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A look at a classic MG

Classic cars MG

Affordable roadsters are depressingly rare these days. In decades past a young chap (or young miss) could reasonably expect to afford a new or near-new drop-top sporting car to get their kicks. And how about the choice?

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Think MG B, Triumph Spitfire, Alfa and Fiat Spiders, Austin Healey Sprite and the Lotus Elan.
Top down, wind in the hair, manual gearbox, rear-wheel drive. Golden times indeed.
Today, your affordable new roadster list begins and ends with the Mazda MX-5. Even then, the cheapest one is over $40k to drive-away.

Classic cars MG

Regardless, young folk of today with such disposable tend to buy a dual-cab ute, not a sportscar. With diesel engine, auto gearbox and cornering ability of a whale, they truly don’t know what they’re missing out on. Let 81-year-old Brian Davies be your inspiration. As a kid and then teenager in Timaru on New Zealand’s South Island, he was beguiled by his cousin’s MG TF and then MG B. “When you look at brands like MG and Jaguar, for me it brings back the glory days of motor racing,” he says. Still smitten by these old Brits, Brian’s days are filled with tinkering and driving the gorgeous little 1970 MG Midget he bought a few years ago.

Here, there, everywhere

It’s a truly tiny two-door roadster – shorter than a modern-day Fiat 500 – and not one you’d normally expect an octogenarian to enjoy getting in and out from.

“I have to shoehorn myself in, but this inconvenience is short lived by the time you hit the highway,” he explains.
“It’s a car that puts a smile on my face every time I put the key in the ignition. Its power-to-weight ratio is phenomenal, and while its ride and handling’s quite abrupt, it’s like driving a motorised skateboard.”

The Midget has seen Brian’s life with cars come almost full circle. His first was a Morris Minor 850cc OHV, then a Standard Vanguard, before moving to Australia in 1964 and buying and restoring a 1954 MG TF.

Classic cars MG

“I was good mechanically, but I needed help from a cabinet maker friend to fabricate up new framework where the wood suffered from dry rot,” he says.
By this stage he’d developed quite the affinity for BMC products, and moved on to an Austin A40 Farina. Brian was working for distributors of BMC spare parts, making his hobby easier.
His motorsport enthusiasm saw him become the go-to man for BMC’s sports division, looking after Austin Healey, MG and Mini Cooper.
He relocated to Papua New Guinea and did up a Hillman Minx and a “mouldy Mk2 Ford Zephyr,” before a return to New Zealand saw him buy his first new car: a British Racing Green MG Midget 1100cc, optioned with luxuries such as wire wheels, a heater and a radio.

“I’d lusted after an MG B, but the Midget was far more affordable,” he explains.
“But after owning it for six months, I was contacted by a solicitor whose wife hated their new MG B and wanted to swap it for my Midget plus a bit of cash. I put myself into debt, but there I was with a near-new MG B in Tartan red with leather upholstery, wire wheels and overdrive.

Classic cars MG

Back then, the stuff that a young man’s dreams were built on.” He ultimately returned to New Guinea, working across the country establishing and managing Toyota dealerships. Compared to the British cars he was used to, “Toyotas were far better made,” says Brian. “The Japanese had that pride-of-work ethic.”

Little red speedster

Even so, when he settled in Australia it was his passion for classic Brits that proved stronger.
He restored a rubber-nose MG B in the 1980s, but it wasn’t until recently he decided to revisit his love for the very first new MG he bought.

“I found this 1970 Midget Mk3 that had only had two owners, both from the same family,” Brian says. “The nephew, who I bought it from, had given it a full rotisserie restoration.”

It’s one of the 1184 Midgets assembled in Zetland, Sydney, between 1967 and 1971 as complete knock-down (CKD) packs. Brian’s is a later facelifted version, of which just 396 we made.
Locally produced electrics and paint were used, with this car originally painted in Australia-only Camino gold.
As you can now see, the restoration involved a switch to the more popular Tartan-red hue.
These MkIII Midgets used the highly tuneable 1275cc engine – as found on the Mini Cooper S – but were detuned versions good for only 48kW and 98Nm.
The car’s original engine remains, but has been bored out to 1300cc and had a camshaft grind, and after sampling this thing in action, I can report it’s got ample shove to haul along such a lightweight roadster.

Classic cars MG

“On the open highway at 110kph it certainly wants more,” says Brian.
“I’ve had it up to 140kph, and believe it could easily accomplish 160kph, just like an MG B.
“It’s easy to drive and reliable. The previous owner would do 1100km round trips in it, and I’d happily hop in it, throw luggage in the boot and drive from Queensland to Sydney without hesitation. I know it’d get back again too.”

While there was the expected overhaul of the gearbox, diff, brakes and wiring, it was also gifted a series of smart upgrades better suited to modern driving.
There’s a brake booster kit on account of the increased performance; an oil cooler’s been fitted, it has 14-inch wire wheels from an MG B replacing the original 13s, while an alternator replaces the antique generator. Even so, this is a 1970s offering that has elements taken from immediately post-war.

Classic cars MG

The suspension features semi-elliptic leaf springs, while there’s no synchromesh on first gear.
“When I start it, the normal procedure is push it into second, then you can gently ease it up into first and away you go,” says Brian.

Regardless, this is a very approachable little MG that’s relatively easy to drive. Sure, it’s a very cramped cabin, but with the rag top roof folded there’s no sense of claustrophobia.
But with the tiny front screen and wafer-thin doors, you wouldn’t much fancy your chances in an accident. There’s space behind the low-set seats (you really feel you’re sitting on the road) and enough space in the boot for a couple of weekender soft bags.
The Smiths instruments, the tiny gear shifter, chunky steering wheel, red piping on reupholstered black seats… it’s all very ’60s roadster and very British.

Classic cars MG

“Importantly for me, I’m able to tinker with this car,” Brian explains.
“If I bought something new like a Mazda MX-5, there’s things I can’t even look at. But for the MG I have a tune-up kit to adjust the fuel mixture on the twin carburettors, and have a vacuum gauge to balance them. I couldn’t do that on a modern car.”

Clean and simple

Brian says one of the joys of ownership is older people sharing stories of their MG pasts, and answering questions from younger folk about what it is, and what ‘traditional’ MG is all about. Upkeep’s also easy.

“Spare, and even new, parts are plentiful from Moss of England, while eBay is always helpful. Parts are no dearer than what you’d pay for a Toyota or Kia.”

The Midget may be one of the tiniest things on the road, but the fun and attention it brings are mighty. As for Brian, he’s still smitten with classic MGs, even after a lifetime owning them.
“I’d say to anyone thinking about a weekend fun toy, don’t think too long. We’re only here for a short time, and it should be a fun time.”

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