By on April 29, 2019

1979 MG Midget in California wrecking yard, RH front view - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsBMC and then British Leyland churned out MG Midgets and near-identical Austin-Healey Sprites for 20 years, with the final example coming off the Abingdon line in 1980. Because project-grade Midgets still clutter garages, driveways, yards, and fields throughout the land and they’re not worth much, the clock runs out for many of them every year.

The next stop, usually, is among the Sephias and Jettas of the IMPORTS section at a self-service wrecking yard. Here’s a forlorn ’79 I spotted last week in California.

1979 MG Midget in California wrecking yard, front view - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsContrary to the belief of those living in Michigan or Massachusetts, cars do rust in California. Oh, yes they do! The worst corrosion horror-shows in the Golden State will be cars that park within a block or two of the ocean, where salt spray mixes with morning fog, but cars that sit outdoors for years will have their paint scorched away by the sun and their weatherstripping turned into black crumbly powder by the smog. Then the winter rains come and water collects under trim, carpeting, and vinyl tops. If a certain doomed British corporation saved a few pence on materials due to labour strife and the imminent collapse of society, you might see this process take place even faster than usual.

1979 MG Midget in California wrecking yard, rust - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsWorth restoring? No way. But owners of surviving Spridgets — of which there are many near this San Francisco Bay Area junkyard — will find plenty of useful parts on this car.

1979 MG Midget in California wrecking yard, engine - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsFor 1979, the U.S.-market Midget had big plastic bumpers, jacked-up ride height (to meet Uncle Sam’s headlight regulations), and the single-carb 1,493cc engines out of the Triumph Spitfire. Fifty horsepower, which was sufficient to make this tiny 1,826-pound car feel a lot quicker than it really was. Meanwhile, the ’79 Honda Civic two-door weighed 151 pounds less and had 13 more horsepower. Sometimes life isn’t fair.

1979 MG Midget in California wrecking yard, interior - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsBeneath all the junkyard clutter, the interior looks to have been spared the worst ravages of the weather, probably because the car’s top stayed up during the wilderness years.

It’s got four wheels and reflexes so quick it almost seems alive.

If you like these junkyard posts, you can reach all 1600+ right here at the Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand!


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29 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1979 MG Midget...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    What awful little cars these were. I’m surprised that there’s this much of it left. Most have long turned to dust. I remember a friend in high school had one and driving it during a blizzard. I had to get out of the car to push it out of the tire ruts every few blocks

    Good times, man ;-)

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    Junkyard clutter? I thought that’s how they came from the factory! Some assembly required…

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Didn’t these come from the factory with a net on the bottom to catch all of the parts that would fall off? ;)

  • avatar
    JimC2

    At least as much fun as an early Miata but minus the quality.

  • avatar
    Fred

    My first sportcar was a Bugeye Sprite and I had a couple more after that. I delivered Chinese food in the Bugeye. Fun little cars and they taught me how to tune a car.

    • 0 avatar
      ect

      My first car was a Mk III Sprite (identical to the Mk II Midget). It was a blast to drive – I’ve always said it was a car your wore more than drove. Especially when the fluid carbs were properly synced.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    One of my brother’s friends in HS had one. It was rust free (this was early 90s) as his uncle was a paint/body specialist. It was an earlier model though, it had freshly re-dipped chrome bumpers and rallye wheels sprayed black with chrome trim rings, pretty cool looking actually. Black over freshly reupholstered black vinyl.
    I remember it actually being a solid car , reliable for him.. Very slow, our 5spd honda accord sedan was faster. He ended up taking an Isuzu Impulse to college though

  • avatar
    -Nate

    The Trumpet engine in this poor old car was known as the “40,000 mile hand grenade” ~ no matter what you did it was short lived if fun to drive .

    I need some parts off this car and Murilee says it’s only a week in the yard, kindly tell me what yard and I’ll trot right on out with my tool ox .

    TIA,

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Somebody grabbed the tach. I remember those on my brother-in-law’s MGA. He said you could tell what was wrong with the engine just by looking at the tach. A LOT went wrong with that engine.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    “It’s more fun to drive a slow car fast, than a fast car slow.” These might just be the cars that were the inspiration behind that saying.

    And they were excellent vehicles for learning how to wrench. In fact knowing how to was almost a necessity.

    • 0 avatar
      millmech

      Miserable wretched awful horrible things. We had to push the damn things off the trucks when they arrived @ the dealer. We had a big pile of dead warranty engines out back. Sudden stops would slide the reverse idler gear into the mix of other gears. After some use, parking facing uphill would cause crankshaft to slide back, requiring sever pumps of the pedal to get the clutch to release. Somebody must have REALLY wanted the tach; behind-dash was ultra-miserable. Yes, pulling up on gearshift knob seeking reverse would sometimes result in driver hitting him/herself in face with the knob. NOT FUNNY @ ALL for a mechanic trying to make a living. Front suspension saws itself apart; grease applied to fittings doesn’t go to intended places. Horrible, just Horrible.

    • 0 avatar
      millmech

      Remembering recalls on these – Engines would run hot, when/if they ran. Solution – Change temp gauge to re-calibrated & unmarked temp gauge. A mechanical gauge with the long tube that MUST NOT be broken, behind the crowded dashboard filled with sharp things. I think warranty paid half-hour for that. Recall included still another radiator catch tank, hidden, as was the windshield washer res. Clutch hydraulics very tricky to bleed, some just couldn’t be bled, but try anyway because removal of clutch mc requires some butchery, worse, where it could be seen! Because of increased ride height, they eat suspension bushings. Most radios needed to have the firewall “planished” to fit. Replacing clutch a most foul occurrence, made more difficult by the fact that all fasteners (fine thread) would rust into place, mostly into captive nuts, not reachable whilst parts are in place. Components must be removed in order to access unsecured captive nuts, which prevent the removal of said component(s). HORRIBLE!!!! Buy something easy to service, maybe an Alfa? After all the trouble with something Italian, there’s a chance that it may make SOME power.

  • avatar
    Tstag

    Say what you will but it’s cars like this that inspire people to become car enthusiasts. In a weird way we need more British Leylands and less Toyotas if we are going to continue to inspire people to want to own and drive cars.

    And yes it disturbs me too that I just made an argument for British Leyland!

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      It takes all kinds. Toyota built the Celica in the same era as these cars.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      People complain about driving their own cars today because it interferes with their social media time. Nobody is asking for cars that take two hands and two feet to drive until they break down. Toyota made better sports cars than British Leyland ever dreamed of, and there was no market for them no matter how many 12 year old boys sat in MR2s at car shows in the ’80s and ’90s.

      “Cars like this” belonged in the ’50s and ’60s. The Sprite met expectations when it was the Bugeye. The convertible top and side windows on the Sprite MK3 and Midget MK2 gave the car some legs in the early ’60s. Some people blame emissions controls and bumpers for killing the cheap British sports cars, but they were already obsolete in 1971. Everything written in the US on the subject at the time basically says that the Capri, the Celica, the 240Z and the 2002 were the enthusiasts cars of the day. MG and Triumph had stopped evolving. Austin-Healey was dead. There were alternatives that cost about the same and did everything better with less bother. By the time British Leyland gave up, cars like this had been drawing scathing reviews for years.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        True Todd but ;

        Since the Japanese were able to make direct copies of many British cars & Motos that didn’t piss oil every where and require the owner / operator to either be :

        A : wealthy enough to have a Mechanic touch it endlessly

        -OR-

        B : be or learn to be, proficient with simple hand tools so as to maintain it them selves .

        The were _Sports_cars_ not Race Cars and so when running were boat loads of pure fun if not particularly fast .

        I’ve taken the time to properly sort the awful initial build quality problems out of many British cars then they were all reliable, fun daily drivers and rally cars as well as long distance touring rigs .

        ? Why was it seemingly impossible for the English to do what the Japanese did so easily and far cheaper ? .

        -Nate

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          The better/cheaper thing was because of the differences between the industrial philosophies at the time. The Brits built cars in old world, artisan kinds of shops where there was a lot of hand fitted assembly, as they had done since, well, the industrial revolution. The Japanese adopted a lot of Deming’s ideas during the postwar rebirth. Both had a lot of pride in their work, culturally I mean. The Brits had a lot of brilliant engineering in that era- really clever, inventive solutions to problems. The Japanese had a lot of brilliant engineering too, but it was usually copying, understanding, and improving designs imported from abroad (Japanese engineering produced plenty of its own innovations in the period after the Midget in this article rolled off the assembly line).

          Well… it was something like that.

          • 0 avatar
            millmech

            Engines that don’t come apart, due to corrosion – Jaguar, Triumph. Crankshaft thrust bearings that fall into the oil pan, allowing crankshaft to mightily smite the block – Triumph. I could go on.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          The new episode of Jay Leno’s garage may have some insight into this issue. Jay’s Merlin-engine roadster is ready for its public unveiling. Jim Hall, the primary restorer, told an interesting story about when Packard mass-produced the Rolls-Royce designed engine for WWII. Packard had to thoroughly re-engineer the engine for mass production, as Rolls-Royce’s tolerances were so big that everything had to be hand-fitted and fettled. They hadn’t figured out standardized parts yet. In the 1940s.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Have to agree with Todd (which is quite rare, except when sticking to cars) that the 240Z was a revelation and ensured the obsolescence of these cars. The TR7 was a valiant attempt at a ‘modern’ vehicle marred by irredeemably terrible quality control.

        Prior to that if you wanted a ‘fast’ BL roadster, you could pay extra and buy a Triumph Stag. Which was even more unreliable.

        • 0 avatar
          millmech

          TR7 – Head gaskets that ALL leaked, combined with heads that won’t come off the block. Early TR7 with Spitfire/Herald transmission & differential. 5-speed transmissions with unreachable fill plugs. Good thing, though, sposta have 75wt. If heavier oil used in cold weather, it can break the PLASTIC connector for the transmission oil pump. Gotta stop, too many bad memories.

  • avatar
    Mike-NB2

    “People complain about driving their own cars today because it interferes with their social media time. Nobody is asking for cars that take two hands and two feet to drive until they break down. Toyota made better sports cars than British Leyland ever dreamed of, and there was no market for them no matter how many 12 year old boys sat in MR2s at car shows in the ’80s and ’90s.”

    Sadly there is a lot of truth to this, Todd.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Off to China to become a refrigerator for a dorm room, a cooking pot, a lawn mower, auto parts, and a couple of other Chinese made products.

  • avatar
    MKizzy

    Given how quickly those little things rusted, Midgets had about a 36 month shelf life in Ohio before they turn into dust like vampires in the sun.

    • 0 avatar
      millmech

      BL was famous for leaving the new nekkid unpainted body shells out in the rain for a while. Paint gets a good “bite”. Seen bodged body repairs on these from the factory, it was “Not Uncommon”.

      • 0 avatar
        millmech

        Maybe drop an Austin Marina on it, THEN drop a piano on both of them. Top with Range Rovers & TR7s & light the lot on fire. Maybe both of the Sterlings left,the fine wood in those + the Range Rovers would a bit of colour to the flames. BRING HOT DOGS!


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