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

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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. – 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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Masa
Masa
11 months ago

FIAT made a version called the “Bis” which is the one I drove around with for a year or two. I thought it wasn’t a bad car at all (driven cars that were much much worse), considerably different than the standard 126p. The good thing with all versions of the 126 is that, to this day, it’s still very easy to get replacement parts…but like with everything these days, prices for even simple parts are getting expensive and often need to be shipped from the UK or EU.

I only know a bit about the first generation Midget. I see the first generation version a few times in Japan, but mostly by collectors now. If anything goes wrong with it, I imagine it will be tough to fix.

If I had to pick one, I would go with the 126 given that I’m more familiar with it (happen to be rebuilding a 126P engine from a 500R now!).

Last edited 11 months ago by Masa
Myk El
Myk El
11 months ago

I like the little truck, and I could actually get some use out of it.

FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
11 months ago

The Fiat’s cute, but the Daihatsu’s cuter, and it’s turquoise. I even adore its silly pretend-window black trim. I agree with acrimoniousmofo below.

Plus, I think I’d get more use out of a tiny pickup than my very own (almost too nice) version of Tony, so Midget it is.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
11 months ago

I vote daihatsu because a real color, can work as a grocery getter, manual. But neither of todays are worth the ask at over $3,000 per cylinder.

Erik Hancock
Erik Hancock
11 months ago

Got to go with the kooky Daihatsu – I’ve got a soft spot for kei trucks. On the other hand, for a car that is supposed to be so rare in this country, it seems like that Fiat 126p is everywhere on my Facebook feed. No joke, there are three for sale within a hundred miles of my house right now. Maybe it’s that Autopian algorithm at work…

Last edited 11 months ago by Erik Hancock
David Fernandez
David Fernandez
11 months ago

As great as both of these are. No contest for me as I’ve been listing for a Daihatsu Midget for a while now. And this one is in one of my favorite colors!

Cyko9
Cyko9
11 months ago

I really like the Daihatsu, but it’s very limited in purpose. Were it slightly larger, even comparably priced to the Fiat, I’d choose it. Instead, today’s vote goes to the little Fiat for multi-use around-towning.

Theotherotter
Theotherotter
11 months ago

I’d choose the Maluch every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdBuwzRAEAw&t=92s
“Kurwa!!”

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
11 months ago

REAR ENGINE IS BEST ENGINE LET’S GOOOOOOOOO

Acrimonious Mofo
Acrimonious Mofo
11 months ago

I love both of these choices–that’s not a first on here, but it is a rarity. What a delightful, cheery pairing. I thought about this for quite sometime, and ultimately I’d rather have the Daihatsu. It is just absolutely absurd. The chrome, black, and teal is the right kind of garish, and everywhere the FIAT is trying to be “normal” the Daihatsu is trying to be as fun as saying Daihatsu out loud. It’s like a little anti-pickup truck, and I’m all for it.

Goblin
Goblin
11 months ago

The P126’s only upside is that it was featured in the very cute Polish movie with the difficult to post in forums name of P0rno, where it provides an answer to the eternal question of – is it large enough to make love in. It is an absolutely priceless scene in an absolutely priceless movie.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100388/

Otherwise, the fact that any four-figures USD price can be asked for this unnamable and very cute POS, much less starting with a nine, is the final proof of how much is wrong with today’s world.

To explain at least in part my tender feelings – this was not a cutsy car for a cutsy owner, or for a highschooler, or for a second or third car (similar feelings towards any Trabant or ZAZ) – this was the only accessible choice for full-sized families that could not wait the long line and/or did not have the four years of income readily available to spend in one sweep to buy a Lada-sized sedan.

So they could buy this, for just two-years worth of income (if they didn’t eat or live, and saved it all).

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
11 months ago

I am really torn. I genuinely like both, but prefer the FIAT. However, 9 large? Ouch.

The trucklet would be goofy fun, but since it’s not going to be highway worthy and more likely used as a site-based/neighborhood vehicle it seems like you could get equivalent utility for a lot less. Therefore, you’re paying for the cuteness and the giggles. It could still be worth it.

As I said the FIAT is too much money, but it’s in really good shape so it doesn’t need much money dumped in it, can act as reasonably practical supplementary transportation and given its excellent condition you can show up at any car show and be proud of “what you brung”.

I’m voting FIAT here, but no guff to anyone that chooses the other way.

LATE NOTE: Also, the need to import the trucklet and the recent spate of states refusing to register kei-class vehicles move the needle towards the FIAT.

Last edited 11 months ago by OrigamiSensei
Jonee Eisen
Jonee Eisen
11 months ago

I want them both. I had an original Midget for a while and it was amazing. And it was an original U.S. import. It was called the Trimobile here. Mine had belonged to a Lockheed plant here in So. Cal. The Maluch is so cool, but I feel like I could import a good one for less, so the Daihatsu got my vote.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
11 months ago

Daihatsu for me as it is far more likely to be a reliable and decent vehicle. The original Fiat 126 wasn’t that great. And the Soviet bloc version was definitely much worse.

Stephen Reed
Stephen Reed
11 months ago

I’m choosing the Fiat because TONY. (Watch Garbage Time on YouTube if you don’t understand.)

DaChicken
DaChicken
11 months ago

Tough choice, but I’ll go for the Fiat. As much as I like the trucklet, the Fiat would be more useful for me. I want to see it with a simple EV conversion for running around town. Price is way more than I’d spend for a toy, though.

Sandshadow
Sandshadow
11 months ago

The Midget would be an awesome pizza delivery vehicle with an insulated box in the bed.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
11 months ago

I love them both, but I went with the Fiat for two reasons. First, I seriously doubt I could fit my fat guy behind the wheel of the Midget. Second, since I live in Chicago, home to the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw, a Polski Fiat would get me some serious street cred.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
11 months ago
Reply to  Shop-Teacher

 First, I seriously doubt I could fit my fat guy behind the wheel of the Midget. “

All we need is some Vaseline and a shoehorn and we can make you fit…

El Jefe de Barbacoa
El Jefe de Barbacoa
11 months ago

He’s not falling for that one again.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
11 months ago

Fool me once …

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
11 months ago

I saw that Fiat at a car show in Tacoma a few months ago. It looked to be in good shape, at the very least as good as the photos suggest, and the owner was enthusiastic about it. I’m a little surprised he’s offering it for sale.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
11 months ago

This is a tough one. I voted Fiat just for the fun factor but I’m still questioning that choice.
I don’t think anyone at my local home improvement store would bat an eye if they came out to help load up a Midget.
I see Kei trucks all over the place in Seattle, which is great. They make a lot of sense in this city.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
11 months ago

People on this site are always whining about needing more small trucks with friendly faces. Well here is one of the smallest and friendliest, and >half of you are voting against it! Damn hypocrites!

Last edited 11 months ago by MaximillianMeen
Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
11 months ago

Yeah, that truck is awesome

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
11 months ago

But it isnt a truck.

Ricki
Ricki
11 months ago

Going with the Fiat solely on its Dank Pods/Garbage Time “Tony the horrible econobox” status. It’s dead simple, gets remarkable mileage (because it is tiny and underpowered), and in this case, is in amazing shape. It’s overpriced, but it ain’t my internet money.

The Midget is neat, but I feel like a side-by-side would do everything this wants to do better. And lord knows in the rural US those may as well be kei trucks.

Stephen Reed
Stephen Reed
11 months ago
Reply to  Ricki

I’m so glad someone else here is a fan. I went the same way for the same reason.

XLEJim700
XLEJim700
11 months ago

I had to go Fiat. I have so many fond memories of my ’71 850 where I was the “autista veloce”: 40 mph felt like 90, and the ride to my job was a long stretch of The Mille Miglia!

When the top went down the thrills went up!

Full disclosure: I was 22.

SuperNova
SuperNova
11 months ago

Although I love a one seater, I just can’t imagine I could get that down the laneway in February with 2 feet of Canadian snow on the ground.

Citrus
Citrus
11 months ago

It’s very likely I won’t fit in either of them. But the Midget is so happy I can’t say no.

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