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The Dansville Online
  • Jim Hillibish: A Midge was the sweetest car on Earth - when it ran

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  • I spotted a ‘72 MG Midget recently. My hand reached for my headlight flasher. Old MG pilots die hard.
    Flashing lights was the international symbol of brotherhood among MG drivers. After I bought a new ‘72, I learned flashing was a symbol of pity.
    The Midge was all cherried up. I imagine the driver bought a derelict in a barn for $100 and dumped 20 grand into the resurrection.
    When I found true love for $1,600 in 1972 at Checkered Flag Sports Cars, the salesman asked if I was handy with garage tools.
    “She takes a little work,” he said. Imagine trying to sell a car that way today.
    My Morris Group Midget was in a line of diminutive British cars with “little” names: the Morris Minor and the lately reprised Mini Cooper.
    I loved my Midget, but…
    It was the smallest vehicle this side of bicycles. The contortionist cockpit felt like you were sitting below the roadway. Bus axles were above eye level. Tractor-trailer rigs could pass over the car, taking off the windscreen but nothing else, if you ducked.
    Despite this, the Midget was one cool roadster. The high-rev gearbox, when the clutch wasn’t slipping, was pure joy. Fourth rocketed you to 80. Speeding tickets barely fit in the glove box.
    The two-seater Midget began in the 1920s on a Morris Minor frame. It always was a borrowed car. In ‘61, the Austin-Healy Sprite MK II, another “baby” car, was rebadged as the new Midget. In ‘65, the Midge received a motor from the Cooper. It looked like a sewing machine.
    My ‘72 was a keeper. It was the last Midget with thin, useless chrome bumpers. Soon, import versions arrived with ugly, thick-rubber bangers, a futile attempt to meet U.S. crash standards.
    The Midget died in ‘79, not enough room under the bonnet for air-pollution gear.
    Midgets needed three little wipers. The windshield was too small for two standard ones. When I ran out of small talk on dates, I turned on the trio. They entranced women. Still, the roof leaked even in drizzly weather.
    My Midge took constant tweaking. As with most British cars, the electrical system was iffy. On foggy days, the spark plugs fouled. You pulled and wiped before starting.
    High-torque revving busted the clutch. The starter went. The radio was useless (not enough punch to overcome the engine “voice”).
    The car was so light, two guys could pick it up. There was so much torque on the rear wheels, they spun out on snow.
    I cried when I sold it. It fetched $2,800 from a collector, the only time I ever made money on a car.
    When I saw that Midge, I forgot its testy travails. All I remember is top-down country roads at 70 mph, downshifting and groovin’ the “rummm, rummm, rummm” of the world’s sweetest gearbox. The driver flashed me back and waved as my memories spun out of control.
    Page 2 of 2 - Reach Jim at 330-580-8324 or jim.hillibish@cantonrep.com. On Twitter: @jhillibishREP.
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