Small Talk – Blowin’ Gaskets

Despite some reservations, Dave Carey admits that good things – both automotive and human – can come in small packages


BACK when I was a beardless beanpole and my now-wife Sarah was a nubile teenager, she decided on buying an MG. I was disturbed that she was so set on the archaic British brand; I was just getting into Japanese classics at the time – well before it was cool – but no amount of discussion would convince her of a Datsun Fairlady, Honda S600 or even a Daihatsu Compagno Spider.

I do, however, count myself fortunate she wanted to drive something even remotely interesting.

I put her ‘car-nal’ desires down to a childhood spent at the speedway. Sarah’s father had been a sprintcar racer, then an official, while her mother worked the cash office. It was the 80s, and putting your kids down to slumber alone in the back of the family Tarago to the sounds of screaming V8s ploughing sideways across a muddied oval in a remote industrial area was just fine, apparently. Encouraged, even.

The sonorous sounds of those sprintcars must have soaked into her brain, because as a young adult Sarah needed something more exciting than her AE70 Corolla. Reasonable and reliable as it was, the hand-me-down was more appliance than car. Being a teenager, she couldn’t afford a proper MG, instead settling on a tidy but cursed Mark II Midget.

2001 – MG Midget, before the bingle

Twin carbs, wire wheels, diminutive size and dubious parentage all included in a tidy little package of pain. If Sarah looks stoked, it’s because she wouldn’t be working on it.

Packing 1275cc of BMC A-Series power, the Sydney-assembled car featured all the power-generating gizmos, such as a 1.5-inch SU and, uh, another 1.5-inch SU for good measure.

Gepps Cross – Main North Road. Polaroid photo taken by Ambos after Sarah’s crash

Shannons Insurance flatly refused to insure her at the time, declining her for being a ‘teenager with a sports car’ – hilarious given the MG’s 13kW and single-digit torque. Turns out they were right though, as a few months into ownership she binned it up the arse of a multi-car pile-up.

Despite the MG being constructed from only a handful of atoms and the tears of the British working class, Sarah was blamed for the whole thing; if you’re lucky-last in a chain collision, insurance will do that. We didn’t argue the fact, although I’d still like to know what science allowed a 735kg convertible to push a Camira into a Commodore into another Camira – not physics, that’s for sure.

After some heated discussion regarding the repairs, the second-rate insurer she’d gone through fixed the car, paid off the other parties and everyone was happy. Sarah even tipped in some extra cash for a sexy respray, so she felt shafted when she bought a proper daily a year later and the old insurance company wouldn’t sling her a discount for club rego. Amusingly, she called Shannons again and they rolled out the red carpet, even with full disclosure of her whopping pile-up.

2003 – MG Midget after the bingle

Back on the road and with a fresh new respray, but something is off…

The MG was a cool machine, but not without its many vices. If the tyres lost any more than 2psi of recommended pressure, the newly rebuilt lever arm shockers would induce understeer not in the form of a slide, but a series of terrifying vibrations, the outside wheel bouncing directly towards the obstacle you were trying to avoid. It also snapped a leaf spring, destroyed a clutch, broke a throttle cable, had five burst radiators and suffered from both a lack of brakes and too much brakes, depending on a stack of unsolved mysteries. Typical stuff for a 30-year-old British car on the cusp of needing a resto. But at the time, it was fine; we were young and seldom had somewhere important to be.

Many moons have passed since then, and the MG Midget is long gone, replaced instead with a sensible, 6.0-litre Caprice and a pair of children. Our evenings are no longer wind-in-the-hair events, herbing around the suburbs unfettered by B-pillars or blind spots.

Instead, we enter the house and tell our six-year-old to empty his schoolbag then get changed. Usually, he lies on the floor, face down, not doing either of the above.

Sarah’s pleas of: “Can you just do it?”, “We do the same thing every night!” and “You could have done it by now and be playing with your Lego/Hot Wheels/Tony Barber’s Sale of the Century board game!” are joined by my ever-helpful: “You’re starting to piss your mother off!” and the Klingon-like: “Ngggggrrr”! Then we go through the fact that he’s left something at school.


From here we could launch into a traditional Choose Your Own Adventure book – ‘Is it his lunchbox, reader, homework or drink bottle?’ – then you turn to page 150 and it reads: “Your child cracks a tanty and goes to his room. By the way, you are dead with rage.” He protests that he is forgetful, but he certainly doesn’t bloody forget as much as he says he does.

Take last week, for example. We hit up a ‘coffee and chrome/cars/cool stuff’ event at the local shops. It was only a small meet, but there were some great cars, including a tasty beige Plymouth Duster, a couple of nice HQ sedans and a Pontiac Firebird with the factory, bonnet-mounted tacho.

A little green MG Mark III Midget was parked amongst them, so like many fathers before me, I proceeded to bore my son with ancient history, informing him for the 17th time that his mum used to own one. “Why was the front different on Mum’s?” he asked. Not such an unusual question; perhaps he’s noticed the later-model grille differentiating this one. So I launched into my limited repertoire of MG Midget knowledge – learned by necessity almost two decades ago – when suddenly, he interrupted me: “No, why was one panel different to the other on Mum’s?”

Err, well, following the crash on Main North Road, the Midget was repaired by a restoration house specialising in sorry British roadsters. The panel-beater grabbed the wrong quarter panel off the pile of sadness that was their stash of Midget/Sprite spares and stitched it on. It wasn’t noticeable until some trainspotting wag pointed it out, but one front indicator/parker light combo sat about 2cm higher than the other. We fixed that by taking the front bumper off, removing the straight line that rendered the error more obvious and made it look like an AC Cobra with both dwarfism and Bell’s palsy instead.

I may have mentioned this anomaly to him when we saw Sarah’s old car at All British Day a couple of years ago. And he bloody remembers that fine!

This is my kid absorbing useless knowledge about cars, possibly to the detriment of his faculties. Like father, like son, really.

Am I proud? Yeah, kinda. Clearly, I’ve passed my genes on. My son has just started to read, breaking into things like my automotive reference books and magazines such as Wheels, Unique Cars, and of course, Street Machine. It’s just the headings and quotes for now, but I suspect he’ll soon be devouring them at an alarming rate. Clearly, he already loves cars and shares the same passion his folks do.

This is good, because if his focus drifts towards sport, he might start talking about football, cricket or Beyblades, which to me is as interesting as painting grass and watching it dry as it grows.

Clearly, he’s not perfect; the bastard proves that every night when we get home. It’s been the cause of so much teeth grinding, my dentist thinks I’m on meth. But would I swap the two kids to go back to our old, carefree life of driving around in an MG Midget, breaking down in random places? If you asked me, I’d have to pause for a bit, but to be fair, we were never sure if the MG was going to get us there, and right now, we’re excited as to where we are going.