Small but perfectly formed: We round up some of the best microcars
They might not have size or in most cases speed, but the smallest cars in the world generally make up for it with huge amounts of character. Microcars have got a lot to offer, and with a small but loyal following, prices of these compact cars have seen some serious rises in the last five years. Generally born out of a need to get people on the road as cheaply as possible, early manufacturers came up with some fantastic ways of packaging engines, suspension and passengers into cars.
We’ve chosen a few of our favourites, as well as a couple that might just raise a few eyebrows!
It might have started out as an Italian creation, but BMW really took the tiny bubble car to new levels when it acquired a licence to build the 250 and 300 models. Powered by a 297cc motorcycle engine, the frugal three-wheeler was just what the company need to offset its failing luxury models in the wake of the Suez crisis. Weighing just 350kg meant that the Isetta could just about hit a top speed of 60mph.
The later BMW 600 saw the formula change slightly, retaining the front hinged door, but gaining an extra wheel, extended wheelbase and most importantly a rear seat, making this a budget choice for growing families at the time.
Messerschmitt KR175, KR200 and Tg500 ‘Tiger’
Messerschmitt was a name synonymous with aircraft, but much like the BMW, the original KR175 and KR200 models were built to mobilise those less well off German families. Based on the cockpit of a Messerschmitt plane, these are hugely popular today, and considering the limitations can be a lot of fun to drive. The highly-collectable Tg500 was given a fourth wheel and an uprated 20bhp Sachs twin-cylinder engine for extra performance.
If there is a car that condenses all that was big in 1970s fashion, then this was it. It really was a silly car, built as a bit of fun by Reliant. Its wedge styling and bright colour scheme aside, the Bug could seat two passengers who are given access from the top canopy. It still has a big following, and some people even stick uprated engines in them for a bit of fun!
It was a little-known curio until featured on the Top Gear TV show a few years back, when it was thrust into the public eye. It’s real claim to fame is that it in fact the world’s smallest production car. With just 50 produced, and around half of those remaining, demand for the original is much higher than supply could handle, and in 2010 company recently started to produce replicas.
Perhaps the Fiat 500 blurs the margins a little here, but if you see one parked up alongside a new 500 – which is considered a small car today – the original is almost unbelievably tiny. This rear-engined Fiat was responsible for getting the Italian people off bikes and into cars. Most models feature a 18bhp twin-cylinder engine, although hotter Abarth versions turned up the heat to 40bhp.
It might have had a Lotus-developed chassis, but the Sinclair C5 isn’t remembered with the fondest of memories, effectively bankrupting Clive Sinclair’s successful computer business due to slow sales and production issues. It was powered by a washing machine motor, and thanks to the fairly poor batteries of the day could only manage a range of 15-20 miles before you had to pedal. Perhaps a vision of the future, just 30 years ahead of its time…
If you like small cars, then you’d love some of the things Japan has produced for its tax-busting Kei car class, like this Subaru 360. When you think Subaru, the first thing that comes to mind is generally warbling flat-four Impreza rally cars, but the 360 was actually quite advanced in many ways, like its independent suspension.
The modern alternatives… but will they become classics?
Toyota iQ/Aston Martin Cygnet
It might have been expensive in the UK when it was launched, but the Toyota iQ was an incredibly clever package – comfortably seating four adults. Apparently. Okay, it might have been a bit of a squeeze, but when you consider the fact it’s external dimensions were not much more than the original two-seater Smart, it's really rather impressive. It also formed the basis for the unloved Aston Martin Cygnet, which added a few external changes and beautifully trimmed interior. It wasn’t a huge success.
Gordon Murray T25 and T27
Although Murray, brainchild of the McLaren F1, has been working on this clever lightweight city car for many years now, it still hasn’t found its way to the mass market. There’s a super economical 51bhp petrol T25 version as well the electric T27 model that has been developed by Zytek. Both could be revolutionary, if they ever get the chance…
It was cheap, lightweight and extremely clean thanks to its electric-only powertrain, but thanks to its inherent lack of safety and style it quickly became a bit of a joke. Quite a few were sold in London, as well as other cities around the world.