Most young boys – and many young girls- enjoy playing with toy cars. What those youngsters might not realize, however, is that when they grow up they can still play with toy cars if they want; toy cars with engines which you can actually drive on the road!
There has always been a fascination with small cars in some parts of the world, mainly in Europe and in Asia. In the US, the fashion was always for larger cars; huge Cadillacs and monster pickup trucks, for example. However, even American car aficionados are starting to see the charms of the smaller car, and many of the more commercial models on the list below are now sold widely in the States.
Japan is truly the home of the small car, however. In fact, the Japanese have even created a whole new type of small vehicle, called the Kei car. Kei cars were first built in the post-war years, when many Japanese families would have been unable to afford to buy a full-size car, but still needed a vehicle to get from A to B. Kei cars are still built today, though most are powered by electricity rather than gasoline, and older models have become collector’s items.
These vehicles are some of the smallest ever made, and many of them are available to buy should anyone want the experience of driving around in a toy car.
20 Th!nk City
The Th!nk City car – yes, it is spelled with an exclamation point – is another electric vehicle which was made by a Norwegian company called Think Global between 2008 and 2011.
The Th!nk City was something of an electric pioneer; in 2011, it was one of only five mass-produced electric vehicles which had been crash tested and certified for highway driving.
At just 124 inches in length and 63 inches in height, it was perfect for city driving. Sadly, Think Global started having financial difficulties, and the company went into administration in 2011, signaling the end of the Th!nk City car.
19 Daihatsu Copen
The Daihatsu Copen is one of those infamous Japanese Kei cars which are so iconic in Asia. It was first made between 2002 and 2012 before production restarted in 2014. Initially fitted with a 660cc turbocharged engine, in order to meet the strict Kei car regulations, when the Daihatsu Copen was exported to other countries, it was instead fitted with a 1.3-liter non-turbo engine in order to meet emissions regulations in those new markets. The compact Copen is also available as a stylish convertible; given that the Daihatsu Copen’s height is just 50 inches, taller drivers might need to take advantage of that removable roof!
18 Smart Fortwo
The Smart car is the ultimate success story when it comes to small cars, and the Smart Fortwo – which as the name suggests seats only two people – is the ultimate city car. It is so short you can even park it lengthways without it getting in the way of passing traffic.
The first Smart car was made in 1998, and by 2015, almost 2 million Smart cars had been sold worldwide.
The Smart brand has expanded into the slightly larger Smart Roadster and the Smart Forfour four-seater vehicle, but it is the Smart Fortwo which is the baby of the family.
17 Kandi Coco
Kandi Coco might sound more like the name of a teenage pop star, but it is actually the name of an unusual compact car. First made by Chinese company Kandi Technologies, the Coco was first imported into the US in 2009, where its efficient and environmentally friendly electric engine earned owners a large tax credit. The Kandi Coco, which looks more like a mobility scooter than a real car, cost less than $1,000 to buy in 2013 – not a bad price if you were looking for a car to take just a few miles each day, but not one for burning up the miles on the highway.
16 Reva G-Wiz
Made by Indian company Reva, the Reva G-Wiz was an electric car which was produced mainly for the UK market between 2001 and 2012, when it was replaced by the Mahindra e2o.
The UK was the car’s main market as in many other countries, the Reva G-Wiz didn’t meet the specification necessary for road use, and was often categorized as a quadricycle in other European countries.
Nevertheless, this was the best-selling electric car in the world until 2009, and at a tiny 100 inches in length, 51 inches wide and 59 inches in height, it was certainly one of the smallest cars on the market too.
15 Commuter Cars Tango
Unlike some of the other cars on this list, most of which have at least enjoyed some commercial success, the Tango, made by Commuter Cars, was designed to be exclusive. As of 2014, only 14 of the ultra-narrow sports cars had been made, and with each Tango costing over $100,000, it is not difficult to see why. One fan was Hollywood actor George Clooney, who took delivery of the first Tango to roll off the proverbial production line in 2005. Narrower than some motorcycles, and narrow enough to legally drive alongside other vehicles in lanes of traffic, the electric vehicle has a range of around 50 miles.
14 Lumeneo Smera
The Smera is an ultra-compact electric vehicle, made by French company Lumeneo between 2008 and 2013. At less than 100 inches in length and just 38 inches in width, the Lumeneo Smera made its debut at the 2008 Paris Motor Show, but sadly it never went into commercial production.
Instead, Lumeneo created a new car, the Neoma, but only ten units were sold before the company filed for bankruptcy.
The Neoma itself was also a small car, 106 inches in length and 63 inches wide with a 35kw electric engine which gave the vehicle an urban range of around 87 miles.
The beautifully named Buddy is a Norwegian electric car, made by Buddy Electric, a company formerly known as Pure Mobility and Ebil Norge; its original name was the Norge Buddy Cab. The Buddy is the 21st-century version of a Norwegian electric vehicle called the Kewet which was developed all the way back in 1991. Sales of the Buddy amounted to 1500 vehicles by the end of 2013, the majority of which were registered in their home country. At just 96 inches in length, 57 inches wide, and 57 inches in height, the Buddy also has a maximum range of less than 40 miles – ideal for a city car.
12 Myers Sparrow
First built by Corbin Motors between 1999 and 2003, and then by Myers Motors from 2004 onwards, the Sparrow is a personal electric vehicle (PEV), and at 48 inches wide is designed for just one passenger, though the manufacturers are currently developing the Duo, a two-seater version of the unconventional car. The one-door version of the car is nicknamed the jelly bean, for obvious reasons, while the two-door coupe is known as pizza butt, given that it was designed for use by Domino’s Pizza! The Myers Sparrow even features in the Austin Powers movie Goldmember alongside its acting namesake, Mike Myers.
11 Peel P50
The late 20th and early 21st century may have seen an explosion of smaller electric vehicles going into production, but this era doesn’t have a monopoly on tiny cars. The Peel P50 is a classic small car, which was first in production between 1962 and 1965 by UK-based company Peel Engineering.
Seeing the resurgence of small cars in the automotive market, Peel has resurrected their P50, and the vehicle went back into production in 2010, with the electric and gas versions available.
At just 52 inches in length and only 39 inches wide, the Peel P50 was originally advertised as being big enough for “one adult and a shopping bag”.
10 Pasquali Riscio
Built by Florence-based automotive company Pasquali, the electric-powered Riscio is a three-wheeled vehicle that is so small, both in term of engine size and inside space, that you don’t even need a driving license to operate it in its native Italy. Not many Riscio models have been sold, but those that have been bought are often spotted parked alongside the motorcycles and scooters belonging to the country’s teenagers – and they are perfect for negotiating those tiny, winding medieval streets in Italian cities! It’s unlikely that Florence is going to challenge the motor manufacturing dominance of the northern Italian cities with this creation.
Another miniature European creation now, this time hailing from Germany, home of luxurious cars from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche. The Fuldamobil was built by two epically-named German companies, Elektromaschinenbau Fulda and Nordwestdeutscher Fahrzeugbau, between 1950 and 1969.
This three-wheeler, with two wheels at the front for stability, was designed to seat two people, and while it’s light fiberglass bodywork was great for speed and fuel efficiency, it probably wouldn’t pass modern safety testing!
The Fuldamobil was licensed for sale around the world and was sold as the Nobel in the UK, the Attica in Greece, and the Bambi in Argentina.
8 Vespa 400
Vespa is a very familiar name to motoring fans, though the Italian company is much better known for its stylish scooters than its cars. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that a scooter manufacturer might branch out into the production of a small car, and the result of that expansion was the Vespa 400. The Vespa 400 was built by a French manufacturer to the designs of the Piaggio company behind the Vespa brand, and a was rear-engine two-seater in production between 1957 and 1961. It’s 112-inch length even meant that there was room for some luggage behind the two front seats, making it one of the more practical vehicles on this list.
Italy does seem to have contributed more than its fair share of small cars to the world’s collection of miniature vehicles. The Italian-designed Isetta, nicknamed the bubble car for its oval shape, was made by various companies between 1953 and 1962.
In 1955, the BMW Isetta became the first mass-produced car to achieve the impressive fuel consumption figures of 94 mpg, and it was the top-selling single cylinder car in the world at the time, shifting over 160,000 units.
A Swiss company is now trying to reinvent the Isetta, launching a car called the Microlino at 2016 Geneve Motor Show which is based on the original Isetta body design.
6 Mini Cooper
The classic Mini Cooper is the quintessential small car – and one of the most loved of all time. This was the name given to the original and best Mini car, in production between 1959 and 2000. Since 2000, the Mini brand has been taken over by BMW, and although the cars they produce are still recognizably Minis, they are definitely an enhanced 21st-century version of the classic car. The original Mini Cooper was available in a variety of two-seater and four-seater, saloon and coupe models, but all had that same Mini Cooper style. And at just 53 inches in height, they were notorious for being a challenge for tall drivers and passengers.
5 Brutsch Mopetta
The kooky and unconventional Brutsch Mopetta was a single-seater, open-top roadster, made by German auto manufacturer Egon Brutsch between 1956 and 1958.
With its fiberglass bodywork, the tiny Mopetta boasted impressive fuel consumption figures, but only recorded a top speed of 22mph.
With its 50cc engine, which used a pull-start, and three-speed manual gearbox, the Mopetta cost £200, the equivalent of $2,500 in modern money, and was less than 70 inches in length – although at least taller drivers didn’t have to worry about the roof! These are much sought-after collectors’ items today; only 14 were ever made and only five Brusch Mopetta vehicles are known to have survived.
4 Fiat 500
The Fiat 500 is another small car which originally made its name decades ago, only to be relaunched for the 21st century. The original Fiat 500, made by the world-renowned Italian car company, was in production between 1957 and 1971 and sold well over 3 million vehicles. In 2007, Fiat revamped the 500 for the 21st century and began selling its new old vehicle all over Europe, and from 2010 in the US and Canada too – the first Fiat car to be sold in North America for 25 years. At 140 inches in length, it is far from the smallest car on this list, but it still qualifies as a compact city car.
3 Reliant Robin
The Reliant Robin is a peculiarly British institution; a fiberglass three-wheeler that was notorious for its instability going round corners, due to the fact that its two-wheels were at the rear and it had only one wheel at the front!
It was first made back in 1973 and the last Robin rolled off the production line in 2001.
The Reliant Robin is something of a national treasure in the UK, despite its lack of grace and style, mainly because of its starring role in the long-running BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses, in which the Trotter brothers drive a shabby yellow Reliant Robin van.
2 Ford Ka
The Ford Ka is one of the largest vehicles on this list, and one of the most widely sold. It has been made by Ford since 1996, first as a city car and then as a subcompact, and it has proved enormously popular with the city dwellers in Europe and South America thanks to its small size and stylish appearance. The second generation Ford Ka is only 143 inches in length and just 60 inches in height – not an ideal purchase if you’re scraping 6 foot in height! Yet the Ford Ka sold in its thousands at its peak in the early 2000s and remains a popular second-hand option today.
1 Bolloré Bluecar
The Bolloré Bluecar is a very different beast from the big-selling Ford Ka. It is a small four-seater car, designed by Italian company Pininfarina and developed and built by the French firm Bolloré.
The first 250 production models were made in 2011, and were supplied to a car-sharing program in Paris, only going on sale to the French general public in 2013.
There are currently almost 6,000 Bolloré Bluecars in France, most of which are part of the nationwide car-sharing scheme. These electric cars have a maximum urban range of 160 miles and an impressive top speed of 75mph.
Sources: Ford.co.uk, autocar.co.uk, smartusa.com,evworld.com, commutercars.com