Home » Is This Odd Trunk Design Better Than A Hatchback?

Is This Odd Trunk Design Better Than A Hatchback?

Fiat126np Top

I think for many of us out there, the humble and practical hatchback or liftback or whatever you want to call it represents the acme of automotive loading practicality. And, generally, I think this is true! But that doesn’t mean I’m not curious about other ways and ideas. I happened to see a picture as I was researching another story that got me thinking: could this be, somehow, an even better solution than the venerable hatchback in terms of usability and flexibility? Also, I’m not even sure this method I’m going to show you was entirely intentional, either, which makes it more interesting. The car is the stillborn Polski-Fiat 126p NP, so let’s get to it.

The Polski-Fiat 126p NP was an experimental project that sought to modernize the Polish people’s car, the humble Fiat 126p, also known as the Maluch (that’s “toddler” in Polish) from a rear-engine design to a more modern transverse front engine/FWD design. The 126p (a license-built version of the original Fiat 126) always had a design that looked like it would be a hatchback, but wasn’t. Well, not at first. All 126ps had a front trunk and most had a rear engine lid that opened like this:

126 Bothends

Now, not all 126s had that; an updated version called the “126 Bis” had the little inline-twin engine laid flat and a lower luggage floor and hatchback design was used:


It was a real packaging triumph! Impressive work, Polski-Fiat!

Anyway, even this refinement seems to have not been enough, which is why the company started work in May of 1977 on the NP version, with NP referring to the Polish words napęd na przednie koła, which means “front wheel drive.” They had to stretch the front end to fit the little engine, even turned sideways, and gave it MacPherson struts and rack-and-pinion steering and all that goodness, and I think managed a pretty decent-seeming radical drivetrain flip of the little car.

126np 1

There seems to have been a few prototypes built, as you can see above, and while they look pretty similar, around rear there seems to be at least two different types. One has a full hatch, like the Bis and so many other cars of this era, and I suspect this is likely what the company’s desired end goal was:

126np Rearhatch

But there’s also a version that has this strange, bottom-hinged trunk lid that opens down and back:

126np Rear Trunk

It may seem an unusual choice until you realize that that is simply the way the rear-engined Fiat 126p’s engine lid opened:

126p Engine

So, my guess is this prototype just didn’t bother changing it, figuring eventually they’ll build ones with a proper hatch. But, this got me thinking – what if this type of trunk lid is better?

I know it looks awkward, but hear me out: a trunk lid like this could serve to become a large-object loading platform easily. This idea isn’t new – the Mini was doing it since 1959 – but unlike the Mini the angled shape of this trunk lid offers a lot more ability to keep cargo secure.

Mini Platform

I’ve toyed with the idea of a flip-down, long tailgate before, but even then I was just thinking flat flip-down lids; an angled lid like this offers a lot more, I think.

Imagine if you had something like this, with roll-out top and side covers for the rear lid, making it at least somewhat weatherproofed and enclosed:

Roll Outpanels

I think something like this [Editor’s Note: Looks like a deployable truck bed! -DT] could help with one of the biggest drawbacks of the hatchback design: that it’s contiguous with the interior of the car. Sure, you can have fold-down back seats in either design, and you should! You want to be able to carry long stuff in both, after all.

But the flip-down, angled-lid design could carry an awful lot of things that are messy and it wouldn’t make the inside of your car a mess, something I feel like I’ve had to deal with in hatchbacks forever. Sometimes you want a real separation of your cargo and passenger spaces, and a solution like this, that can readily handle oversized loads without leaving the whole back of your car open to the elements and grime, seems like a good idea.

Plus, lots of hatchbacks have real exhaust impingement issues, and technically many carmakers don’t recommend driving with the hatch open, so even if you can fit that lawnmower in there with the door open, you may not want to drive very far like that. Plus, there’s the issue of securing the open hatch, so it doesn’t smack on whatever you’re carrying and damage the hatch or the stuff.

Let’s pro and con this design with a normal hatch:

Normal Hatch

Pros: Well-understood, large opening for cargo, very adaptable, easy to load/unload

Cons: Interior gets messy depending on what you’re hauling, exhaust issues when driving with hatch open, securing hatch can be a pain, opening in parking decks with low ceilings can be an issue, leaving open for large items exposes passenger area to elements

Drop-Down Angled Trunk Lid

Pros: Can make a good-sized load platform for large cargo, separates cargo area from passenger area, no height issues when opening

Cons: Could be awkward to open/load from directly behind, lack of opening window could restrict carrying some items, possibility to overload and damage trunk lid

Hm. I think there’s arguments to be made for either side. Which is exactly what I encourage everyone to do in the comments here: argue! Am I an idiot for liking this? Should I have taken a hint from Polski Fiat, who never went through with this? Let me know!


Automakers Have Refused To Design A Full-Length Tailgate But I Think That’s A Mistake

Here’s The Original Volkswagen Beetle’s Most Baffling Design Decision

German EV Makers Don’t Seem To Care About Frunks And I Think That’s Pretty Weird

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32 Responses

    1. That’s the spirit. My car has a boot like the original Mini, and it is idiotic, and a large part of why I bought it. I’ve never tried using the open lid to fit large items, mainly because I have a bunch of spare parts and original literature stored back there.

  1. Why not both? Hatch on top, pop out lid on the bottom with separate latches so either one or both could be opened. With clever enough engineering, a full hatch/side opening hinge would be possible for the bottom as well.

    1. Why do separate laches? Why not follow those fancy windows for home, turn the handle clockwise and the window opens to the side, anticlockwise and it opens to the bottom, turn it a full half-turn and it opens at the top

      1. Those old wagons where the rear door hinged down or to the side (I had an 80’s model Impala that did just this) were super useful and convenient. You could haul long things just like a pickup truck. Why do we not have any current SUV’s with this configuration?

  2. I like it. Since it was an engine compartment, I suspect it will do at least as well as a normal trunk at minimizing sound, which is a lot better than my hatch. Of course, if I were relying on one vehicle only, it would likely be less useful than a hatch.

    I’d also be worried that the lid couldn’t handle enough weight, which could be awful.

  3. I can tell you that it’s way better than what the VW Rabbit/Cabrio and MINI Cooper did with “trunk lids” on their convertibles. I briefly owned the VW, and the flip up trunk lid was a very bad thing.

  4. Nah, the clamshell would get in the way all the time. A sliding tray would be a better option, with a flip-up lip at the end to stop things flying away, and a bunch of tie-down points for securing cargo. If you need to keep your cargo dry, well, that’s what tarps are for. Also, the rear portion of hatchbacks and wagons should be made of something more rugged and cleanable than fucking carpet.

    My real-life solution is to keep a piece of old commercial carpeting back there. That works for most things. Although, now that I have a car whose interior I actually care about, I did need to borrow a friend’s truck when I wanted to haul a load of rusty scrap metal. That stuff was sharp and I didn’t want it tearing the headliner and scratching up the trim. It would be nice if it was more of a truck-bed-like environment back there, I mean it’s a cargo area after all.

  5. I think it’s better than a hatchback but only because your open cargo area is separated from the cab.

    That being said I think the best way to haul stuff with a car is a trailer. Otherwise get a proper truck or SUV to haul your stuff. Work vehicles are for work, cars are for personal transport of people. No car is great for work and no work vehicle is great for the personal transport of people.

    For example the Ford Maverick is an attempt to make a car into a work vehicle, in doing so they made a unibody 4.5ft bed having pickup that is 6.6 inches longer and 5.9 inches wider than my 1994 Toyota Pickup xtra cab with a 6.5ft bed (both have seating for 5).

    Crew cab short bed pickups are work vehicles made to be personal transport and in doing so they have too short of a bed to be useful as a pickup while getting horrible gas mileage and putting everyone else with a smaller automobile in serious danger because someone who doesn’t need a work vehicle but just got one for the F of it.

    Get rid of the footprint rule and bring back “mini” Trucks. They were the best option for people who want to drive a truck but don’t need one all the time. You got much better MPG than full size Trucks, had a much easier time parking them, they were much cheaper than full size Trucks, they had low deck heights, lower CG, etc.

    With modern tech “mini” Trucks could push past 30 MPG highway easily using under stressed naturally aspirated engines either with a (6 or 7 speed) manual or a e-CVT (for the automatic option) while being much more durable than the unibody “small” pickups being made today. The issue is that dang footprint rule.

    1. As someone who has one? NO.
      A full hatch would be remarkably better; the EG clamhatch is almost always just a little bit smaller than it should be, has a significant lip to heft stuff over because of the lower door, and when the window is open the curve channels rainwater directly into the cargo area. A regular hatch is immensely more practical.

      1. Honda tried a few odd trunk lid layouts in the late 80s, early 90s. My Honda Today has a drop down tailgate but a fixed rear window. There was also the mid-eighties Accord Aerodeck with the rear lid extended way into the roof of the car, and the CR-X’ extra rear window was cool (I know, Maserati had done it a decade earlier).

  6. If this had actually made it in to production we would have a grainy cell phone photo from 04 with a guy hauling a whole ass cow on his fold down polski decklid.

  7. The Mini wasn’t the first British car with the drop-down luggage platform, either. It was done on some Austin, Morris and British Ford models going back to the ’30s.

  8. Depending on cargo weight, could dangerously transfer center of gravity too far back, possibly resulting in decreased, or lost, traction and steering. Could make a fun rumble seat, though.

  9. While the look is interesting, just thinking about the life over and the 10,000th time scraping my hand on that lid makes me go no.

    For Engine access, sure. Cargo, that is a non-starter for me.

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