9th April 2020

The Midget conundrum

A great British icon, the Sprite/Midget/Spridget lineage is a convoluted tale of two-seated success. Initially launched by the British Motor Corporation (BMC) in 1958, the Austin Healey Sprite was produced until 1971, with the MG Midget version launched in 1961, developed concurrently and eventually produced until 8 years after the Sprite was put to bed. Sound simple? Let us continue.

The original Sprite, which was produced for just 3 years, is the famous ‘Frogeye’, designed by the Donald Healey Motor Company and built at Abingdon by MG. If we need to explain why it earned this name then you’re probably reading the wrong page. It sported a singing 948cc A-Series engine, deft chassis, pert looks and a cheap price tag. It was an obvious winner. The Mk2 was introduced in 1961 and this is where MG also entered the fray. As BMC’s Midget pawn, the pair of cars ditched the ‘Frogeye’ front end for more orthodox styling and were produced side-by-side.

Both featured the same 948cc, albeit it with larger SU carburettors and a close-ratio gearbox. The models continued to evolve together, sharing enlarged 1098cc engines, front disc brakes and other minor revisions. The most obvious differentiator beyond the badge was usually the front grill. By this point Midget popularity was booming and even the Italians joined the party, Innocenti taking the design and adding its own body styling in the 60s.

The Mk2 came in 1964, but was produced for only two years before the Mk3 ran all the way from 1966 to 1974. Numerous updates were introduced, most notably the 1275cc engine as used in the Mini Cooper S. This brought much initial excitement, followed by slight disappointment once people realised that it featured a de-tuned cylinder head and lower compression ratio. Of course, the beauty of a 1275 A-Series is in its tuneability and it didn’t take long for owners to realise this.

Arguably the most desirable Midget years are 1972-74, when the Sprite name was no more and when the rear arches lost their customary squared off lines in favour of a round design. They were ditched when the biggest Midget revolution landed in 1974: the year of the rubber bumpers. Less chrome and more ride height were introduced primarily to meet the stringent requirement of the US market, but changes were afoot beneath the skin, too. The 1493cc engine as used in the Midget’s great rival, the Triumph Spitfire, now lived beneath the bonnet, along with an updated gearbox and a thicker anti-roll bar in an attempt to counter the increased roll encouraged by high altitude driving.

What’s your favourite Spridget year?