, if you’ve ever owned one of these things you can first tell what kind of condition it’s in by the unmistakable clunk the doors make when you close them hard.
Engines are the venerable A-Series 3 bearing straight four ranging in size from 948cc in the Frogeye to 1275cc in the last of the good-looking cars. In the Midget 1500, the 1493cc engine was lifted from the Triumph Spitfire. (In all honesty, the 1500 isn’t the world’s best engine.) Twin SU carburettors are the usual fitment, and what you want. A better exhaust than the clunky cast iron manifold will pay a lot of dividends.
As standard, none of the engines used in the Sprite / Midget was in a very high state of tune, which is maybe just as well as the gearbox isn’t the strongest unit in the world, (no synchromesh on first gear either). The gearbox used in the Midget 1500 is better.
Suspension is by semi-elliptical at the rear, and lever arm shock absorbers and lower wishbones at the front. Amazingly, it works brilliantly.
You would be crazy to pay more than £5,000 for one of these cars, but people are crazy at times. Personally I would buy a wreck and rebuild it the way I wanted it. Face it, it’s just a pile of tin held together by a few 1/2 inch bolts.
As a gentle touring sportscar, the Sprite / Miget has a lot going for it. It’s inexpensive, reliable, has good roadholding and great handling. There’s a decent amount of room in the cockpit, (as compared with a Lotus 7 that is), the hood is easy to operate on the later versions, (terrible on the earlier cars like the Frogeye, which also don’t have wind-up windows), the luggage space isn’t so bad, and the things are just so much damn fun.