Great Things Come in Small Packages

Also read Part 1

These miniature cars are small enough to hug, and so easy on gas and parking that hugging them would almost seem natural - and yet, most of them are impossible to find at your local dealer.

We all know, there will come a time when everybody would drive - and prefer to drive! - a downsized economical automobile. But until then, let's have a closer look at some of these cute models... and then jump into a supercharged huge truck to pick up groceries a few blocks away.

The "bubble-cars" were all the rage in the 1950s - even the Communist cover art reflected that:

Small is Timeless

The idea of small mass-produced cars dates back to the 1910s (see for example this 1920s article) -

But few would argue that the "Golden Age" of such cars arrived right after World War II, bringing with it "bubble"-licious designs:

"Cabin Scooters" inpired by the fighter planes

This Messerschmitt, in all its (yellow) glory, is not a plane, but has the same military pedigree:

(image credit: Matthias Weinberger)

When shortly after World War II German companies were prohibited from making military planes - they started to make fighter-plane-inspired miniature cars. This weird little Messerschmitt Kabinenroller, aka "Cabin Scooter" (also known as a Flitzer) could only seat one, and to get in and out of it you had to lift up most of the bodywork to one side.

(image credit: Scootering USA)

Jon notes: "In the movie Brazil, the lead character's car is a Messerschmidt bubble car with a stubby V-1 bomb engine on the rear deck. Very silly looking - but somehow when i first saw it I wanted one immediately." Here is Messerschmitt KR200:

Cabin-roller-style racing:

BMW Isetta - the Bubble Bliss

We covered quite a few Isettas in our previous article. Here are some images to refresh your memory:

(image credit: Ice Sixxx)

Microcar Museum has quite a few interesting Isettas, check out this or this examples. But here is a BMW car that's commonly mistaken for Isetta: Model 600 -

(images credit: microcarmuseum)

It was larger than Isetta, with room for four people! These people however wanted a "real car" more often than not, so the days of German micro-car were sadly numbered - and came to an end in the 1960s.

Very fast... very loud... Isetta "Hot Wheels":

(images credit: microcarmuseum)

Also worth mentioning:

A little bit of Japanese cuteness - a smiling Subaru 360 (1970):

This model was first introduced in Japan in 1958, and even "offically" imported to the U.S. in 1968 by Malcolm Bricklin. (almost none were sold in three years, though)

Another smiling creature: "Fram King", 1959 -

(image credit: tucker48fan)

FIAT 600 Multipla (1960) - one of the smallest vans ever. It was also a perfect taxi vehicle.

(images credit: microcarmuseum)

FIAT 600 and FIAT 500 (produced even in Russia, as "Zaporozhetz") - pretty recognizable shape:

(image credit: digilander.libero.it)

As "Zaporozhetz", though, they usually suffered a miserable death:

(photo by Nina and Roman Reznichenko)

Austin A-30, 1964 -

Here is a strange one: Crosley Car, 1948

(image credit: Consumer Reports)

Google-mobil....er, no - Goggomobil from Bavaria (more info)

(image credit: Ritzsite)

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.

(images credit: Microcar Museum)

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 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 "wheelchair") from Serpukhovski Moto Zavod:

(art by Yury Dolmatovski)

This car was the easiest to secure (nobody would want to steal it) -

Smorgasbord of Various Mini-Cars

Reva - electric city car from India:

Toyota Sports 800:

Nissan Snail (Escargot) -

1979 "Loeschi" - Smallest fire engine, based on BMW Isetta

(image credit: ff-schnelsen.de)

Speaking of small fire engines, here is (not the smallest, but very groovy) recent Peugeot H2O concept:

(image credit: Car Design News)

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.

(image credit: Missing Links)

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.

(image credit: Mail Model)

Here is a similar idea, employed in the Soviet Army in the 1970s:

And ideally, here is the famous futurist designer Syd Mead's vision of micro-cars:

(From Syd Mead's book "Sentinel")



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Category: Automobile,Vintage
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Blogger Luca said...

The one after the Fiat 600 Multipla is not a Fiat 500, but a Fiat 600.
Fiat 500 had a twin inline engine of 499cm3, 18 bhp.
600 had a more modern 633 cm3 straight 4 cyl, 21 bhp. The same engine has been produced by Fiat and put in the Fiat Cinquecento (1991-1998) produced by FSM in Poland. It had a different displacement (899 cm3) and EFI for a wow power of 39 bhp.
The same engine has been used by Autobianchi in the car pictured in the first image of the post, the model A/112. It had a 903 cm3 engine with 45 bhp.
The same engine in Abarth models used to reach over 110 bhp, for very small and fast machines (Please see models OTR1000 and OTR1000 Radiale)

Anonymous Anonymous said...

These are awesome.

But you had better not even think of driving them on the Audubon or the LA freeway during peak hours

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The CityEl looks very much like the "Ellert" which was an electric car produced in Denmark in the late 80's

http://www.ellert.info/ (only link i could find with Ellerts)

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of these cars are wonderful! I particularly like the Goggomobil Dart. If they only made 700 of them 40-50 years ago, they must go for a mint, now.

I swear I saw someone driving an Avion the other day, or something very much like it (and how many types of three-wheel mini-sportscar can there be?). There are enough old people with more money than sense, around here, for it to be possible.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Goggomobil in the picture is an Australian bodied Dart made by Buckle Motors, Sydney.

The Davis Divan isn't a micro car. Being 15' long, 6' wide and about 2400lbs it is about the size of most modern family sedans.

Blogger Luca said...

@ Miss Universe

why? I don't think they drive pretty fast in rush hours in those places.. And in U.S. of A. the speed limit is 55 mph anyway (correct me if I'm wrong) and e.g. the Fiat 500 could run at 65 mph (I had one that could touch easily 140 Km/h - 87mph, please check it here --> http://www.cardomain.com/ride/2221353/4)

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what the green pickup with the crate in the bed is?

Anonymous Anonymous said...

We had some small cars made in Brazil by Gurgel and Dacon (regional companies) in the 70's and 80's.
Gurgel XEF

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, just skimmed through, my toddlers love this site..
Anyway, you might have missed the Thundersly Invacar, it was a three-wheeler vehicle which was quite common on the UK's road at one time.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The CityEl is indeed (pretty much) identical to the original Danish Ellert (correct name: Mini-el), and the German website also acknowledges this.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

How could you miss the Peel P50 the smallest car in the world? 49ccs one door one light (not headlight light period), and no reverse gear.

Instead of a reverse gear it featured a handle for the driver to drag the car backwards.

Also in regard to the "Mutt". Mutt was a nickname for the M151. Featuring a short narrow wheelbase and fully independent suspension it was one of the most dangerous vehicles ever built. It would flip over going around a 35mph corner.

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Rayceeya - Peel car is discussed at length in Part 1. Thank you for other info :)

Anonymous Anonymous said...

FYI, Fiat 600 and Zaporozhets are not the same design at all. Only common thing between them is the design principle, but the ZAZ has no common parts with the Fiat. Fiat 600 has a water-cooled inline 4-cylinder engine whereas ZAZ has air-cooled V4 arrangement. There are basically no interchangeable parts between them.

Oh, and the three-weeled Goliath thing stayed in production in India until 2000 as the Bajaj Hanseat.

Hope this information is of any use.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

55mph speed limit in the US? Not since the 70's. It's 70mph on most interstate highways and in Texas we have a few that are 80mph. Up north in Montana there are highways with no speed limit.

Blogger Luca said...

probably, but in any country in peak/rush hour you are parked in a middle of a motorway, you'll never touch those speed.

Blogger Telecomedian said...

@lamberto - anonymous is correct that many rural areas have higher speed limits on the interstates, but most urban interstates and highways have a 55 or lower MPH limit.

And yeah - in rush hour, there's not too many days when we could even *dream* of hitting that speed :)

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last one is called L'Oeuf Electrique (French for "The Electric Egg"). I think it was designed by Paul Arzens.

Anyway, if i were to get one this would be it!!!..

BTW LOVE this site!!!^_^

Blogger Unknown said...

I seem to remember that "The Bond Bug" has been used as a car in the legendary Mr Bean tv-series.

It has always been used as the car that got ridden off the streets by Mr Beam himself with his little bigger Morris manoeuvring a bit clumsy...

Anyone remembers? Or was it another three-wheeler?

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

anonymous, thank you for solving this. Post updated.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

beautiful, i like it !!!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great site, i like this

Anonymous Anonymous said...

For Eric...
The car that Mr Bean repeatedly shunts is a Reliant Regal Supervan. Here's a link



Blogger naldo said...

I used to have a Bond Bug. It was the most exciting car to drive that I've ever had. It would exceed an indicated 85mph if given enough (flat) road.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you want to do a piece of small tanks/military vehicles, then you should look at the German Wiesel vehicle: http://www.military-today.com/apc/wiesel_1.htm

Also the KRAKA (replaced by the Wiesel): http://www.panzerbaer.de/helper/bw_lkw_00-75t_gl_kraka-a.htm

Vehicles for airborne forces are a rich source of wierdness: http://www.portierramaryaire.com/foro/viewtopic.php?p=55490&sid=dfd0f02fe0442cdc0e4895cd59560a96 (scroll down past all the bikes to the Belgian AS24)

And the Hotchkiss: http://www.jedsite.info/fulltrack-hotel/hotel/hotchkiss-tt_series/hotchkisstt-series.html

Loads more - go looking!

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Thank you Weaver! Great info, will post about this. We covered some small tanks in our "Strange Tanks" series

Blogger Unknown said...

What about the Morgan 3 wheeler! An actually useful and well produced car with three wheels and a small motorcycle engine. A man up the street from me has one powered by a Matchless 1000 motorcycle engine.. WONDERFUL car...not much real use due to the lack of spares these days!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Terrific site! Disappointing that the 41" wide City-EL did not get mentioned, but that vehicle is too commonplace and practical, I assume!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A subcontractor on the farm I lived came with his big slow combine harvester on the farm - and his Isetta in the front of the harvester (into the header?). In the evening he drove home with his Isetta, came next morning, and works on with the harvester.
He did that till ~ 1985

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Markus - this is hilarious! Do you have any pictures? Send them in...

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Velorex (or Hadraplan) - leather covered, 3 wheele car is missing in your list.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

EXCELLENT PHOTOS! I have one of about 5 daily driven Mini-ELs imported to California until 1993. That Targa model was discontinued I believe; the German models have different roof design, but are mechanically very similar many years later.

Anonymous Joao Trindade said...

Hi! Great article!
Here's another one: Sado 550, a portuguese microcar sold in the '80s.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

On a more modern take:

Anonymous Michael Scott said...

And how did the Nash Rambler get left out of the list? Conveniently sized, nible on its feet and powered by an Austin-Devon A-40 engine (essentially the same engine used in the MGA), this car was an urban delight.

Blogger Jim McCorison said...

Here's another on for you, the Honda N600 and the "sporty" Z600. (http://www.honda600source.com/) Only made in the early 70's they had a 600cc air cooled two cylinder engine and seating for four, if you wanted to be really cruel to the people that sat in the back seat. They were arguably the first real compact car available in the USA. It was replace by the Honda Civic CVCC which came out in 1973.

I owned one in the mid 70's and it was a hoot. You couldn't drive rings around other cars because the turning radius was so small you drove rectangles around them. I always fantasized about putting a Porsche 914 transaxle in the back and turning it into a speedy little sleeper.

Blogger Beaugrand said...

The Fend Flitzer was a single-seater. The Fritz Fend-designed Messerschmitt KR175 and KR 200 (KR= Kabinroller, "cabin scooter") were tandem 2-seaters, and the 4-wheel "Messerschmitt Tiger" was not actually a Messerschmitt, nor was it officially called a "Tiger," but an FMR Tg 500- a continuation of the Kabinrollers, made after Messerschmitt pulled the use of their name. None of the Kabinrollers used any aircraft parts. The bubble canopies were purpose-made for the "Karoos."

Blogger Beaugrand said...

The "Nash Rambler" mentioned must have been the "Nash Metropolitan," which was an early "captive import" made for Nash by Austin. 2-seater with a "Continental" spare on the trunk (boot), removable hardtop, not really a "microcar."

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The red 3 wheel roadster shown just above the yellow Isetta with flower wagon on the first page, is called a Scootcoupe. An updated and improved model is still available in 50cc and 150cc versions.


Anonymous Trevor Stevenson said...

While Goggomobil was a Bavarian company, the Goggomobil Dart was developed and built in Australia by Buckle Motors Pty. Ltd. based in Sydney.


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