Concepts and prototypes : MG Midget (1984-85)

In the mid-1980s and following the opening of Roy Axe’s new Canley Design Studio, Austin Rover Design began to rediscover its mojo after some lean years. The AR6-based MG Midget was a great example of the new free-thinking approach.

Based on the AR6 supermini proposal, it was a small sports cabriolet that would have brought the MG Midget concept bang up to date.

AR6: The unfulfilled sports car

During the mid-1980s, Roy Axe spearheaded the revival of the MG marque, by producing concepts wearing the revered octagonal badge. The idea was to produce interesting, affordable and saleable sporting cars using many parts from existing models.

The culmination of this philosophy was the MG EX-E show car, launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1985, but this was not the only car in development, although, out of many proposals, only the MGF would eventually make it into production. Using the AR6 supermini project as a base, the Design Team was tasked with producing a spiritual successor to the original MG Midget as part of the wider AR6 model plan.

The car pictured here was the result, and close scrutiny of the picture reveals that it was essentially an AR6 with the roof chopped off. Some additional body addenda was added, including some mean looking cooling slats in the bonnet, but apart from that, the car was almost pure AR6, right down to the individual-looking rear lamps and heavily-stylised door mirrors.

What did the management think of it?

Former Austin Rover Chairman Harold Musgrove revealed to AROnline that the MG Midget was indeed part of a wider AR6 supermini model plan. It was to have added derivatives designed in at the outset, and these included the convertible MG Midget shown here and a coupe we’ve yet to see that looked like the Honda CRX, which was designed for global sales.

The engine for the MG Midget would have been the upcoming K-Series in 1.4-litre Turbo form. Harold Musgrove confirmed that, ‘there would be no three-cylinder version of the AR6, due to the increased weight of the all-steel monocoque over the original aluminium design’.

Suspension would be conventional steel sprung on cost grounds, not Hydragas, as on the Rover Metro, despite what was learned later, making that into a class-leading product in this department.

AR6 based MG Midget in profile

What was the marketing plan?

The MG Midget would have topped off a very interesting AR6 model range that would have comprised of Austin Metro, MG Metro, MG Metro Turbo, and a luxury version, which would have been the Vanden Plas. North American sales of the MG versions would be a priority, especially the MG Midget, hence the plan to offer it as a coupe as well as a convertible.

Musgrove admitted that, in retrospect, he should have pushed for a Mini version, too. ‘The power of the Mini brand just wasn’t realised back then – MG, yes, but not Mini. A high-style Mini derivative should have been considered but wasn’t. This was a missed opportunity that could have further enhanced the AR6 platform and shared costs with another model with international volume appeal.’

All we have left are these pictures shared by Roy Axe, and more questions than answers. Would it have sold, in a world that was about to be shaken by the Mazda MX-5? In retrospect, that’s a tough one to contemplate, as we probably all know the answer – although the MG Midget would have been a riot in its own way. With the K-Series 1.4-litre Turbo under the bonnet, it could well have been as good as the conceptually-similar Lotus Elan M100…

MG Midget proposal

Thanks to: Roy Axe, Harold Musgrove and Simon Weakley

Keith Adams


  1. I think that is really nice. It is not what comes to mind when I think MG but it is still very nice.

  2. Such a beautiful sports car – wish they had made it! I would love to have one… Though with the 1.8vvc or turbo K series. The livelier the better, right? 🙂

  3. Would have been interesting to see how the planned Honda CRX-like coupe bodystyle would have worked out for the AR6-based MG Midget.

  4. There was still a healthy market for sports cars in the mid eighties as the Toyota MR2 was popular from its launch in 1985, and the Fiat X 1/9 was continuing to sell. Also the Mazda Miata was under development and this was to prove a big success. All of these were fairly inexpensive to buy, performed well and looked good and had cashed in on the absence of MG sports cars.

  5. There certainly was a Stateside market for a small two seater after the economy turned up in 1983. While the Pontiac Fiero has a reputation as a loser, it averaged 6000 sales per month for five years from 1983 to 1988, with a peak of 11,000 per month in its first year. Fiero’s worst 12 month sales total is more than Miata ever sold in a 12 month period.

  6. It looks good until you see the rear end view. It’s very uninspiring and abrupt. It looks like someone took a knife and sliced off whatever styling had been there.

    • Not to be contrary, but… I’m afraid that doesn’t look good at all. Well not to me at least. Now I know the “folded paper” school of design was big at the time, and AR6 may have just about have worked as a hatch. Also other manufacturers were lopping the roof off some of the most unlikely cars and quite successfully selling them as cabriolets. But this is truly horrid and I wouldn’t have seen dead in one.

  7. To believe this strategy “North American sales of the MG versions would be a priority, especially the MG Midget”, AR the successor of BLMC really had no clue how they had lost the American market. It is true they once had a market in North America but really lost it perhaps through no one particular issue but a compilation of bad management, lack of direction with planning and marketing, endless labor strife and work stoppages and the dealers in the US began to sell Datsun et al. The loyal customer base that remained was what – Jaguar? Which didn’t have a good reputation on the reliability side. But that reliability problem extended across the board to other lines of cars produced by BLMC. Perhaps the winners stayed in the home market. The US never saw the Metro and whatever was sold successfully such as the MG line became problematic but Triumph was absolutely the worst with it’s TR7 sold in the US.

  8. A smaller AR6-derived Retro-styled Mini version that carried over most of the features of both the 1992 Minki and 1995 Minki-II prototypes was indeed a missed opportunity and way to finally replace the Mini whilst furthering enhancing the AR6 platform and sharing the costs.

    However given what the Rover Metro achieved with Hydragas and how well executed it proved to be on the Minki prototypes, am rather ambivalent on the idea of such a model carrying over the AR6’s conventional suspension on cost grounds even if it does make sense. It’s smaller dimensions could have also justified the planned three-cylinder K-Series version of AR6 being retained if only for the smaller Mini replacement.

    Another potential concern is whether its space efficacy would have been an improvement over the typical City Cars of the period such as the Fiat Cinquecento and Autobianchi Y10 let alone the both the existing Mini and Metro if not quite the original Renault Twingo). As AR6 appears to come across as a Supermini closer in size to the R3 than to LC8/R6,

    It really depends on how Harold Musgrove would have approached the idea had he thought it up back then and been successful having it help turn the tide in ultimately getting the overall AR6 project approved for production. Since unlike AR6 including the Midget prototype, it would have been a mistake to opt for a non-Retro-styled Mini successor along the lines of say the later Revolution proposal (during R50) that was described as resembling a typical small European hatchback.

  9. Conceptually, the R59 MINI Roadster is pretty similar to this, a 2 seater “roadster” created from a 3 door hatchback, as opposed to a 4 seater convertible version.

    Neither the MINI Roadster nor the dubious looking MINI Coupe sold that well, seeing that neither were replaced.

  10. The idea of trying to sell that sort of tonka-toy in the US is utterly crazy.

    By the 80s the US (along with everyone else) expected both performance *and* creature-comforts.

    Could this ‘midget’ have been fitted with aircon (which was needed both in the Southern states to deal with humidity, and up in the North where you needed full-force-heat to stop the screens icing up).

    Would it have passed the US crash-tests?

    I would suggest a total-fail on both counts. And then when subjected to 15K miles a year as a cheep-and-cheerful commuter-car running on 88-octane US base-grade gas and getting one service a year, would the engine have lasted more than the warranty-period?

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