Home » 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
ADVERTISEMENT

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:

Screen Shot 2023 08 02 At 4.48.17 Pm

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

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

01212 2tsca5rxt00 0uy0ne 1200x900

ADVERTISEMENT

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

00i0i Dyvvyjxilau 0uy0ne 1200x900

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.

00j0j D1surbuiwvw 0uy0ne 1200x900

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.

00a0a J0zcfwfzixk 0uy0ne 1200x900

ADVERTISEMENT

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]

1996 Daihatsu Midget II – $7,900

00m0m Lqb7qgopwar 0jw0ed 1200x900

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

Location: Vancouver, BC

ADVERTISEMENT

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?

00a0a 17ohwfwpl4n 0jw0ed 1200x900

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

00q0q Jjqafojjldy 0jw0ed 1200x900

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.

00s0s L2jhmxrjpia 0jw0ed 1200x900

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?

ADVERTISEMENT

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
84 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Farty McSprinkles
Farty McSprinkles
11 months ago

Fiat, but I would have voted for the Midget if it had 2 seats.

Great matchup today. Two interesting vehicles, even if they are a bit expensive.

Jesus Chrysler drives a Dodge
Jesus Chrysler drives a Dodge
11 months ago

“Maluch” does literally mean “small one,” but in actual use it means “runt.”

The unique combination of exasperation, resigned ingenuity, and respect for these Iron Curtain cars is hard to understand by westerners. Few drivers would have sought them out if they had a choice, but all who did squeezed out more fun and utility than the car had a right to deliver.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
11 months ago

I went to a work assignment in Dresden, Germany a few years after the wall came down (the former East Germans called it “the changes”). I was expecting to see lots of Trabants on the road but there were almost none. The locals got rid of them as fast as possible and owning one went from being a status symbol to a mark of shame.

CSRoad
CSRoad
11 months ago

The trucklet is my choice, for the price I’d want a front bumper and no corner dings in the Polski Fiat.

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
11 months ago

The only problem I see with the Fiat is the missing front bumper, since they’re asking top dollar for it. I’m sure a replacement is available, and almost as sure you’d be paying more to get it shipped from Poland than for the part itself.

Nycbjr
Nycbjr
11 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

that is a swing and a miss.. put the bumper back!

El Chubbacabra
El Chubbacabra
11 months ago

Tough choice indeed. The Midget is cute and all but I choose Fiat for one reason: my brother used to have one.
Going 60 mph in this thing felt faster than anything I drove ever since.
(It also felt like it’s going to fall apart any moment)

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
11 months ago

I’m taking the Fiat. It can hold at least 2 people in it. If I’m going to be driving this around, that slow, I want someone to talk to during the slow journey

EmotionalSupportBMW
EmotionalSupportBMW
11 months ago

Dzien Dobry comrades! That Polski goes harder than a perestroika McDonalds. It’s the people’s Ferrari. In global communism no one needs more than 25 horsepower. If you late for work, what are they going to do? Fire you? Be the Supreme Soviet of the Suburbs. Show the world that things can have value regardless of their utility. By looking like the coolest dude in 1980’s Wrocław as you sit in a Arby’s drive-thru.

VolksWinkle
VolksWinkle
11 months ago

COTD Comrade!!

Dar Khorse
Dar Khorse
11 months ago

This was a tough choice and I predict it will be a very close race, but I had to go with the FIAT. The trucklet is cute but the Maluch just oozes charm. I love the textured seat fabric, the clean, minimalist dash, that lovely tall shifter, and that adorable little face! Plus, while you might drive around alone most of the time, who doesn’t want the option of taking a friend along? What if you meet up with some drop-dead gorgeous supermodel who simply looooves small foreign cars? You gonna put them in the back of the Daihatsu? I don’t think so. Plus, you can find 3 cylinders all day long, but how many people can brag about having an engine that’s not only air-cooled but also… checks calculations… HALF the size of a VW Beetle engine?

Last edited 11 months ago by Dar Khorse
Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
11 months ago
Reply to  Dar Khorse

Supermodel goes on my lap of course

V10omous
V10omous
11 months ago

Neither of these are my cup of tea, but just wanted to point out how funny it is to have two cupholders in a vehicle with one seat.

A. Barth
A. Barth
11 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

One beverage with caffeine, one without. 🙂

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
11 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

I don’t find that weird at all. A single cupholder is annoying. With a single cupholder, empty cans or extra cans/bottles often end up on the floor rolling around the vehicle while driving. It can be distracting, and sometimes these containers open or leak. Also, it is a stretch to say the Daihatsu has two cupholders. It doesn’t look like you could actually fit two containers in there – more like you could fit one large container or one smaller container. If anything, this vehicle needs more cupholders.

I’m not trying to argue a stupid point here. I genuinely find extra cupholders very useful.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
11 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

Staying hydrated is very important in this year’s heat wave. The Daihatsu engineers were just thinking ahead.

A. Barth
A. Barth
11 months ago

Daihatsu, please!

Normally I would be heading straight for the Fiat (imagine that) but I love love love a small truck, and this is a very small truck indeed.

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.

I was picturing a dishwasher or similar – an actual big box that would take up the entire bed and possibly be higher than the roof. Ratchet strap it to the roll bar and zip away! 😀

The seller of the trucklet will also handle the import paperwork, etc. and transport it to the US, which would take a lot of the annoyance out of the process. I’m in!

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
11 months ago

You had me at “little truck.”

NewBalanceExtraWide
NewBalanceExtraWide
11 months ago

I voted for the Fiat, just to drive a car that looks exactly like the “can’t argue with that” meme.

NewBalanceExtraWide
NewBalanceExtraWide
11 months ago

Obviously this comment would kill with pictures enabled, but it’s the second frame of this:
https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/cant-argue-with-that-technically-not-wrong

David Frisby
David Frisby
11 months ago

There are smaller ways to cross the US… Even 2 cylinders is luxurious.
Have a watch of this guy, in his ‘jeep’. This is Pt 1 of 5
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8Bvy8wHD7g

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
11 months ago
Reply to  David Frisby

That should be David Tracy!

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
11 months ago

This is a difficult choice. Small weird imports are fun. I’ll go with the Daihatsu because it is the smaller and weirder of the two. Also, I love the color. My only concern is whether a larger America like myself could even fit in a Kei trucklet. Hopefully it is roomier than it appears?

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
11 months ago

The Midget looks nice, but those were used around my university campus a few decades back by the maintenance folks, and I can’t unsee that fact whenever I look at it. For that reason, and the fact that it looks kind of fun, I’m going with the Fiat.

Ant
Ant
11 months ago

As a fan of both small Italian and Japanese cars, this is very tough indeed. Midget takes it by a whisker because of a quarter-century of wanting one since its appearance in Gran Turismo 2.

Chronometric
Chronometric
11 months ago

I like them both but am more partial to some other Kei Trucks. Polski is kinda pricey but it’s my pick.

10001010
10001010
11 months ago

I wonder if there exists a car with both? Hmm, actually – I just thought of one.

When I was 16 I worked in a seafood restaurant and my manager (the owner’s daughter) drove one of these Montes, exact same color and everything. She also had a flat-top mullet which I believe is the required haircut while driving one of these.

Anyhow, today I really really want a “Both” option.

Last edited 11 months ago by 10001010
Outofstep
Outofstep
11 months ago

Teal!!! I voted Midget II just because of the color. I also might have been swayed by Mighty Car Mods Midget build.

https://youtu.be/uIhgSRdreUk

10001010
10001010
11 months ago
Reply to  Outofstep

Moog’s Midget also swayed my vote 😉

A. Barth
A. Barth
11 months ago
Reply to  Outofstep

Thank you for the link! I definitely need to watch that.

Outofstep
Outofstep
11 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

You’re welcome and you won’t be disappointed. They took all the separate videos of the build and just put it into one long episode. I’m currently rewatching it at work. Productivity is down but happiness is up.

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
11 months ago

I adore that Daihatsu for many reasons, but I have to go with the Polish Fiat (Piat?) today. The potential spread of anti-kei car laws across the US could leave me with a mini truck I can no longer take off my property and a massive loss in value.

The Piat also has potential for a relatively simple EV swap if the current lawn mower engine fails. All you’d really need is a motor and battery combo that will get it up to 60mph with around 80 miles of range so you can scoot around town with it.

Drew
Drew
11 months ago

The color! The utility! The ability to tell even a single potential passenger there’s no room!

Eva
Eva
11 months ago

Dankpods exploits with Tony, his own Fiat 126 has won me over to the little guy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBNw3kwAkYs&list=PLCQhb62iYscBu6w2xul0WHC6nmA_hsSI0&pp=iAQB

IanGTCS
IanGTCS
11 months ago

As much as I like the idea of having a kei truck this Diahatsu just isn’t the one for me. I’d like the extra seat even for dry storage and a (slightly) larger bed. The Fiat also looks like a more fun car.

Brandon Forbes
Brandon Forbes
11 months ago

Both would be fun. I love the teal midget far too much! And it would be funny to have a JDM car that was not RHD. Though it kinda still is with the shifter on the left there, but still. Went for the Fiat mostly because I would have more use for it. I do not go over 45 on my way to work, so something like that could actually be a commuter for me and it’s just funny.

Cheats McCheats
Cheats McCheats
11 months ago

Came in expecting to vote the Diahatsu. Nope, I am taking the LADA for sure.

1 2 3
84
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x