By Don Zisette
It was June of 1966 when my dad brought home a British racing green MG Midget. He purchased the car on Pike Street in Seattle at the old British Leyland Dealership. It was the start of years of adventures with the Midget. I developed a bond with this little car and British cars in general at an early age. Most importantly, the new MG provided excellent transportation for adventures that my dad and I shared over the coming decades.
First and foremost, the car provided daily transportation to and from work for dad. I remember many northwest snow days where his kids and on occasion the neighborhood kids would assist by jumping on the rear bumper and trunk (boot) and hang on as dad navigated the car up our snowy hill, jumping off near the top as he continued on. I never quite figured out how he managed from there. The Midget never was a snow car with its lightweight rear end and lack of sufficient traction. But, make it back home he did, snow or not it was his daily driver.
Some of my earliest memories are of me sitting on the transmission hump and handling the steering as we drove down the road or highway. This was something I enjoyed immeasurably, and I think my dad did as well. He was very patient with me and for the enthusiasm I had for this car. I would steer and he would take care of the gas pedal, brake, and clutch. A typical weekend as I entered into my early teens involved attaching a bike rack to the trunk of the Midget, and then load two bicycles on the back for weekend rides with a local Mountaineers group we belonged to at the time. Between the two of us, our gear, and two bikes the Midget was loaded down for a long drive on country roads in Skagit County and other local destinations. It seemed to handle the workload very well, never leaving us stranded and in need of a lift home.
I can’t say that was always the case for dad’s commutes to work. On many occasions I can remember going out to the front of the house to help him push the car up the short incline to the top of our driveway. As we (often accompanied by an older sibling) approached the top dad or one of us would jump into the driver’s seat as it started to roll back down the drive and pop the clutch to get the little car going. This happened so frequently that it just became part of the routine as the car aged.
Now you might think from this that my dad was neglecting the Midget, but not so. Some of my fondest memories include the times we spent working on the car in the driveway on warm spring weekends. Routine maintenance tasks like changing the oil, brake fluid, and replacing brake pads were times I learned more about the car and enjoyed the shared experience with dad. Or at least that is how I remember it. Just as likely it was work, he needed to get done to keep the car on the road, and maybe he had other things he would have rather been doing on those spring weekends. In any case, I learned much by just watching dad work on the Midget.
In 1982 he bought a Saab 900 and the good times began to change for the little car. He built a small, covered carport alongside the house to provide some shelter for the Midget. There were other cars before the Saab, so I had started to drive it more frequently during my high school years. Some of my friends had sports cars and one had an MGB. We spent time working on our cars and driving around on the weekends. I took over most of the routine maintenance, and by the time I left for college the Midget was showing its age. At the beginning of my second year, it was decided that I could take it over the mountains to the college town I now lived in. There would still be more adventures to come for the little car.
During my first year of college, and feeling a little homesick, dad drove the nearly twenty-year-old Midget over the Cascade Mountains for a night of camping near the Columbia River. Even then the car was used and driven just like any other car we owned. Of course we were careful not to exceed 55 MPH or so, as I remember, or the front end would start to shake and feel a little overburdened.
The MG was essentially mine, though the official transfer of title would not take place for a few more years. The car took me to classes, work, and eventually on my honeymoon. Shortly before my marriage my wife (soon to be) and I decided to spend some money on the restoration of the car. Mechanical, interior, and new paint (british racing green) were undertaken by a local British car shop. We decided the car would be fun transportation on our honeymoon. We toured the San Juan Islands in Washington State in the Midget. The weather didn’t cooperate, so the top was left on throughout the trip unfortunately. The car ran well until sometime near the end when we noticed a gas smell coming from under the hood. Not able to diagnose the issue at that point we motored home with windows down and hoping for the best. Later, it would be determined that a float in the carburetor was stuck in the open position, and the cause of our mild distress.
Well, the end of this story may sound familiar to some… After getting married we soon found ourselves to be proud parents, and the little car sat ideally in my parents’ three car garage. With some hesitation my dad brought up the idea of finally selling the car, hopefully to someone that would appreciate its clean lines and simplicity. My final memory is of my dad driving it away from his home and off to a dealer that would sell it under consignment.
My father has been gone for ten years. I am nearing retirement with grown adult children and grandchildren. I have begun to think more about my experiences with British cars, and the possibility of seeing another one in my own garage. Maybe there are younger generations coming along in my own family that will find the same sense of pleasure that I still have whenever I see an MG.