Bigger than your bike, smaller than your typical European parking space
A product of traffic and parking problems in high-density urban areas, small cars have a lot of redeeming qualities. They are endlessly practical, often cute and mostly easy on your wallet. While you'd need to sacrifice much of your space and comforts, you'll have a reward of being considered ecologically & street "smart". Some of the models can go 40 km per liter (100 miles per gallon), which is advertised as "almost cheaper than walking".
Of course soccer moms will still need vans and macho guys will still need a Hummer statement, but if you live in the urban area where parking space could cost you as much as $250,000 - then these little critters may be just the right ticket for you. They certainly speak to our sense of esthetic and evoke a strong desire to hug them and pat them on the back.
A Smorgasbord of Various Mini-Cars
These are probably the strangest-looking: "Gaitans" from Spain - "Gaitan Auto-Tri Huevo 125cc 1953" on the left and "Gaitan Auto-Tri 125cc" (1953) on the right:
"Smart" car is everywhere these days. But have you seen "Smart"-based crane?
Here is a "Smart"-based Jeep-like SUV... This is the Crosstown Concept, shown at the 2005 Frankfurt show:
I've personally spotted a few "little ones" on the streets in Amsterdam: this is the "Canta" model (more info):
(images credit: Avi Abrams, Dark Roasted Blend)
A smorgasbord of small: here's a Pasquali three-wheeled tandem two-seater from Italy:
One of our readers writes with more info: "I've discovered that the full name for the yellow three-wheeler is "Pasquali Riscio"... They offer a single seat version and a tandem two-seater. Not sure how to tell which is which from the outside, unless you can see the seats clearly through the windows! Pasquali mostly make farm tractors and mowers, so I think that the Riscio is their only road vehicle."
Help us to identify these models:
Even smaller Minis -
This is a Milieu R made by the Japanese firm Takeoka. More info - on the right is its electric updated version, more info:
3-wheeled "Ape", produced by Italian Piaggio company:
Primitive Shopping Vehicles - better than shopping carts
Some of them can be very small - but perhaps you'd like to have something more substantial than this:
1972 Norsjo Shopper (Sweden) was perfect for the elderly (and the teens!) to drive around with their groceries. You can see how really primitive these were inside... moped-like, no dashboard. Top speed - 60 kph.
Here is one account: "The Norsjö Shopper was still quite common here in Sweden when I was growing up, at the end of the eighties. With an engine of less than 50cc, delivering a single horsepower, it was classified as a moped and could be driven without a license by anyone 15 or older. By that time it was mostly used by elderly ladies living in the countryside, though, except for a few that got in the way of the popular pastime of moped-tuning and got turned into three-wheeled deathtraps."
The smallest of all is probably this bike, made by "Honda". Can it be folded even further to fit into your laptop bag?
Amazingly, there was almost the same concept as far back as 1951 in the Soviet Russia. Here's proof:
(image credit: Tekhnika Molodezhi, 1951)
The Ugliest of the Bunch
Probably the ugliest micro-car of all comes from Soviet Russia (a car specially designed for the disabled and the elderly) - called "Invalidka" (almost a "wheelchair") from Serpukhovski Moto Zavod:
(top image: art by Yury Dolmatovski)
Seen in a Russian movie -
This car was the easiest to secure (nobody would want to steal it) -
The Smallest Tank (not really meant for groceries)
For one of the smallest tanks, check out French Renault FT17 (from 1918) - first tank with a fully rotating turret. This little armored wonder was definitely smaller than most SUVs on the road today. Strangely, it was used by the Germans during World War II, modified with a stubby 75mm gun.
Another miniature bad-ass vehicle (widely used in Vietnam) was Ford Mutt - basically a quarter ton jeep with rugged overhead valve engine and a rocket launcher on top. The sort of a vehicle that Indiana Jones would love.
Here is a similar idea, employed in the Soviet Army in the 1970s:
Here is a 2011 Smart Tank Concept sporting a full set of tracks and a camouflage scheme from the German Army:
The American infatuation with the large cars (see evidence here and here), introduced the idea of the "backseat romance", which could not be properly fulfilled in these little vehicles (with the notable exception of Mr. Bean who is entirely capable of fully changing his clothes while driving). Europe and Japan continue to manufacture sub-compacts, with very few of these models seen overseas. Nevertheless, world's ecological situation may dictate another set of rules for all motorists, and we'll live to see another "Golden Age" of micro and "bubble" cars in our future.
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