Road Test - Midas Gold

As good as…

When we tested the previous Midas Gold 18 months ago, we ruffled a few feathers by prefacing the test with some comments about kit cars. We remain unrepentent and feel that it’s useful to preface this test with some comments about kit cars.

There are approaching 200 kits available on the British market and the majority are not worth considering because they are badly styled and/or badly engineered and/or badly finished and/or not road legal. This does not stop some of them from selling well, which only goes to prove Phineas T. Barnum’s comment about a sucker being born every minute. In fact a sub-industry has emerged which specialises in completing kits bought by customers in a starry-eyed moment of misdirected enthusiasm. The trouble is that some of these “manufacturers” produce professionally assembled and finished show cars, convince the gullible that it’s a piece of cake to reproduce the show car and, having banked the cheque, lose interest in the customer. These cowboys not only savage the dreams of the innocent but damage the whole idea of kit cars.

There are, though, makers of thoroughly honest kit cars. In some cases they offer the buyer the essence of Vintage or “Classic” motoring at a fraction of the cost of a period car; the Madison and NG are two such. In other cases, such as Jago and Hustler, they fill specialised niches in the market.

Some offer copies of desirable cars which is something we can find no fault with, providing the original maker gives permission for the copy. We cannot all afford a Rembrandt or a Turner painting but a good print can still give pleasure. A print is no substitute for an original and certainly cannot be passed off as one. Prints give pleasure and harm nobody so we cannot see any objection to a motoring equivalent.

There are, too, a number of makers of “component cars”, small volume manufacturers who may offer kits, which require a donor car, but which also sell cars made from all-new components, which are 95% finished and which the average buyer can finish to the standard of a “show car” with a weekend’s work and the sort of tool kit most of us own. These cars are offered in component form because of the prohibitive expense of seeking EEC Type Approval. Among them are some of the most individual cars on sale. They will be shortly joined by others and we’re already in touch with the makers.

Our criteria when selecting cars for test from what may be broadly called the kit industry are simple. The maker must offer it in “component” as well as “kit” (donor car required) form and the maker must subscribe to the voluntary code administered by the SMMT.

The SMMT code of practice, which came about as a result of pressure from the serious makers of kit and component cars, is a sort of type approval which gives customers some security and puts certain responsibilities on the manufacturers. At present the following makers subscribe to the code: Midas, Marcos, Caterham, Ginetta, UVA, Jago, GP Vehicles (Madison), JBA, Hustler and NG. Since the code is voluntary, it does not automatically follow that those outside it are poor makers but the potential buyer of a kit car should closely question a manufacturer about his attitude to the code.

By insisting on our two ground rules, we weed out the cowboys, ensure that the cars we test comply with legal requirements and, most importantly from our point of view, can apply the same rules when conducting a road test that we apply to the products of major manufacturers. We don’t therefore have to apply double standards and make concessions and fudge around poor finish, poor ergonomics and poor engineering.

When, 18 months ago, I drove the Midas Gold, I came away starry-eyed. This little fibreglass monocoque car had been approached with a little trepidation but had won me over. The pedal area was cramped, certainly, but it was something which was easy to get used to. The ventilation was primitive, but it was summer and you could wind down the window. The cockpit was a little on the tight side, but then it is a small car. The essence of the car remained superb, with gutsy engine performance, point and squirt handling and steering, good brakes and ride and a finish which was adequate on the inside and as good as Lotus externally.

Overall, the report was extremely favourable and we’ve heard since from readers who bought the car on our recommendation and who have written and phoned to express their delight with their purchases.

It was with unusual interest, then, that we approached the latest Midas. The old body style remains in production as the Midas Bronze while the smartly styled new version inherits the name “Gold”. This is offered in two main versions. There is the kit which comes fully wired and trimmed and to the usual Midas standards with all metal parts zinc plated. One then acquires a crashed Metro and simply transfers the components from the donor car to Midas. Its actually simpler than buying a new Metro shell and salvaging a wrecked car. Making a Midas Gold in this way will take about 40 hours and cost around £5.000.

Alternatively one may buy a “Superkit” which uses new MG Metro parts and which requires only a weekend’s work to complete. After a thousand miles you return it to the maker for its service and road test. which is conducted by Midas managing director, Harold Dermott (when did Sam Toy last road test your Fiesta or Sierra?) and any little niggles are rectified.

The “Superkit” costs £7,900 after taxes, and while it seems to have stiff opposition from mass-produced hot hatches, it is perhaps more useful to look at it against the Reliant SS1 1600 which after a radio has been added to the Midas, costs roughly the same.

Both cars are different approaches to the problem of building a distinctive sports car for the Eighties. Their top speeds and acceleration figures are similar, both have excellent road manners. The Midas is better finished externally, the Reliant better internally. There is much more luggage space in the Midas, and the option of seats for a couple of children but some will trade that for the pleasure of open-top motoring.

Its true that one can spend less and obtain sharper performance by buying a mass-produced “hot hatch” but there remains a market for the buyer who looks for something different.

The new Midas Gold had been restyled for Richard Oakes, who was responsible for the “Bronze”. The maker claims it has the most advanced under-car aerodynamics of any production car, which is a statement to make one take a sharp intake of breath until one knows that the aerodynamics were arrived at after consultation with Brabham’s Gordon Murray, himself a Midas owner. The under-tray sections which are responsible for this claim are fairly inexpensive optional extras. It is claimed they reduce drag and aid stability at speed by producing a measure of ground effect.

The new version has a smoother line but is a little heavier. When we had the car in early February, England was under snow and since our test track was not exempt, we were unable to take our own performance figures. Midas claims that the 0-60 mph time is slightly slower than on the Bronze, at 10 seconds, but that it has a marginally better maximum at 112 mph. They’re figures we happily accept from driving experience.

Its difficult to achieve a pleasing line with a front-engined small car using the rather tall Metro front subfrarne but Richard Oakes has achieved this and the Gold has a high HTF (Head Turning Factor). The rear side windows have been enlarged and provide better visibility. From the driver’s seat, the bonnet slopes away so one does not actually see it but since the Midas is such a narrow car, there’s no problem in placing it on the road — though you can be caught out when parking.

There’s more room for the driver’s feet with the result that the pedals have been more conventionally positioned. While one needed a period of acclimatisation with the old car, you can slot into the new easily, though with such a low vehicle, getting in and out is not easy for all.

The other disadvantage was that segments of the speedo’ and tach’ were obscured but since the speedo’ was on the right hand side and the tach’ on the left, these were not the most crucial dial segments.

You’re in the car, made yourself comfortable, admired the simple layout of the Metro-derived instruments, approved the standard of finish and come to terms with the fact that it is a car in which a cat may not be swung. You’ve already stowed more luggage in the back than you could have thought possible and, being cautious, you do not leave your brief case exposed but put it in a locked compartment at the rear which also holds the spare wheel and tool kit.

Pulling away from the kerb the steering feels first fairly heavy and then it lightens. You’re aware at once of a very tight turning circle (29′). In town traffic you like the way the car pulls off the line and appreciate its manoeuvrability in traffic — it’s super in town. You like, too, the low noise level: the engine is well insulated, there’s no discernible wind noise (and even at top speed this never becomes a problem) and, in fact, it’s only the 13″ Goodyear NCTs doing their yeoman job which breaks the silence—apart from that creaking leather seat.

You leave town and get onto a motorway. The engine lacks the flexibility which the better hot hatches have, but even with its normally aspirated Metro engine, it’s smoother and slightly faster than a turbo Metro. 90-95 mph is a comfortable cruising speed, and it is comfortable, for wind noise is low, ride is good and stability, even in strong winds, is excellent.

Off the motorway and onto lesser roads and the car comes into Its own. Its performance on winding roads is the standard by which I judge any fwd car. There is minimal roll, a wonderful sense of security, no vices, even when cornering hard, and the best “turn in” characteristics of any fwd car I’ve driven.

It’s astonishing that a company which recently doubled its output, but still makes less than 100 cars a year, can set standards of performance in several important areas by which all cars of its general type are judged.

The Midas does have a weakness and that is in its running gear. It cries out for more power, not because more is needed for swift journeys across country, for from steeple to steeple it has few rivals, but because the basic package is so good it is under-used and it could take another 20-25 bhp (a 35-40% increase in power) and make good use of it.

Midas is likely to accommodate that wish shortly with either a tuned 1.4 litre version of the engine or else a turbo option which will not be BL’s peaky engine but a proper conversion carried out by a specialist. The old Gold returned an honest 40 mpg driven hard so I was surprised to find the new one giving only 33 mpg overall. There were several differences between the two tests, the most recent one being conducted in cold weather and it included a number of short journeys in London traffic. Driven with economy in mind, 40 mpg should be easily obtainable.

Filling the tank brought another sign of detail improvement, for the old car used to blow back fuel if you weren’t very careful while the new one takes it on board at maximum rate. A trip through an automatic car wash showed, as before, that there are no leaks.

The Midas Gold is a beautifully engineered and finished quality sports car, with impeccable road manners, outstanding cornering capabilities and is both attractive and thoroughly practical into the bargain. — M.L.