Midget gems | Six of the Best

You know what they say about small things…

By John Howell / Saturday, 25 February 2023 / Loading comments

Peugeot 106 GTi, 1998, 78k, £10,995

What better time to recognise that great things often come in small packages? The industry appears to be moving away from the concept at light speed. Yet it holds true. The little Peugeot 106 might not have quite the cachet of its 205 elder brother, or quite such perfect proportions – and yes, I know the 205 wasn’t designed by Pininfarina before that appears in the comments – but it surely stands as one of the most handsome small cars ever launched. So handsome, in fact, that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t designed by Pininfarina and it’s now 32 years old. For true pared-back lightness, you’ll want the Rallye version which weighs in at just 825kg – but the 106 GTi’s 950kg would still be shunned by Weight Watchers and, thanks to 118hp from the TU5J4 1.6-litre 16-valve motor, offers a potent enough power-to-weight ratio for 0-62mph in 7.5 seconds. The trick is finding a good one, and this smart-looking silver car from 1998 looks to be just that.  

Z Cars Mini Classic, 1977, 50, £49,990

It’s not a classic Cooper S, but a product of Z Cars. If you haven’t heard of this company, it was founded in 1999 by Chris Allanson, who cut his teeth in grass-track racing. He turned that know-how into a business producing kits for classic Minis that included mid-engined upgrades using Yamaha R1 and Suzuki Hayabusa bike engines – or, like this one, the K20 Type R motor from Honda. Z Cars ceased trading in 2015, but David Rose bought the rights to the kits and has relaunched production. This unregistered model has 215hp, a rev limit of 8,000, and all that’s contained within a stripped-out Mini shell from 1977. It’s reasonable to assume, then, that it’ll be quick, and, more importantly, a lot of fun. That said, it’s also got nods to luxury, in the form of S2000 leather seats, cruise control, a heated windscreen and even traction control – probably not a bad thing, looking at where the drive goes and the tiny wheelbase. Arguably ‘handles like a go-kart’ has never been more apt for a classic Mini.

Morgan Super 3, 2023, 50, £58,995

Here’s another unregistered car with delivery miles, coming to you straight from the factory that built it. You are more likely to be familiar with this one, though. It’s got three wheels, and because it’s definitely (and thankfully) not built by Reliant, the obvious conclusion is it’s a Morgan, but it’s not a 3 Wheeler. This is the newer and much better Super 3 (the very first one, in fact), offered at Morgan’s boutique dealership in a very eye-catching shade of Rhodium Silver. The Super 3 ditches the air-cooled Harley vee-twin for a Ford 1.5-litre Ecoboost triple in an aluminium monocoque chassis – Morgan’s first. All this modernity hasn’t removed the sense of fun of driving a Morgan with three wheels, though. It weighs 635kg and chucks out 120hp to just the one back wheel. Let’s face it, if that’s not madcap enough for you, take a leaf out of Blackadder’s book: stick two pencils up your nose, place a large pair of underpants on your head, and shout ‘wibble’.

Renault 5 Turbo, 1990, 121k, £22,495

There was a time when driving a Renault 5 GT Turbo would have you tagged and slapped with an ASBO, no questions asked. After all, the fellas who drove GT Turbos were invariably of the scallywag variety, and not to be trusted next to the pick ‘n’ mix, let alone something more valuable. But, just like the Ford Capri and various other misfit motors from the ‘80s, time has healed all wounds. The 5 GT Turbo is now a much sought-after gem. It would’ve failed a side-impact test if all that involved was someone from NCAP kicking the door, but that well-known fragility is why it’s another one on the list that’s well shy of a tonne. And why its pushrod 1.4-litre engine, assisted famously by that Garrett T2 turbocharger, could muster up so much performance from just 115hp. This car may have done 120,000 miles, but it’s a tidy-looking Phase II with the post-1989 dash. Aficionados will also know it’s a Raider special, thanks to the metallic blue hue and matching wheels.

Volkswagen Lupo GTI, 2003, 45k, £9,495

How many times have you heard the phrase ‘it’s the spiritual successor to the Golf GTI’? Certainly it was proclaimed a few times when the Volkswagen Lupo GTI was launched back in 2000. To be fair, it wasn’t completely stupid, because the Lupo was small and offered a back-to-basics approach that was sadly lacking since the days of the Mk1. Trouble was, the Lupo GTI still weighed over a tonne – 1,038kg to be precise – which makes it the heaviest car here by a fair margin, and that’s counting its aluminium bonnet, front wings and doors. It might not enjoy universal appreciation, then, but there’s a healthy following for the Lupo GTI – and with good reason. It was a hit with the press back in the day, and to help make the most of its eager 1.6-litre naturally aspirated engine’s 125hp, this one’s a post-2001 iteration with the six-speed ‘box. We make no excuses for the Lupo GTI: it’s here on merit. And because it’s tiny. 

Caterham SuperSprint, 2018, 104, £30,995

Speaking of tiny, the car we certainly don’t have to apologise for being here is a Caterham Seven. And when you strip it back to the bare essentials, in the hope of creating the ideal driver’s car, what you end up with is a SuperSprint. There’s some nostalgia left behind, no doubt about that, but not a lot else. On the mechanical front, this is as far away from the adaptively damped, electronically diffed and dual-clutched automatons of today. Everything here is simple mechanical engineering, and all you need to do is simple driving – without any reliance on anti-lock or traction control software. It’s just you and an analogue machine, but with good quality race-spec suspension suspending its mere 490kg. Yes, just 490, which makes even the Super 3 seem chunky by comparison. To top it all off, this is a 60th Anniversary model, in silver with tan, is just one 60 made. The only issue is the ultimate driver’s car has covered just 104 miles, so buy it and sort that out, please. 

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