Itching for a Spridget
by Jim Gude
I am Jim Gude from Tehachapi California and am blessed with my very understanding wife (of 40 years) Gail. I have been driving, fixing, autocrossing and cursing sports cars for the past 55 (of my 71) years. But what is my MG story? It all began in 1963 (age 12) when I read “The Red Car” by Don Stanford; the book had a lasting effect, lighting a fire that remains to this day. The fire was fueled on Friday evening of Memorial Day weekend in 1965. We were driving north on Highway 101 (between Ventura and Santa Barbara) when it happened. As we drove north in our 1964 Dodge Polara (with the family ski boat in tow.) my Father and older brother were discussing cars. My brother was about to graduate from high school and wanted a new car for college; what a scam thought I. As they talked, we were passed by a screaming Bug Eye Sprite. My brother quickly used the opportunity to mention that a Sprite and an MG Midget were basically the same car, cost only $2000 and got 30 miles per gallon. Dad was only slightly impressed; I was dumbstruck. My mind raced back to reading “The Red Car” and my imagination soared. So that day (at age 14) I fell in love with the little cars known to us all as Spridgets. As we continued, Mom passed out thawed Poor Boy sandwiches and Dad poured yet another cup of coffee. The Sandwich was awful, but I dreamed of little English sports cars and diligently watched for another to pass.
When I was 15, I spent my summer days at my grandparents’ Mode O’Day store in Burbank California. Next door (on the corner San Fernando Blvd. And Orange Grove Ave.) was a BMC dealer. I hung around, was a pest to the salesmen and collected every brochure. I would sit in their cars imagining driving down curvy little roads. They would run me off when a real customer came in. I desperately longed for the nice red Midget on their showroom. I poured over the brochures and still love their idealized water color images.
When I was 16, I finally got to drive a Midget. It was grey with wire wheels and was given to a friend by his generous parents. He did not know how to drive a stick shift, so I helped him with that. We buzzed about town and I loved it. I thought him the luckiest kid on earth.
My Spridget was a while in coming. When I went off to college it wasn’t a Spridget I was driving but a 1966 Datsun PL-411 Sedan. My parents sold it to me so cheap that I just couldn’t pass it up. I really wanted a sports car, but the Datsun had to do. I added a rear sway bar, larger front sway bar, wider wheels, fatter tires, a few engine tweaks, and a loud exhaust system. This transformed my little Datsun into a bit of a canyon terror and it made a decent autocross car. Later I owned a Volvo P1800 (I killed it on a canyon road) and a Mustang, before finally (during the 1973 gas crisis) buying a Spridget. It was a 1967 Sprite Mk IV. I loved driving it through the Sierra Nevada mountains and it was a fun autocross car. My friend Pat had an MGA and we cruised them about; sort of a two-man British car club.
Every date I had in the Spridget was a disaster (a long funny story) so in 1974 I replaced the little Sprite with a Fiat X1/9 which had such luxuries as a heater and did not leak water. Unlike my Sprite, girls I dated no longer had their hair blown to pieces, did not get wet when it rained, were warm and toasty and could enter and exit in a mini-skirt. My love life improved and I no longer had to live like a hermit; I married my lovely Gail in 1982. Then came a BMW 2002, which was replaced with owning five different Porsche 944s (never more than two at a time). When I sold one of the Porsches realized I needed a Spridget; it was a nostalgia thing, and my 944 Turbo missed its sister and wanted a little friend to keep it company. I wanted (once again, while I still could) experience little back roads, in a Spridget, with the top down. I wanted to hear the exhaust echo through the canyons and smell the ever changing fresh air.
After much searching, I found a nice, unmolested, rust free, 1974 Midget. It was the fifth from the last Mk III (RWA, 1275, steel bumper) Midget made. It had its original Bracken paint with Ochre interior and a Rivergate 5 speed conversion; it seemed right, so I decided to buy it. The little Midget was in Antioch some 300 miles away. In a leap of faith, I packed my pockets with cash and rode the Amtrak to Antioch. The drive home was long, noisy, cold, dark and nostalgic (another long story). The simple little Midget brought back my enjoyment of working on cars; newer cars require smog checks and are a pain to work on.
Future plans for the Midget include –
- swapping the Ochre interior for black. This looks better to me, like in the brochures, and the nearest replacement available is Autumn Leaf; not a perfect match.
- fabricating a radio console that is better and roomier than the clunky original.
- replacing the Weber DGV down draft conversion with SUs. I like SUs and the Weber just looks wrong.
- adding tubular headers and fabricating an exhaust system.
- never ending upgrades and maintenance.