1997 Daihatsu Midget II
1997 Daihatsu Midget II. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Brendan McAleer

I once drove a bright yellow Lamborghini Gallardo a short distance through town, and experienced what it must be like to be the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Kids everywhere stopped dead in their tracks, saucer-eyed and pointing. I waved, they stared – neat stuff.

Mind you, this thing makes the Lambo look like a beige Corolla with a missing hubcap. As I tootle along the thronging summer streets of Steveston, BC, I can safely say that I’ve never been more popular.

Welcome to the world of kei-car motoring, a privilege unique to Canadians with our lax and welcoming grey market importation rules. If Japan says a ten-foot-long box is crashworthy enough for their roads, then it’s good enough for ours. Pay no attention to that colossal, jacked-up Ford Super Duty – its texting driver certainly isn’t.

The kei class of cars is a very low-cost, low-tax market segment in Japan, restricted with stringent size and power limitations. Engine displacement is capped around the 660-cc level, power cannot exceed 63 hp. As you might expect, most kei cars are comically slow.

The machine I’m driving is no exception. It’s a 1997 Daihatsu Midget II, pretty much the smallest pickup truck ever built. It belongs to Steveston resident Andrey Murphy, who has since sold it through autoTRADER.ca – he plans on simply importing another, slightly different one, and is one of those serial owner types who will no doubt have a wild and woolly automotive history to look back on in his dotage. I envy him somewhat.

The original Midget was a sort of three-wheeled motorized rickshaw, popular for its maneuverability, yet low on luxurious optional extras. Like doors, for instance.

This later model is super-deluxe in comparison. We have air-conditioning, roll-up windows and, as a bonus, the optional automatic transmission comes with a passenger seat the size of an ironing board – and with about the same amount of padding. Manual-transmission Midgets make do with only one seat, as the stick-shift sits exactly where the passenger would go.

Other than that, we’ve got two doors and a pretty spacious rear cargo box. Andrey keeps all sorts of machinery running at his job at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, and he also has a side gig repairing CNC equipment – the little Midget II has a nominal payload rating of 205 kg (450 lb), and easily swallows up all his servicing tools.

1997 Daihatsu Midget II1997 Daihatsu Midget II
1997 Daihatsu Midget II. Click image to enlarge

Mildly practical then. And certainly fuel efficient with that gnat-size motor. Why else would you want one? Well, just look at it!

With bug-eyed headlights, a button-nosed spare tire and no-really-I’m-a-truck side mirrors, the Midget II is completely charming. It’s like someone’s fitted wheels to a Pixar aphid, and I’m itching to take it for a spin. Andrey tosses me the keys and off I go.

Performance is… ever been on a riding lawnmower? Try imagining one where the rabbit setting isn’t working. The Midget II has a mid-mounted engine tuned for low-end torque (37 lb-ft at 3,200 rpm, or approximately the same as a Braun hand blender), and only has thirty horses to work with. Combine this Lilliputian power output with the automatic transmission and you shouldn’t pick any street races with bike-riding kids. Or sprightly-looking tortoises with a gleam in their eye.

Who cares? This is the most fun ever. As I parple along out of the suburbs, the sun is shining and I’ve got my arm out of the window. That’s the right window, as it happens, though the right-hand-drive Midget is so narrow you could really use either windowsill as an armrest: even out your road tan, so to speak.

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