MG Midget 1500 – The Lesson Not Learnt
For as long as I dare, I am going to try and not do so many drawn out articles on the cars I own. The M3 will be the exception to the rule, mainly as I still own it. The previous motors however? Nope. I am going to aim for a 2 pager, as a means to keep the interest and see where it goes. Maybe that will make things more succinct and easier to read. Otherwise, let’s roll on.
This story will sound very familiar to many of you. Buy a cheap car, fix up a few things, and then sell it on, hopefully without too much of a loss. Forgive me if this sounds familiar, or even like a TV show. No, I am talking about Wheeler Dealers, but more about how the second car I bought was not all it seemed.
Hark your mind back to 2004. There was no recession, cars of all types were still cheap, even if we as people didn’t know it. So, as a young and fresh person out of doing his A-Levels, not with the best of grades, needing a bit of cheering up. Yes, some drink involved on the odd occasion, but it was nothing short of a car could fix.
And there it was. Out on eBay, where not everyone had it, popped up a 1977 MG Midget 1500 in what I thought was Rover Nightfire Red, with photos taken from a camera that would these days make a smartphone photo look like a Mona Lisa painting.
Since this was prior to the days of eBay stopping any communications with the sellers, I went to call him about it. From what he said, it wanted an ignition barrel, and that was about it, and the fact that the body wasn’t as great as the photos look. With a vague description, there I went and placed my bid of £340, only to win it. Great, I was halfway there! Little did I know, this is where my problems would begin.
Firstly, we needed a trailer to bring it back. That was an easy thing to sort out. Even if we did hire a deathtrap of a trailer for £40 from Ryton. We would then go and get the car.
When I saw the car, he was sort of right. The bodywork wasn’t as great as the description made it. But it wasn’t miles off. What was miles off however was just how bad the car was. The interior was a state and the steering wheel splines had completely given way. But, I bid and so I had to buy, or so eBay sellers tell you, making out you are a “messer”. So £300 later, off I left with the car. I would not know just how bad the car was.
For one, the interior was a state. But this was nothing that an interior stripdown and repainting the dash in Satin Black wouldn’t fix. It did make quite a transformation inside! But my problems were far from over with this heap.
Firstly I put in the ignition barrel. Only to had my dad wailing his hands about to not start it ; the last owned shorted the starter motor out to the body with a spanner. Was this deliberate or an accident? Maybe this is why the steering barrel was ‘broken’. Once we removed that, we realised the internal part of the starter motor was well and truly broken. This car was never going to start. And so the money started rolling in, where we allowed in. A new starter motor joined the ranks. Only then did we realise that the engine had a head gasket gone. So we went about changing that, only to find the threads in the block were history. Yup, this really was a turd of a car. Any sane person would have admitted defeat and walked away. But I couldn’t! I didn’t want to lose £300 on a car at a time where I was a student! So of course, I bought a bargain of an engine from an old contact up in Bishop Auckland, who came in handy on the MGB. For £50 along with the fuel to go up North and back I was now the owner of a 10,000 mile Ivor Searle engine. What’s more, it came complete alternator and also a better set of carbs than mine had, along with a fresher clutch. Did it feel like a score? It certainly did!
Since cost was the name of the game with this engine, it proved hard to find someone who could fit the engine for me. I did debate doing it but a few things stopped me. The principle one was a lack of an engine crane. The others? Appearing be a purveyor of classic cars to most neighbours, I knew doing an engine swap on the driveway would go down as well as Paris Hilton going into a Gay bar. The problem? Most places wanted £250+. This seemed crazy for a car like an MG Midget. But it seems BL’s way of doing things like a non-removeable crossmember would not help! With this, I found a banger racer by the name of Jimmy O’Brien to change the engine for me in Coventry, for the princely sum of £160. Great! It should have been fine!
It almost was. The engine clearly had not run for some time, thus the piston rings had stuck. My God, that engine chucked out some smoke! But that was fine, As the rings were freeing up, and the engine settling in, I realised the syncros were gone of the ‘box; which I would later find out was a common issue on Single-Rail Triumph ‘boxes. There were other issues too.
The fuel pumps on both engines were chucking fuel into the engine. Not a problem, a knock-off SU electric pump along with an engine blanking plate installed where a fuel pump once was overcame this issue. What’s more, I even put a new roof on the car! A cheap vinyl one from the MG Owners’ Club.
With the car actually moving, I could now look into getting it an MOT! Wahey! The fact that the car had iffy indicators, a steering column that was very stiff to the point the wheels would not self centre by themselves did nothing to kerb my enthusiasm over getting a fresh MOT ticket in my hands. Naturally, it didn’t go down this way. It failed. The MOT History file says it failed as follows:
- Nearside Registration plate lamp not working (1.1.5c)
- Hazard warning switch faulty (1.4.B.1d)
- Steering system excessively rough (2.2.D.1)
- Nearside Drag link end ball joint has excessive play (2.2.B.1f)
- Offside Drag link end ball joint has excessive play (2.2.B.1f)
- Nearside Rear Leaf spring anchor bracket nut missing (2.4.B.6c)
- Exhaust emissions carbon monoxide content excessive (7.3.B.1a)
- Parking brake: efficiency below requirements (3.7.B.7)
So yes, as a first time ‘reviver’ I hadn’t done well! In a flurry of hurridness, I got a new steering rack and track-rod ends, along with a replacement steering column from a breaker’s yard. The carbs were backed off to the point that the engine didn’t really want to pull any more and the handbrake adjustment revealed just how bad it was to replace MG Midget brake adjusters as well as even more bodges.
Eventually I got the wretched thing a ticket, and knew that this car was bad! And so I put it up for sale for £1.4k, with me willing to take £1k just to get rid of the damn thing! Naturally, a couple of people saw it and walked away from it within seconds of seeing it! But then it was a £1k Midget, not a £3k one! The Practical Classics Buyer’s guide on prices certainly helped. Eventually a guy came to view and almost took pity on me after winning it on eBay! And so it went to the new owner.
He would end up doing more work on it from what I could tell of the chap’s MOT history. The lesson here? Don’t be tempted by cheap crap! Would I learn? Well, I’ll let you folks figure that out. One from seeing the MGB and M3 stories, but also with the next cars I’ll bring to the table.
In hindsight, even as poor as I was back then, I really should have put that poor turd out of its misery!