MG Midget & Magnette History

By James Groth for The English Car Company

In its early years of production the Octagon logo of Morris Garages is perhaps best known for their racing accomplishments of which there were many. During the1930’s era success came from the MG K3 Magnette.

Most noteworthy was MG’s participation in the1933 Mille Miglia. A team of drivers took three new model K3s’ to Italy to compete in the thousand mile race on a figure eight course near Rome and Venice. Even for well developed cars this is a harsh test given the twisty and often rough mountain roads. Two of the three K3’s finished the race to win the overall Team Prize and the Lurani / Eyston car was first in class. This endurance race and many others with the K3 Magnette established MG’s reputation as a rugged and road worth sports/racing machine.

MG K3 Magnate


The record breaking EX­135 success at setting a 200 mph record in Germany in 1938 gave the MG brand great recognition and sales success. MG decided to return to record runs in 1951. From that year forward all the record speed attempts would be held at the Bonneville Salt Flats. The attempt was made by Major Goldie Gardner in EX­135. He brought two motors a Mark ll with a supercharger at 7.lbs boost producing 106 hp, this was used for the long distance runs. The sprint motor with more boost for the supercharger developed 210 bhp. The Major set six international records and ten USA records during his Bonneville assault runs.

EX-135 AT Bonneville


Maj. Gardner returned in 1952 to attack the international class E and F records. In all he set 14 class records including 202.02 mph for the 1mile straightaway with a MG TD engine. These records were accomplished with the experimental MG VC 20. What was unique to this motor from previous was its overhead camshaft. Over the years the EX­135 had many engines and various bodies but MG continued to refer to race car as EX­135.

EX-135 on display at Gaydon Museum


In 1956 MG decided to attempt to break its own speed records at the Salt Flats of Bonneville. They brought the EX­179 powered by what ended up as the engine used in the MG Midget and Austin Healy Sprite. This was a 1000 cc push­rod four cylinder Morris motor, With the motor installed in the XE­179 American, Ken Miles set the Class H record.

EX-179 1956 Speed Records at Bonneville


Returning in 1957 with a 948 cc motor in the EX 179 David Ash and Tommy Wisdom averaged 118.13 mph while averaging an astonishing 49.8 mpg. A similar 948 cc motor with a supercharger was installed and Phil Hill drove the EX­ 179 to 143.47 mph. In total another nine international and fifty­six US records were established.

MG EX-179 with the designers and builders


Enter the EX­181known at the “Roaring Raindrop” for its low aerodynamic drag that was 30% less than EX­179. In the case of the EX­181 the motor was behind the driver and its supercharger put our a potent 290 bhp. Sir Sterling Moss received global attention after turning 245.64 on the straightway and set five international Class F records in 1957. The success of these runs led to the use of twin cam motors in the MGA in the following year.

Phil Hill with the “Roaring Raindrop” EX-181


The last speed attempt was in 1959 at the Salt Flats with EX­181, the “Roaring Raindrop”. Now fitted with a 1506 cc motor it was none other than future World Champion F1 driver Phil Hill that set the all time high speed in a MG at 254.91 mph.

EX-181 twin cam motor


The world­wide slogan for MG has always been “Safety Fast” and they lived up the the tagline. MG is also known as “The Sports Car America Loved First”. MG gained this reputation because so many MG’s were brought back by servicemen returning from WW ll. MG was the first sports car to be imported in mass to the US and it was affordable. Many of the most famous race car drivers in the world raced MG’s including the great Italian Nuvolari, Sir Sterling Moss, Carroll Shelby and America’s World Champion Formula1 driver Phil Hill.

Carroll Shelby MG TC


After the war many of these same drivers competed against the local gentlemen and some lady drivers of the day in SCCA regional events all over California. Models like the MG TC and TD are cars that you could drive on the street and to the track with little race prep. Kjell Qvale the West Coast importer of MG’s along with other European marques competed in the regional races in Golden Gate Park and Pebble Beach with hay bales marking the course. It was a wonderful era, in that if you had enough to purchase a MG and reasonable driving skills you could match yours against the best in the world.

John Van Neumann MG TC 1950 Pebble Beach Road Races


MG Midget 1961-1980 End of an Era
The Midget’s of 1961­1964 were actually a more expensive version of the Austin Healy Bug Eyed” Sprite. The biggest difference other than some chrome was leather seats and a unique body. Both cars shared the same suspension and 948 cc motor. This A­Series motor with twin carbs was good for 46 hp. These cars were the definition spartan to the degree that they had no door handles or locks and if you wanted a heater or radio they were optional. No Navigation system, cup holders or bluetooth please, “We’re British.”

1961 Mk l MG Midget

By the Mk ll Midget 1964­1966 the cars got more civil in that they now had door handles, locks and even roll up windows. Engine displacement increased to 1098 cc with up to 59 hp. The Mk lll 1966­1974 saw the introduction of a detuned Mini­Cooper motor displacing 1275 cc and putting out 65 hp. This motor achieved better fuel mileage that the 1098 cc motor due to a taller axel ratio of 3.9:1 rather than 4.22:1. However, by 1971 the US emissions took their toll and reduced out put to 54.5 hp.

1966 Mk lll MG Midget


The final MG Midget’s were the “Black Bumper” cars of 1974­1980. Not only did these cars gain extra weight with the heavier bumpers, the US headlight regulations caused the cars height to be raised and that impacted the handling. An anti­roll bar was added to compensate. The good news was the addition of the Triumph Spitfire 1493 cc motor resulting in more torque with a top end over 100 mph. However, the US spec cars dropped from 65 hp in the UK to 50 hp in the US due the stringent EPA regulations.

1979 MkIV MG Midget


Of this last generation of MG Midgets the one to collect would be one the last of 500 UK versions, all were painted black.




  • 4-cylinder, in-line overhead valve, 3-bearing conter-balanced crankshaft.
  • Exhaust and evaporative emission-control.
  • Compression ratio: 7.5:1 
  • Bore: 2.90 in.
  • Stroke: 3.44 in.
  • Displacement: 1492 cc (91 cu in.)
  • Carburetion: Zenith CD4.
  • Fuel Pump: A.C. Delco Mechanical
  • Fuel Tank Capacity: 7.5 U.S gallons. 

Drive Train

  • Transmission: Four-speed all synchromesh on forward gears.
  • Clutch: Diaphragm type, 7.25 in. diameter hydraulically operated.
  • Rear Axle: Three-quarter floating, hypoid bevel gears. 
  • Ratio: 3.9:1
  • Overall gear ratios: Reverse: 14.7:1 | First: 13.3:1 | Second: 8.3:1 | Third: 5.6:1 | Fourth: 3.9:1


  • Direct rack and pinion.
  • Steering wheel: 15.5in. diameter steel spoke, bound rim. 
  • Turns – lock to lock: 2.25
  • Energy absorbing steering column.


  • Front: Independent with coil springs and lever-type shock absorbers. 
  • Rear: Semi-elliptic springs with lever-type shock absorbers. 


  • Dual hydraulic braking systems.
  • Front: 8.25 in. diameter self-adjusting disc brakes.

Road Wheels

  • Rostyle wheels, 13 in. diameter, fitted with 145 x 13 radial-ply tires.


  • Negative ground, 12-volt systems.
  • Battery: 50amp./hr @ 20 hr. rate.
  • Alternator with solid-state regulator.
  • Electric 3-blade windshield wiper system, 2-speed.
  • Electric twin jet windshield washers.
  • Twin backup lights
  • Twin horns controlled in center steering wheel.
  • Emergency flashing warning lights.
  • Heater/defroster with high-speed blower and fresh-air ventilation.


  • Speedometer with trip odometer.
  • Electric tachometer.
  • Oil pressure, water temperature, and fuel gauges.
  • Ignition, brake pressure, high beam and seat belt warning lights.
  • All instruments and switches set in no-glare, padded dash.
  • Door-operated courtesy light.


  • Steel unitary construction.
  • Interior hood release and automatic hood support.
  • Locking trunk with automatic lid support.
  • Automatic trunk light.
  • Laminated windshield.


  • Padded sunvisors.
  • Rake-adjusting washable knit-backed, expanded vinyl bucket seats with adjustable head restraints.
  • Safety 3-point seat belts.
  • Cigarette lighter and ash tray.
  • Lockable glove box.
  • Fitted carpeting with rubber floor mats.
  • Gearshift gaiter.


  • Front seat head room: 35.5 in.
  • Front sear cushion depth: 19 in.
  • Front seat squab height above cushion: 19 in.
  • Front seat cushion height above floor: 8.5 in.
  • Steering-wheel to squab-max: 15.5 in.
  • Steering-wheel to squab-min: 10.5 in.
  • Steering  wheel to cushion: 5.5 in.
  • Front seat leg reach max: 44.5 in.
  • Front seat leg reach min: 41 in. 
  • Wheelbase: 80 in.
  • Overall height (top up): 48.25 in.
  • Overall width (with door mirrors): 60.25
  • Overall length: 141 in. 
  • Track at front: 46.31. 
  • Track at rear: 44.75 in.
  • Front door entry width: 26 in.
  • Turning circle: 30.25 ft. 
  • Ground clearance: 3.25 in. 
  • Curb weight: 1,827 lbs.