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.
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…
Thanks to: Roy Axe, Harold Musgrove and Simon Weakley