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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. – JT]
Engine/drivetrain: 659cc overhead cam inline 3, four-speed manual, RWD
Location: Vancouver, BC
Odometer reading: 51,000 kilometers
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?
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.
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.
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?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)