Despite the fact that the MGB and Midget soldiered on through the 70s with few changes (except for those mandated by increasingly more stringent safety regulations) it doesn’t mean that the crew at Abingdon wasn’t hard at work on developing new models for sale alongside – or in place of – those stalwarts.
Due to the cost effectiveness of the Mini platform, several attempts were made to base a new sports car using the FWD coupe as its basis. Harry Webster was beginning to believe that the future of the Midget was growing dim as its age was beginning to show. He assigned designers Paul Hughes and Rob Owen at the head of MG Project ADO70 to look at a potential Midget replacement that was based on the ubiquitous Mini and adapting its FWD layout. Input from almost all hands at the Exterior Studio led to several design sketches that reflected many current styling themes. For a car design almost 25 years before the Honda Civic Del Sol, there is a surprising modernity in the car as it was originally designed (less so in final form) and there is little doubt that it would be a significant departure over the classic shape of the Midget. With a removable “Targa” style top and a short rear deck, it resembled both the Porsche 914 and the Fiat X1/9. Unfortunately, use of the Mini as a base meant the use of the car’s smallish 10-inch wheels and economic constraints required fixed headlights set at a height of at least 24-inches.
Due to his existing relationship with Webster, Giovanni Michelotti was asked to construct the prototype and a Mini 1275GT was sent to Turin to use as a donor for the Italian designer’s panel beaters. A body was formed from steel over a short period of time and the running gear was modified to accept the new body shape and a new steering wheel position. Due to the limited funds available and the speed at which the work was performed, development of the car was understandably minimal. The hand-formed body was heavy, the hyrolastic suspension was leaking and the driveshafts were damaged. Innocent was able to get the engine running well before the drive back to England but the car’s dynamics left much to be desired.
Once the car made it back to the United Kingdom, senior management was less than enthused with the finished product, commenting that the car failed to handle very well (as if the weight of a hand built lead loaded body wasn’t going to affect matters much) and that the car lacked much of the pizzazz of the earlier sketches. Although it wore generic BL badges, the thought was that it would have been sold as an MG in the States. In any event, doubts about the continued viability of the A-Series engine and the merits of FWD in a sports car doomed the project. Although costs for the prototype were low – about £15,000 – the car failed to garner any further development work. Parked outside the Exterior Studio, it languished for some time before it was retrieved and then restored for display at the Heritage Museum.
By Johnny Oversteer
Thanks to the inestimable David Knowles for information about this project.