Home ยป Not Even A Full Liter: 1985 Fiat 126P vs 1996 Daihatsu Midget

Not Even A Full Liter: 1985 Fiat 126P vs 1996 Daihatsu Midget

Sbsd 8 3 2023a
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Good morning, Autopians! Today we’re changing gears a bit, so to speak, and looking at a couple of very small cars with largish price tags. Why? Because they’re cute and I like them. But first, let’s see if you managed to find anything nice to say about yesterday’s derelict Mopars:

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Comfortable win for the little Turismo. And I was happy to see that most of you aced the assignment: it appears that orange graphics and red interiors are both big hits. I wonder if there exists a car with both? Hmm, actually – I just thought of one.

Today’s cars have but five cylinders and not even sixty horsepower between them. It’s a study in minimalism, you might say, as we check out one Eastern Bloc people-mover and one Japanese bare minimum for what you might consider a truck. Let’s check them out.

1985 Polski Fiat 126P – $9,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 650cc overhead valve inline 2, four-speed manual, RWD

Location: Stanwood, WA

Odometer reading: 88,000 kilometers

Runs/drives? Just fine

Fiat had a terrible reputation in the US by the end of their original run here, but in Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, their cars were icons, even if built in different factories and sold under different names. The Fiat 124-based Lada sedans ruled the roads in Soviet bloc countries, but in Poland, the smaller rear-engined 126, built under license by FSM, was king. With a basic design dating all the way back to the 1950s, this little two-cylinder air-cooled wonder was nicknamed “Maluch,” meaning “small one.” And small it is indeed, at only ten feet long.

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But despite having an overall length shorter than the wheelbase of a 1970s Ford LTD, this was a family car in Poland. And really, there’s quite a lot of room in there, considering the size of the car. Sticking an air-cooled engine out behind the rear axle gives you a lot more room in the rest of the car to play with, as Volkswagen engineers were also aware.

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The 126’s engine is a 650cc inline twin making 24 horsepower. Yep, that’s it; there are riding lawnmowers in the US with as much power. But maybe there’s a lesson to be learned here: We can get by with less. We just choose not to. Besides, it’s a rear-engine car; you want to have some fun with it? Just find a gravel road.

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Yes, it’s expensive. But it’s a bona-fide piece of automotive history, a car that occupies a bigger psychic space than its physical space in the automotive pantheon. And where are you going to find another one this clean, already in this country?

[Editor’s Note: I absolutely love these things. โ€“ JT]

1996 Daihatsu Midget II – $7,900

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Engine/drivetrain: 659cc overhead cam inline 3, four-speed manual, RWD

Location: Vancouver, BC

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Odometer reading: 51,000 kilometers

Runs/drives? Great!

It’s a simple fact that most people in this country, myself included, drive around by themselves most of the time. The last car I sold, a Toyota Corolla with nearly three hundred thousand miles on it, had a completely worn-out driver’s seat and pristine passenger and rear seats. I don’t think anyone ever actually sat in the back of that car, ever. Which begs the question: Why is every car a four-door? Why, in fact, do you need more than one seat at all?

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May I present to you the Daihatsu Midget, a single-seat utility vehicle available as a pickup or van. It’s ten feet long and five feet wide. Its little three-cylinder engine resides under the seat (because where else are you going to put it?) and drives the rear wheels through a four-speed stick. Interestingly, you could get a Midget with a passenger seat – if you got an automatic, which had a column shift.

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Obviously, this isn’t going to be a super-capable truck. With only 30 horsepower and short gearing, I doubt it can even attain minimum highway speeds in America. But for around-town errands, it could work fine. I could see it being used by a florist for deliveries, or something. And it would be hilarious to drive it to a big-box home improvement store, buy three bags of mulch or something… and then ask for help loading.

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It’s in nice shape, and the alloy wheels and oh-so-cute chrome rollbar are nice touches. And yes, that is in fact the spare tire under that cover on the nose. Again, where else are you going to put it? The seller says this little truck runs well, and comes with a warranty. They are also able to handle the import paperwork to bring it into the US for you. It is over 25 years old now, after all.

No, I know neither of these cars is really serious transportation. They’re weekend toys, and expensive ones at that. But lots of people have spent lots more money on far sillier vehicles. And not every “fun car” has to be a tire-shredding monster or a razor-sharp track weapon. These two are all about puttering around waving at people as you pass. And couldn’t we all use a little more of that? So what’ll it be: Polish-Italian rear-engine coupe, or single-seat Japanese trucklet?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Phyrkrakr
Phyrkrakr
1 month ago

I picked the Midget because I figured most people would pick the Fiat, but I want to point something out in that first Midget photo: is that a LOCKING gas door?! As in, to prevent someone from siphoning BOTH gallons of gas out of the tank?

Instagr.am/JakobKsGarage
Instagr.am/JakobKsGarage
1 month ago

i would love a 126, don’t care if it’s Italian or Polish, but please one with a front bumper ๐Ÿ˜‰

Silent But Deadly
Silent But Deadly
1 month ago

Sorry. Can’t. Too expensive. And the Fiat that probably isn’t a Fiat has no redeeming features. It didn’t as a used car back in 1993 and it sure as fuck doesn’t now.

pizzaman09
pizzaman09
1 month ago

The Fiat 126 is my all time favorite Fiat. It’s just adorable and a little sad looking, it makes you want to take it home and care for it.

Plus an engine upgrade to a bike engine makes them roudy little cars.

Classic and Clunker
Classic and Clunker
1 month ago

As tempting as the Midget would be, I’d have to go for the 126p. I’m onto my third one, Down Under – I just love how simple they are. They used to be cheap, but not any more. Plus, for truck duties I already have a Suzuki Mighty Boy

GertVAG
GertVAG
1 month ago

Friend of mine had a Polski Fiat, genius little thing, his was also white and nicknamed “Spookje” (Little ghost in Dutch). I voted for the Fiat even though I also appreciate the absurdity of the Daihatsu, the driving dynamics and potential rallying shenanigans (just look on youtube for Fiat 126 rally) are too good to pass up. And the higher cost seems ok by me if it is rustfree. Which they are not often.

SonOfLP500
SonOfLP500
1 month ago

I know tall people can drive both of these. I’m 6’1 and drove a Midget, my brother is 6’3 and drove a 126.
Maybe the Midget is one of the very few cars that is preferable with an automatic. I have only driven a manual: the first 3 gears are laughably low ratio and very closely spaced, so you are frantically revving the engine and changing gears to get up to about 25mph. Then there is a huge jump to fourth, so accelerating to top “speed” will take you until next year.

Atszekelyhidi
Atszekelyhidi
1 month ago
Reply to  SonOfLP500

Those are rookie numbers. I am 201 cm and was only able to drive the Fiat 126 from the back seat, as the steering wheel made my right leg line up with the gear lever, rendering it inoperable. From the back seat it was okay, only the forward visibility was limited as the windshield was more than a meter away ๐Ÿ™‚

SonOfLP500
SonOfLP500
1 month ago
Reply to  Atszekelyhidi

!!

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
1 month ago

I voted Daihatsu because it’s the perfect vehicle for my 5’1″ wife to drive to the garden center to pick up miniature roses and small bags of potting soil

Brunsworks
Brunsworks
1 month ago

Tough choice for this one. I picked the Midget, because it’s hilarious.

Scott
Scott
1 month ago

I like them both! Big surprise, I know, since I probably share a few chromosomes with Mark, as well as with Jason. ๐Ÿ˜‰

But as clean, understated and pleasingly basic as that Fiat is, I had to vote for the Daihatsu, since I’m a fan of those weird little things with their central (more or less) seating, round/binnacle sealed beam (?) headlights, and that low and little but still useful looking bed. I wouldn’t hesitate to bring home a major appliance with one of these, assisted by plenty of ratchet straps of course. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’ve seen these things racing on Youtube, and lemme tell you: that’s entertainment. Also, that metallic teal is the best color these come in, and a pleasant change from the usual shades found on kei trucks (with plain white being predominant of course).

Sadly, as far as I understand the situation, it’s not possible to legally register/insure/drive a kei-class vehicle in California, even if it’s legally imported once 25+ years old. This excepts the show-and-display types of course. It’s a friggin’ shame IMO, and seems WEIRD to me, given how progressive the state is with so many other things, including CARB stuff related to cleaner summer gas, lower emissions, longer warranties on some EV batteries, etc…

It can’t be a nanny-state safety thing… after all, CA happily lets folks drive motorcycles (and bicycles of course) all over, and it’s safe to say that motor/cyclists risk much more severe injury in a collision with a car than a motorist does. Therefore, the fact that old kei cars and trucks would never meet contemporary or current-day safety standards ought to be moot: if I want to Daihatsu it around town and am aware that doing so is riskier (to me) than taking my Volvo (or even my NA Miata) it should be my choice.

Grrrrr!

If someone out there knows the genesis behind California’s resistance to kei car registration, while they can be registered in other states, I’d love to hear about it. I suspect skullduggery!

Iwannadrive637
Iwannadrive637
1 month ago

They’re both great but that Midget is too adorable. Someone with skills needs to mount a tiny fifth wheel in the bed and make a tiny semi trailer to go with it. Be the star of any car meet.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 month ago

Been a hell of a day and I’m just getting to vote. Fiat for me today, clean looking little car for around town.

Kody Dagley
Kody Dagley
1 month ago

126P hands down, as much as I love the Daihatsu! Hoping to import a 126p here to Canada in the next few years…

Love them so much I even wrote a history / guide to the 126P over on Opposite-lock if anybody wanted to take a read!
https://opposite-lock.com/topic/53136/the-fiat-126-and-126p-a-historical-guide/1

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