Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Weekend fun 2

Over the bank holiday weekend I helped my mate Simon with his MG Midget. You can read about what we did in Simon’s blog, he tells the tale far better than I could and I don’t see the point in repeating what he has already said.

On Sunday we took the Midget to watch the motor racing at Oulton Park (of which more anon). Simon was kind enough to let me drive the Midget back to his house (about 25 miles, I think). If you are under any illusions about how good a driver you are an old car will soon shatter them. Old cars are less forgiving of mistakes; they can be annoyingly literal in the way they respond to the driver’s inputs. Just trying to pull away in the Midget was challenging. I’m more used to automatic transmission and the last manual car I drove had a very forgiving engine and clutch. The Midget has a short travel clutch pedal and the initial throttle response feels a little all or nothing. Simon even confessed that for the first week or two he had the car he either stalled or shot off as fast as the car could go.

Once on the move the clutch seemed far more user friendly – one reason I dislike most manual transmissions is un-necessarily long-travel clutch pedals. The gear lever had a pleasantly mechanical action and no spring-loading (a pet hate of mine in 4-speed gearboxes) allowing the lever to be moved quickly and freely in all directions. It all feels slightly frantic, the Midget is very low-geared so you get to top (4th) very quickly and at 50mph I think the rev counter was showing 3,000rpm. All the intermediate gears make their own distinctive noise and there is no synchromesh on first gear, which means it will crunch if you are in the habit of selecting first while the car is moving (time to brush up on neglected double declutching skills). Actually slowing to a stop needs quite a push – there is no brake servo and certainly no Citroën-style high pressure hydraulic system to lend a hand.

What delighted me about the Midget was the steering. Even with a smaller than standard steering wheel - a lovely, leather rimmed Moto Lita wheel – the steering isn’t heavy. There isn’t much self centring action, which is just what I like, just wind lock on or off as necessary and the Midget changes direction immediately. Not that the steering calls for much winding as it is pretty direct. It is just as well, the Midget is a snug fit and there is no room for flailing arms.

Driving the Midget was a rare delight. There is something about a simple, fun to drive car that is incredibly appealing. You can drive it hard without endangering your license and learn a lot in doing so. You can maintain it at home without needing specialist tools or any great skill and without breaking the bank. One day I think I’d like to own a car like this.

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