American cars of the 1960’s can be summed up in one word: big. Big engines, big hoods, big windows, big benches, even big headlights. The American road was strewn with these glimmering metallic behemoths throughout the sixties, but across the pond, things were quite different. There were British companies like Rolls Royce, Aston Martin, and Bentley that aimed for luxury, creating an automotive experience that was akin to an ultra-cushy carriage ride, and then there were companies like MG. While their competitors were busy inserting plush leather seats and squishy handling into their rides, MG was playing out on the track, producing compact cars that epitomized English speed. Their coupes were designed to hug sharp turns, leap off the line, and dart around corners, setting the benchmark for the British sports car for decades to come.
The MG origin story is a fairly complicated one – Cecil Kimber, a sales manager for Morris (a now defunct British brand) started MG sometime around 1924, as an extension of Morris Garages, the Oxford, England car dealership where he worked. Kimber had been developing custom models for Morris for quite some time when he decided to officially form MG as an independent entity. To confuse things further, William Morris, who also owned Morris, served as the main shareholder of MG from the beginning. In 1935, Morris folded MG into Morris Group, and then in 1952, he merged MG once again to create The British Motor Corporation Limited, thereby expanding MG’s international reach.
MG had always been a sports car brand, but more than that, they had been a brand concerned with size. Unlike their American rivals, MG wasn’t focused on making their designs larger, rather they aimed to do the opposite, going as far as to name their most famous model, “The Midget.” The Midget was actually not a singular model, but rather a series of similarly styled compact cars that embody MG’s sized down approach. The first Midget came out in 1929, and while this two-seater did feature the sloping lines and set back cabin of most automobiles from that era, it was distinguished by its shrunken proportions.
The Midget would pave the way for most of MG’s subsequent designs, but it wasn’t until post WWII, when MG introduced their MGA as a more streamlined modern sports car that they began to gain international acclaim. The long nose and tight design were still intact, but the car now packed a sharp modern look, rather than the drawn-out country look of past MG’s. In 1962, MG took this shape even further with the MGB, which was a faster, more comfortable iteration of the MGA silhouette. The lightweight MGB was like a rabbit, tiny and yet quick, making it perfect for quick jaunts around the crowded city streets. The MGB, alongside the Midget, and the MGC (a similarly shaped coupe which arrived in 1967) made MG globally famous for their swift and sporty autos. Unlike many of the competitors, MG did not appear in many movies, or boast celebrity owners, in fact the closest they ever came to making a real pop culture impact was when Steve Prefontaine died in a car accident while driving his ’73 MGB. Nonetheless, MG’s autos remained popular for their speed and style alone until the 1980’s, when car customers began to prefer the practicality of sedans to the swiftness of sports cars.
In response to this waning support, MG changed hands several times over the years and is now owned by a Shanghai based car conglomerate that produces all current MG models (none of which really capture that sharp, sporty style) within China. Fortunately for fans of that classic MG look, these mini autos still pop up at auction all the time, and as as antique cars go they are quite affordable. Yes, they’re just a buncha Midgets, but when it comes to sports cars, that’s high praise.