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Period Reports

notes on the MG MIDGET

©1953 by Consumers Union of U.S., Inc., Yonkers, NY 10703. Posted by permission from CONSUMER REPORTS, September 1953. Downloading, copying, excerpting, redistributing or retransmitting of our material is prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe, call 800-234-1645. Visit us on at

The MG Midget currently leads all foreign cars in numbers imported into the United States, though it is neither the cheapest (it sells for $2115 at ports of entry) nor the most useful. CU's auto consultants have been driving a standard MG Model TD (there is also a "hot" model, the TD Mark II) chiefly to assess the reasons for its popularity.
To begin with, the MG is a true sports car with a long pedigree. As such, it is in a unique position at present; there is no other sports car available at its price, or near it.
Any prospective MG buyer who doesn't know the ropes should be advised on what he is getting. The MG has a potent though very small engine, with 1250-cubic-centimeters (1¼ liters or 76.3 cubic inches) piston displacement. It runs in competition with sports cars of 1500 cc.- or-under displacement. The top speed of the standard MG is just under 80 miles per hour-about that of a Studebaker Champion--and a Willys Ace will both out-accelerate and outrun the standard MG. This is no shame to the MG; it means only that you must enjoy your MG for other attributes than high power and high speed.
Before listing some of these other attributes--and the car has plenty of good points--let us deal with the MG's appearance. By modern sports-car standards, the MG's looks are completely out of date. Today's sports cars nearly all look like streamlined beetles, and you have to look twice to tell an Osca from a Ferrari. Somehow, the MG looks stripped-for-action, built-in-the-backyard (with that long, lean hood, more feet than engine), muscular, tiny, and cute. all at the same time. its refreshing to see an MG go by, after a succession of blown-up-looking sedans. However, its rudimentary body lines and surfaces make it hard to clean, hard to get into and out of, and a strait jacket when you do get in. It holds two--and no more than two--passengers and offers a total carrying space of approximately 36x11xl7 inches with the top up; when the top is folded down, its back panel drops into the storage trough and reduces the available space further.
The body construction is rudimentary, too. The cowl is beaten out by hand, like King Arthur's breastplate; the body is built on wood framing. The top goes up and down easily, but in raised position, it obstructs vision more than it does wind and rain. Rugged side curtains take care of the elements and, when used with the top down, keep out
much of the wind, but they aren't easy to see through, and their use precludes hand signaling.

Mechanical details

The MG may be a plaything, but its no toy. It is ruggedly built throughout and though the choice of items on which money was or was not spent seems peculiar at times--there is no gas gauge, for instance--the quality of what there is, is definitely high. If anything, the car is a little too heavy for its size, and for its engine.
The engine is an overhead-valve four, with a comparatively long stroke from which, in part, it derives more flexibility in performance, with less gear changing, than might be expected. The engine develops (in the standard model) 54 horsepower at 5200 revolutions per minute, and at the higher road speeds is neither very smooth nor very quiet. The engine is backed up by an excellent, but on CU's test car, stiff-shifting, four-speed transmission which provides no-clash engagement of second, third, and high speeds. At 5.125 to 1, the rear-axle ratio used, the engine revolves approximately 4100 times per mile (an average American figure is 2900). Piston travel is likewise high, at 2400 feet per mile (or feet per minute at 60 mph). The engine uses two carburetors and has a full-flow oil filter, the best type. On an over-the-road test conducted by CU on hilly, open roads, the test car averaged 24.7 miles per gallon at an average speed of 48 miles per hour. (A standard-transmission Dodge V-8, run in tandem with the MG, averaged 18.2 rnpg.)
MG brakes require heavy pedal pressure by American standards, but are powerful and reliable in action. The front brakes are of the hydraulic two-piston type used by many sports cars abroad and by Chrysler in this country; rear brakes are the conventional hydraulic type. A hand brake lying horizontally between the two bucket seats applies the rear brakes mechanically, as most hand brakes do.
Perhaps the most sensational feature of the MG, at least to the average American driver, is its steering. To begin with, the car's unladen weight--2000 pounds--is equal), divided between front and rear wheels. The car is guided by a rack-and-pinion steering gear with direct connections to each front wheel, affording simple, precise, and very
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quick steering--free of lost motion and the rubbery feel so often found in many heavier cars. Anyone who is in doubt as to what "road sense" or the "feel of the road" means should drive an MG and find out.
If the driver of an MG were permitted to enjoy this beautiful steering, and the top-notch handling and maneuverability that goes with it, everything would he fine. But he isn't. Having put the top down to get rid of the flapping and din which accompany its use, he finds himself assaulted by the wind coming over and around the windshield. Unless the road is very smooth, he will probably be annoyed by severe lateral vibration or shake of the cowl structure, including the steering wheel, and by severe fender shake.
Fortunately, the driver and his passenger are comfortably seated at the node of all the movement, where they obtain a ride which is firm and devoid of sway, though at times uncomfortably jarring; on the average, the ride is tolerable, and, as speed increases, it is generally satisfactory. This rather tight-to-the-road ride is matched by the MG's ability


While most new sports cars look like streamlined beetles, the MG retains an old-fashioned, stripped-for-action appearance. Strictly a two-seater, the car is a brisk performer, steers with precision, and it hugs the road tightly whatever the surface

at keeping its wheels firmly on the road, on any and all types of surface. Nothing could be less true than the notion that because the MG is small, it is liable to bounce off the road into the bushes.

Summing up
Except in very rare circumstances, the MG, with its limited space, open-to-the-elements interior, and relatively uneasy ride, is not the car for a one-car family. On the other hand, if you want it as a sports car, or for use in competition, you can't do better, price considered, than the MG. (In the 1500 cc. class, you will be beaten by the Porsches, but a Porsche costs a thousand dollars more.) Other sports cars at prices comparable to MG are said to be in the offing; they probably will have larger engines with more speed and zip, but they are also likely to be outrun in competitions based on piston displacement.
If what you want is a relatively low-priced open car to ride around in at the moderate speeds, the MG's lacy of space tells against it. The now-discontinued Willys Jeepster was ideal for this purpose. At present, the cheapest car that can be opened to the weather is the Morris Minor convertible, $1465 at port of entry. The cheapest American convertible is the Chevrolet 210, $2093 at factory.
If you are looking for a low-priced car that is fun to drive, the MG is that; its nimbleness, excellent road behavior, small size, and quality details are in many ways a welcome relief from the big packages to which we are accustomed. But more utility, or at least more storage space, would help. So would a larger, quieter, and smoother engine, such as is found in the Morgan, the Porsche Amerika, or the new Triumph sports car. So would a body that would give more protection from wind and weather and lessen the car's wind resistance and wind noise.
In fact, CU's experts, bearing in mind the factors of utility, weather protection, and fun-to-drive, and excluding the competition angles, would suggest that the lower-priced Volkswagen (CONSUMER REPORTS, March 1953) might be investigated as an alternative choice to the MG. It isn't as fast or as flexible as the MG, but its fun to drive, too; it is unusual, interesting to the mechanically minded, useful, and tough. True, you can't get really out-of-doors in the Volkswagen, but in the "sunshine" sliding roof model you can get plenty of air and sky-view, and have in reserve a shield from the weather when it is needed.

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