Surprise Under the Hood – 1974 MG Midget

nissan datsun engine speedwell engineeringThis car is, well, something else. At first glance, nothing other than some ugly aftermarket wheels would suggest that this is anything but a humble old MG Midget, that cheap pocket sports car that’s almost impossible not to like. Lift up the one piece front end of the bodywork, though, and there’s a surprise. Gone is the famous old BMC A-Series motor, and in its place is one stamped with another familiar name: Nissan. Fitting old European cars with more reliable Japanese engines is not a new idea. There are classic Minis with Honda VTEC’s, old Beetles with Subaru boxers, and even little Fiats with screaming bike engines. Some of these conversions are more wild than others but this car, located in Glendora, California, seems to have been done with some practicality in mind. According to the seller:

The vehicle has been converted to a 1982 Datsun 210 drivetrain. The engine is an actual JDM specification A15. The previous owner replaced the original Datsun engine with a Japanese import in the last 1990s. The casting numbers from the head bare this fact out. There are no emissions controls such as EGR or air injection as are found on US spec A15 engines. The car has the original Hitachi 2 barrel down draft carb, which bears a close resemblance to a Weber DGV unit. Behind the engine is the Datsun 210 F Series five speed transmission…If you don’t know about the Datsun/Nissan A14/A15 engines, they are very similar to the BMC A series engine. However, the Datsun units feature 5 main bearings and an aluminum head with 4 intake ports and 4 exhaust ports…The conversion in this appears to be rather well thought out, with an oil cooler added, and much of the original clutch and fuel feed circuits as original. The radiator is a recorded Midget unit with an electric fan.

As for the rest of the car, the quality is good but not great, with a driver quality interior and some bondo on the body. Other upgrades include suspension by Speedwell engineering and a roll bar. As a total package, then, this car seems like it might be a pretty cool little car to toss around on weekends, if it can be had for the right price. The engine swap will make for a significant but not ridiculous hike in performance, and it will certainly be more reliable. The rest of the car seems to be perfectly fine as well, but these kinds of conversions can always be a risk. You’re doing things to the car that it was never really designed for, and it can be hard to know who did what to the car and whether or not they knew what they were doing. At the same time, though, this little MG seems to have been conservatively done, and will hopefully be enjoyed for some time.

Check out the 1974 MG Midget here on eBay, where the reserve is not yet met at $3,465.


  1. The chrome air horn is the perfect touch for this pocket rocket – 🙂

  2. Seems to me that a 1275 with a 5 speed conversion would be just as good and easier to buy parts and maintenance for than the Nippon lump. My experience is that the Japinese dealers aren’t interested in supplying parts for their no longer sold cars.
    The sheer number of A type engines racing is testimony as to their durability.
    Didn’t the factory stop the open rear wheel openings because they weakened the body?

  3. Alan Stewart says:

    Yes, Michael, the round rear wheel opening design seriously weakened the rear structure. The square-shaped rear wheel arches became rounded in January 1972 and this was continued through 1974. My 1975 MG Midget has the squared wheel openings. It is claimed that the round-arched cars are more desirable.

  4. David Low says:

    Why destroy the character of the MG Midget with a Japanese engine? The BMC A series in 1275cc form is a great engine. If you a good smalll sports car with a Japanese engine , then go for a Mazda MX5.

    • Right on Dave, I recall leaving Lake Placid on a very rainy, Victoria Day, Monday morning in 1995 or there abouts with three groups of Trillium Miata Club members, 25 to 30 MX5s. When near Tupper Lake one of the members in our group commented over the CB radio, “sure glad we’re not the MG Car Club” (and a pause) “half of us would still be in the hotel parking lot trying to start our cars” (Lucas electrics worked well until it rained). Nobody ever swapped out an MX5 drive train unless they wanted it to be a 5 litre Mustang or LS3 Corvette! Reliability has never been an issue with my stock 1990 MX5 even after 26 summers. Looking forward to the 27th coming soon. Original Paint and drive train even after killing a deer near Vermilion Bay in Northwest Ontario in 1994 needed under panels, rad, front torsion bar and front pulley on the engine and was as good as new.

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