aeronca65t Dork
7/28/12 5:44 a.m.

I bought this '73 Midget parts-car sight unseen for less than $300 only for the purpose of yanking the 1275 engine and trans (for use in my Austin sedan race car project.....which is still ongoing). My intention was to dispose of the rest of the car with a Sawzall.

After the engine was out, it seemed a shame to cut up this semi-rare RWA car. It was quite solid and only has 19,500 miles total. But it had a different colour right-front fender, a rotted hood (bonnet), a dreadful convertible top, awful seats (dyed a different colour.....the dye came off on my pants). It was filled with the pungent smell of mouse urine. Etc. On the other hand, I had all these spare Spridget parts I had hoarded over a lifetime of racing and autocrossing Spridgets.

Key among these spares was a hopeless-looking 948 cc engine that I'd gotten for free and would probably never use for anything else anyway. It had been sitting on a dirt floor in a shed for 20+ years. The engine wasn't a Sprite engine either; it's the extra-low performance single-carb 35 horsepower engine (7.5 to 1 compression) from a 1958 Austin A35 sedan. When I dragged it out of the shed and pulled the oil pan, I found it was full of spiders. I also pulled the head and wire-brushed about a pound of crud from the valves. Rod bearings looked OK and the cam (with lobes that were barely pimples) seemed smooth. Pistons didn't rock around too much in the bores. So I wiped out the oil pan with a dirty rag and slapped it back together (using the old gaskets and about $5 worth of sealer). I blew out some old, spare carbs with spray cleaner and eye-balled the ignition timing.

For lubrication, I found a variety of oil containers in my garage.Some were half-quarts left over from my lawn mower or some previous car I had sold. I had some 5W-20, 10W-30, 20W-50 and so forth. It all went in the 948. Waste not, want not. I would estimate that the oil I was running was 11W-39. Or something like that.

Naturally, the little 948 started right up.

Since it ran so well (?!?!), I decided on a "test" by putting it in my race car for a weekend event at Watkins Glen (the normal race engine had just converted itself into a boat anchor when one of the rods made a quick exit through the block). My re-powered 948 racer was pathetically slow, but ran in a reliable fashion. In fact, I ran it in the Handicap Race and won (obviously the other guys felt sorry for me and gave me too much of a head start). Unfortunately, the oil pressure was a bit on the light side (12 lbs at 5000 rpm when warm).

But now that the engine had proved itself, I didn't mind fitting a spare set of rod bearings and timing chain in it (that I already had sitting around). While I was at it, I splurged and bought a new set of rings and gaskets. And even new oil and a filter.

It seemed the perfect engine for this '73 Midget parts car that I intended to "save". But this wasn't going to be a heroic restoration. More of a slap-dash amalgamation of unwanted bits and bobs I had on hand. We christened the car, The Red Rat

I used my worst spare trans (I have 5 of them). First gear sounds like it has several teeth missing. And second gear whines like a banshee. It's best to skip through the first two shifts quickly. The wiring is bodgey and dodgey with a toggle switch for the ignition and a button for the starter. The steering wheel is homemade and funky. The horn button is an add-on mounted under the dash. Since the interior smelled so bad, I removed ALL carpets , rugs and even the vinyl trim. The interior now consists of brushed-on black paint.....none of those sissy rugs or pansy-ass mats. The original smelly seats got replaced by moldy '64 seats that I bleached and "repaired" with black duck tape. It has one of those ugly DGV carbs, used spark plugs, old points and a mix of plug wires that all look pretty bad. Cap, rotor and fan belt are all well worn. So is clutch and throwout bearing. I had to fit a spare, clean fuel tank (to replace the one in the car that was full of mud). I used some old, skinny rims and hubcaps to give it a quaint appearance (but fitted some decent 13" tires I got on eBay). I built the alternator from three non-working units. the addition of some STP improved the action of the front lever shocks. A three-year old garden tractor battery (275 CCA!) keeps it alive. A roll bar I'll never use for anything else was repainted and fitted.

Tractor Supply paint was applied to the body with a combination of an electric spay gun (normally intended for painting fences) and a roller.

Brakes are decent and I have fitted decent used parts in the front end (ball joints, etc).

Somehow, it all works and drives quite well. It is perhaps the quintessential proof of the old saying that God smiles on fools and small children.

In total, assuming the car was "free" (after pulling the engine) I have less than $150 in the car. I did spend another $230 for four tires, but I can consider them as rain tires for the race-Spridget. And even if I include them, I'm well under $400 for a surprisingly good-running Spridget.

Here's a ~Short Video~ that shows the "Little Red Rat" (in the driveway plus driving around locally).

ps-ignore the "bending widshield". That's what happens when you let youtube "fix your shaky image". I should have left it as is.

I just insured it and put it on the road. Don't get me wrong....I have a VERY nice MGB roadster that I also enjoy. But it's very "freeing" to drive this car with its crappy paint and taped-up seats. It's DONE and as far as I'm concerned, it needs no improvement.

As bought:

The engine:

Fitting the engine:

noddaz Reader
7/28/12 2:48 p.m.

Can't see this from work... Need to remind myself to look when I get home... It sounds like an absolute blast...

Kendall_Jones HalfDork
7/28/12 2:59 p.m.

Nothing to add (looks great) but that video is worth a watch. Trippy processing to say the least!


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