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History of the MG Midget & Austin Healey Sprite

Both models evolved from the original ‘Frogeye’ Austin Healey Sprite of 1958-61, a cute but slightly impractical budget sports car, using components from the Austin A35 and Morris Minor, and built by MG at Abingdon. There was no boot lid, and the one-piece front end was damage-prone. A more conventional body design, with fixed front wings and an opening bootlid, was launched in 1961.

Because the MG Midget version first appeared in parallel with the Austin Healey Sprite MkII in 1961, the Midget remained ‘one Mk behind’ as they evolved, until the last Sprite, the MkV, which briefly became a plain Austin Sprite before production stopped in 1971. The Midget continued alone until 1979.

Jointly nicknamed the ‘Spridget’ these models were extremely popular - the MkI Sprite reached 48,999 units, the MkII-V Sprites totalled 79,338 and the Mk I-IV Midgets achieved 224,395 units. A grand total of 352,732, or nearly as many as the MGB tourer. That’s a lot of sports cars.

Although overshadowed by the ‘big Healey’ and the Mini Cooper S in BMC’s competition department, the Sprite and Midget have had their glory days, with class wins in events such as the 1961 RAC Rally, the 1963 Monte Carlo Rally and the 1965 Sebring race. They were widely used by club competitors around the world, and were especially effective in autotesting, being very compact and agile.

Several different engines were used during the lifetime of the Sprite and Midget. Starting with a twin-carb 43bhp version of the 948cc A35/Minor engine, and moving through 56 bhp and 59 bhp versions of the 1098cc unit to the 1275cc , 65 bhp engine. In 1974, a combination of economics and USA emissions legislation led to the 66 bhp Triumph 1500 engine from the Spitfire being adopted. This was ironic since the Sprite/Midget and Spitfire had always been keen rivals.

From 1972 to 1974, the rear wheelarch of the Midget was changed to a circular profile to match that at the front. However, the need for extra rear panel stiffness to support the 1974 Federal-style ‘5 mph bumpers’ necessitated a reversion to the ‘flat-top’ wheelarch.

The Federal bumpers were not really a ‘safety’ feature, but an attempt by American legislators to counter the US culture of ‘parking by ear’. It was intended to ensure that items such as lamps and radiators would not be damaged in low speed impacts, and it was hoped that it would reduce insurance repair costs. However, many US insurers found that costs actually went up because accidents above 5 mph necessitated the replacement of inherently more expensive bumper systems.