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Kit Car Magazine - written by Ian Hynes
Ian Hyne doesn't know how to spell the sound of a wolf whistle but if any kit car ever deserved such a graphic demonstration of total appreciation for sheer physical beauty, it has to be the Minari Road Sport. Poetry in motion and a dream to drive.

Adhering to the theory that no matter how dynamically capable a car may be, initial customer attraction is always a reaction to visual stimulation, there is a strong argument for Minari rapidly taking over the top slot in the industry for their Mk 2 Road Sport is the prettiest thing on four wheels I have seen in a long, long time. Who says the top companies and styling houses have a monopoly on styling and design talent? The Minari is the living proof that they do not. Quite simply it is sheer poetry. Beautifully clean lines, contemporary curves and a pleasing economy with external embellishments combine to create a car that, far from being slightly anonymous, just shrieks for attention. Not only that but with its low, wide, slightly aggressive wheel -at each corner stance, it looks exactly like the true sports car that it is and believe me, it delivers the goods. Can you believe that with front engine and front wheel drive, this little silver sliver of plastic perfection still gives perfect 50/50 weight distribution with the driver on board as well as 140 bhp per ton from a standard 100 bhp 1500 cc twin carb engine? That's more than a Golf VR6 which reaches the benchmark 60 mph in 7.1 seconds. Not only that but you could even fit a standard 150 bhp 1700 cc 16 valve motor to give 214 bhp per ton with the 0 to 60 mph sprint accomplished in just under 5 seconds. But you don't need all that power to truly enjoy the Minari as, aside from spending hours in happy contemplation of its seductive lines, 1500 ccs is more than sufficient to demonstrate its road ability is the equal of its visual attributes.

Sean Prendergast and Andrew Borrowman are the lads responsible for this cultured pearl but these things rarely happen by accident and a quick glance at their 'previous' shows that their talents have been nurtured and encouraged by their experience.
Both are graduates of the University of Hertfordshire, since when their combined experience in both styling and engineering has been fostered by experience with Rover Group, Panther Cars, Formula 1, Indy and Can Am cars. As far as kit cars go, their first effort was the quietly successful Minari Club Sport Mk 1 which was very similar to the Mk2 and while being dynamically extremely accomplished it was also pretty but lacked the pure visual smack in the eye that the Mk 2 delivers. The Mk 1 was also Alfasud based and employed a very similar monocoque body / chassis unit but it is the advances in styling finesse and appointments that distance the Mk 2 from its predecessor.

Where the Mk 1 was pretty, the Mk 2 is stunningly beautiful. Where the Mk 1 used the Alfasud lights front and rear, the Mk 2 has followed contemporary trends and poached the distinctive teardrops from the Mazda MX3 to dramatic effect. Where the Mk 1 had slightly awkward removable side screens, the Mk 2 has wind up windows. Where the Mk 1 had an awkward rear hinged boot lifted with the aid of a canvas lip protruding from the shutline, the Mk 2 has a conventionally opening panel released from the Fiat remote release hidden in the driver's sill panel. Overall, the Mk 2 is a masterpiece of design, styling and engineering that really marks a coming of age for this small and capable company.

The monocoque itself does not differ greatly from its predecessor and employs long directional fibres with seven times the specific strength of steel to create the necessary strength. This is augmented by the deep box section sills which also provide a high degree of side impact protection. The rear end is designed to crumple progressively and frontal impacts are catered for by the nature of the zinc plated tubular steel subframe that carries the engine and suspension. Mechanically it plunders the proven component recipe from the Alfasud and its later derivatives in the shape of the Alfasud Sprint and the Alfa 33 giving a choice of engine capacity from 1200 to 1700 ccs.

Traditionalists may question the wisdom of selecting front wheel drive for the design lay out of a pure sports car but the designers make the point that 50 / 50 weight distribution eliminates the strong tendency to understeer and further point out that most people's experience of front wheel drive cars comes from hot hatches which are always overweight and overtall to compete with a lightweight, purpose designed sports car with a low centre of gravity. They say that modest power in a lightweight body gives responsive, agile and stable handling and advance their recipe as far superior to the tail heavy, mid engined lay out for road use. I don't propose to debate the point but having driven the Minari, their views are certainly worth considering. The looks of a car such as this make you feel good walking towards it knowing you are going to drive it. They put you in the right frame of mind to concentrate on the job and ensure you do justice to the machine.

From admiring the sun glinting off its more subtle curves, drawing closer makes you aware of its finer details. The doors are released by Fiat Panda push buttons and having pushed, the hinges are spring loaded just enough to pop the door out proud of its surround allowing you to slip a finger behind it and pull it open. As it swings through its opening arc, you notice the boot release neatly dropped into the sill top. The doors themselves are very shallow with the result that the sill is quite high to cross. The reason is that they didn't want to compromise the car’s strength by reducing the size of the sill box sections. Nevertheless, the sill is only comparatively high but the car itself is low so climbing in is really no problem. With both legs aboard you slip well down into the bucket seats and feel extremely safe and secure as the sill ends up at about elbow height. It really is very snug and offers a truly excellent driving position.

When building the car, there is a good deal of scope in positioning the pedals and wheel to suit drivers of varying heights. Used in standard form the controls favour the long arm, short legged driver for which Italy is supposedly famed, but with the pedals well set, a dished wheel can redress the balance for conventional specimens. For me, it was dead right first time with pedals, wheel and gear lever all ideally placed.

Through the wheel the Alfa main instruments were visible and the three smaller clocks (ammeter, oil pressure and fuel) were housed in the centre console above the heater controls. All other switchgear, including the blower, is column mounted on the Alfas so the dashboard is very tidy indeed.

The interior mirror gave a good view between the high backs of the seats and below the roll over bar and was augmented with the suitably styled exterior mirrors which also feature height adjustment. The screen is steeply raked back but the upper rail was well above my eye level and did not impede forward vision.

The engine in this demonstrator is a 1500 TI Veloce unit with twin carbs. It is a standard unit giving 95 bhp @ 5500 rpm with 105 ft lbs of torque @ 4000 rpm. Starting up produced a rather conservative murmur from the standard exhaust system and with all systems go, I let in the clutch.

On the move the Minari feels very taut and together at average road speeds. It rides well with just a hint of firmness and easy control movements allow you to keep it smooth round any obstacles. Once you’ve played yourself in you feel the urge to open it up a bit and this is where the car really delivers its thrills.

Although the Alfasud was hailed as THE car of the seventies and is generally acknowledged as having started the hot hatch revolution its mechanical base seems to fly in the face of what is perceived as the necessary recipe for sports car performance and handling. Many would argue that double wishbones is the best front suspension medium as Formula 1 cars use it. Similarly independent rear suspension is generally regarded as better than a dead axle and for a sports car, rear wheel drive supposedly has distinct advantages over front wheel drive. Whatever the technical merits of the argument the Alfasud and moreso the Minari overcomes them.

We have already considered the designer’s argument that the 50/50 weight distribution overcomes the tendency to understeer and gives the car pretty neutral handling. In respect of the McPherson struts, these suit the Minari as they are compact and lightweight and have the added advantage of simple movement of the roll centre by the angle of the lower link. However, the potential disadvantage of these struts is that as the car rolls the roll centre moves downwards but in the Minari with its much lower centre of gravity, which corners pretty well flat the effect is greatly diminished.

As for a dead axle rear end, the technical arguments are extensive and relatively complex but in the Minari it certainly works extremely well. When you think about it the Alfasud and the Saab 900 and 9000 are celebrated top handling cars and both retain dead axle rear ends.

Squirt the throttle in a straight line and the Minari demonstrates excellent traction and acceleration response which pretty well confirms the figures of 0 to 60 mps in around 7 seconds. The power comes cleanly, smoothly and constantly all the way up to 6000 rpm although the engine will rev higher. Equally the close ratio box has five well spaced cogs that assist its passage and a choice of final drive ratios to suit all applications.

In a straight line it retains the front wheel drive car’s feeling of stability as well as good feel through the steering which requires only the lightest grip to retain complete control.

When you need to dump speed the four wheel disc brakes designed to stop a heavier car with five occupants and their luggage have a really easy time of it. A mere dab on the servo assisted pedal produces fiercely strong and progressive braking that, even at pretty quick road speeds, exhibits no tendency to lock up.

Supreme braking efficiency coupled with a smooth and quick gear change allows you to set the car up for the corners and the pretty quick rack, slightly speeded up with a smaller wheel allows you to position it with pinpoint accuracy.

Push it into a bend and it exhibits typically sharp front wheel drive response and changes direction like a coursed hare. At speed, the steering and sheer grip from the 185/60 x 14” Bridgestone RE71 tyres allow you to really push it through the twists without ruffling its supreme composure and quick right left flicks are handled with equal aplomb. The rack is precise and very direct and adds a great deal to your enjoyment of the car.

Peninsula Sports Cars is the trading name of Paul Featherstone-Harvey. Business address: Kerrow Farm, Wheal Plenty, Redruth, Cornwall TR16 4BW. Telephone 01209 899090. All images copyright of Peninsula Sports Cars. Website created by TAS