Road Impressions: Midas Gold 1.3S

The term "kit car" has some unfortunate connotations. It brings to mind ads like "Build a Bugatti for £500!!" which entail the purchaser in converting a rusty Triumph Herald into a Type 59 with little more than a fully equipped workshop, a team of mechanical engineers and six months' graft. But at the end, he has his car which looks exactly like a Bugatti — from five hundred yards on a dark and foggy night.

It is a pity that the term has clinging to it the ill-begotten efforts of some people who have tried to enter the kit car market for, currently, there are some very sensible and nicely finished designs — and there is also the Midas. The Midas, which Harold Dermott produces in Corby at a rate of one a week is a kit car only in the sense that it is sold as a kit. It is, in fact, a real car pretending to be a kit car in much the same way that Lotus Elites and Elans, sold in component form, were real cars pretending to be kit cars. Whereas Lotus, and other serious car builders, once sold kits to escape purchase tax, so Midas, in company with some other firms in the market, sell cars in kit form to avoid the massive expense of obtaining Type Approval.

The car derives, at several removes, from Jem Marsh's Mini-Marcos, though it has been completely re-designed by Richard Oakes. Gordon Murray, the Brabham designer, has advised on the aerodynamics and is, himself, in the process of using one as the basis of a mid-engined road car with an Alfa Romeo engine and power train. Like the Mini-Marcos, the car has a GRP monocoque and uses Mini or Metro components, but there the similarity ends. Whereas the Mini-Marcos had the looks of a toad on an oft day, the Midas is a very pretty little car which constantly attracted attention and favourable comments.

The car comes in two basic versions, the Silver (£2,450 plus VAT on completion ) and the Gold (£5.922, car tax and VAT included). The Silver accepts Mini components and comes completely carpeted and trimmed, with a full instrument panel and also every component which you will not find on a donor Mini, such as coil springs and dampers for the rear suspension. The Gold comes with a Metro engine already installed and all the owner has to do is to fit the rear suspension, handbrake, seats and wheels.

Both versions are built to a remarkable standard of finish, inside and out. Every Midas-supplied metal component is zinc plated and the subframes are filled with wax. The car is completely corrosion free and one can even specify a stainless steel exhaust system which carries a 25-year guarantee.

A person of even modest skills should be able to put a Silver on the road for around £4,000 and since the car will not rust, could continue to improve it over a period of years while other cars in the same price bracket are quietly fading away. There is a long list of optional extras and the one which gave me such pleasure for nearly 1,000 carefree miles, seemed to have them all. This gave it a total value of just under £7,600 which puts it into direct competition with some excellent sporty production cars. At that price, one has to think quite deeply before choosing a Midas in preference to, say, a Golf GTi.

The difference, I suppose. is that my own GTi gives me a lot of pleasure when I drive it, but the Midas also gave me the pleasure of anticipation before driving it. The great drawback with the car, though, is that motoring enthusiasts were constantly wanting to ask about it, and even photograph it, and I had so much enthusiasm for "my" Midas that I wanted to tell how terrific it was. I wasted a lot of time that way.

Getting in, one is seated in comfortable Stylex Huntmaster seats which provide excellent grip. It's a narrow car but a sensibly designed arm rest to the driver's right helps. The dashboard is standard Metro, though not all the lights are connected, and is easy to read through the squat steering wheel. Rear threequarters visibility is not fantastic, but one soon adjusts to using the wing mirrors more than on many cars. The driver's footwell is a little cramped and, again, one needs an hour or so's acclimatisation to the pedal positions but the car quickly grows on one. My two main criticisms about the interior is that there is no ash tray and the Mini ventilation system is inadequate.

But in driving, everything is forgiven. Here is a car which sticks to the road like gravy to a shirt front. Driving hard at Darlington, I ran out of courage before the car ran out of grip from its 13 in Goodyear NCT tyres. The steering is remarkably precise, you point the car, squirt the power, and it goes exactly where you intend it to. With its compact size and lively acceleration, I cannot think of a car in which I'd rather tackle heavy city traffic.

"My" car had the MG version of the Metro engine fitted, giving it a top speed of 110 mph and taking it from rest to 60 mph in 9.9 sec. Though the 0-60 time is bettered by many of the Midas' direct price competitors, the rather more relevant third and fourth gear acceleration times stand comparison with most. Since 75 bhp of engine is propelling only 620 kg, it pulls strongly up to its maximum speed.

The little car will burble along happily all day at 90-100 mph, requiring refuelling every 240 miles or so. The one I drove had only two seats and a huge luggage area, though seating for two children is optional. The engine sounds a little fussy at speed but wind noise is low and the car never felt less than completely stable and stuck to the road. I did think that the structure might lend itself to amplifying road noise, but failed to detect any. It is a pity one has to mention it at all, but there is still a resistance to kit cars so, for the record, everything fitted perfectly, there was no rattles and the doors closed solidly.

The ride is firm but not choppy, exactly what one would look for in a sports car. I had to try extremely hard to induce either noticeable understeer or torque steering, which are not unknown vices on fwd cars especially when driven hard through roundabouts. The non-servo brakes are little heavy but I personally prefer them that way.

When the time approached to hand back the car, I began to feel very sorry, it had grown on me so much. In nearly a thousand miles of motoring, I had driven it under a wide variety of conditions, country lanes. London traffic, motorways and the traffic jams at the British Grand Prix and it had been equally at home in every situation. I can think of few cars which most of us could afford which offers such sheer, undiluted, fun. Add to that the fact it will never rust and returned a staggering 41 mpg, and some of the objections to its relatively high price start to evaporate. It is, after all, a hand built sports car of some quality and quality never comes cheaply even though, in the case of the Midas, it comes relatively inexpensively.

M.L.