Thursday, July 23, 2020

Her Name is Imogene: My 1977 MG Midget

I haven't had a toy since I traded my '05 Suzuki Boulevard C-90 for an enclosed utility trailer that served me well. I sold it when I no longer needed it, and I searched the northwest to see what deal might be out there for me. I found about fifty vehicles that caught my eye for one reason or another. I kept an eye on these vehicles ranging from motor scooters to motor homes. There were many really good deals, and several of the vehicles that perked my interest most were either marked sold or the ad was deleted by the seller.

Imogene emerged from that search as the car that I wanted. She was in Oregon, and I needed to make certain that I wouldn't be wasting my time. I offered $100 on top of full asking price with the condition that I have two weeks to complete the deal in person and in cash. The seller agreed to the deal, and I started putting together the plan to bring her north. That didn't take long. Anthony agreed to drive his car down and follow me back in his car.

The seller and I met at a park. We talked for a few minutes while I gave the car a once over. It was as advertised, and the deal was done. 

The gas gauge showed almost empty, so we stopped to fill up both cars. The MG took less than a gallon. Note number one: the gas gauge does not work. The most likely problem is the sending unit in the tank, but we're making this trip without a gas gauge. Our target was only 120 miles on some highways that included a couple of passes. All of the fluids were good, and the oil looked freshly changed. We were off with 60,900 miles on the odometer.

The Midget is not a race car. It is a little commuter vehicle that is identical to the Austin Sprite. It is smaller than the MGB, which compensates slightly for the smaller engine. Despite that, the reviews for the Midget by people who have driven both say that the Midget is as fun to drive - provided you fit in it. It fit me fine at 5'9" tall.

We started out on Hwy 101 taking it a bit easy. She did the speed limit just fine. The brakes were a bit spongy. Note number two: go through the brake system. I won't try to guess what the problem is, but I suspect that with 60,900 miles on it they may be the original brakes. She's just due for a brake job, but the brakes work well enough to stop the car respectably well. We would go for the plan.

We cut off just before Astoria, and took the passes to Rainier. Despite the gas gauge not working (and also the tachometer), the oil pressure and water temperature gauges not only worked, they read good throughout the passes. It cornered like a champion, and climbed the hills just fine. 

Anthony's '03 Le Sabre had no problem keeping up with the Midget, but there was also no way he was having as much fun in the corners as I was having with my fun little car. He had to be more relieved than I was to see Rainier up ahead. Longview was just across the bridge, and that was the goal for the day. We ended up in Kelso for the night.

Anthony was worn out. He had driven about 330 miles during the day. However, not only was that the plan, but we were in Kelso at 11:30 instead of 11:00 that we had thought we could make. I get it. He isn't as used to driving long distances and long hours like I was from my years driving medical transport. We would sometimes drive for twelve hours in a day, and would often drive for ten hours in a day. It probably sounded easier to pull off than it was. However, he did get to take his new car on a 330 mile all-expenses-paid trip.

We were ready to hit the road about 8:30 the next morning. We would hit the highway north to come up through Tenino. The problem I had was that my phone was dead, I did not bring the correct charger, and the Midget has only that which makes it street legal: i.e. headlights, brake lights, turn signals, and windshield wipers. There was no plan in the 1977 MG Midget to charge cell phones or plug in navigation. Note number three: install a plug for charging and navigation. However, we were facing a bigger problem: the car wouldn't start. No problem -- for me, that is -- Anthony and another guy who was in the parking lot were able to push start it. She was running fine despite that blip.

Though, I was okay with these problems because we had set aside the entire day to get home, these little blips were adding up a bit for Anthony. He probably wasn't impressed when I stopped to ask the lady walking up the street if I was heading the right way toward Centralia. She wasn't sure, but I was heading toward Napavine which has a road to Centralia. We headed down the road and finally found what we were looking for: gas and a hot deli on a hill!

Anthony had plenty of gas. The Midget still had almost half a tank. We got something to eat and drink, and ate and drank it. I rolled the MG to start it with Anthony following me. Not certain of the route to Centralia, I decided to take a shortcut on I-5 to get there. We were less than a mile onto I-5 when Anthony passed me, and I didn't see him again for a day or two! That was fine with me. Except for the starting issue, the car was running beautifully.

I didn't like the ride on I-5. The Midget isn't as fun to drive when it is at 70 MPH on a freeway. It is made to get through the countryside roads on which you slow down as you go through the center of little towns. It seemed like the MG kept running better and better as the trip went on. It ran great right up to the house, where I finally shut it off. I pulled and reset a wire off the exposed ignition switch just to see what would happen.

She started! She earned the name Imogene!

Imogene appears to be a red head in pictures, but she began life blonde. It is noticeable in the engine compartment and trunk. There are little signs of it on the interior, namely the floor boards. She tapped something with the right side of her front bumper, but the damage to the fender is minimal. Imogene is a strong candidate for restoration! She has all the right problems!

For me, Imogene is a running project that is fun to drive. The convertible top needs to be replaced, but I intend to bring her back to grey and get her painted before I replace the top. I have an outdoor quality cover for her and intend to drive her only on nice days just like I would a motorcycle.

However, Imogene may not be mine for long. I love her, and I think she is a lot of fun. However, I want to drive a sports car for a while. I don't want to restore a classic MG to show condition. I will, at some point, run an ad on it. Until then, I'm going to put a few touches on it that I want, and have some fun driving her!

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