11 Eensy-Weensy Automobiles

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MiniUSA.com

When people think of small cars, one of the first that comes to mind is the Mini Cooper. It’s got its size right in the name, after all, even if some of the newer models, like the Mini Countryman, are less mini and more, say, fun-size.

Of course, the Mini Cooper is hardly the most miniature car on the market these days. And there are lots of cars smaller than a modern Mini that were built in the 1950s and 1960s, when car designers seemed to collectively ask themselves, “What other crazy car design stunts can we pull?” Some went big and added fins and chrome, while others got small and added a dollop of quirkiness.

For the car curious, here are the dimensions of the modern-day Mini Cooper plus ten other cars from today and yesterday that make this dwarf look like a giant.

1. 2013 Mini Cooper

MiniUSA.com

Length: 144 inches
Width: 66 inches (including mirrors)
Height: 55 inches
Weight: 2855 pounds

Our standard for small will be the latest Mini flagship (or maybe, at this size, flag-dinghy), which has been on the market for more than a decade now. When it first appeared in 2002, it was surrounded by SUVs and king-cab pickup trucks. What was to keep these little guys from blowing right off the road every time a Humvee passed? When the bottom fell out of the economy and gas prices soared in 2008, small cars seemed a lot smarter, and the Mini got some pint-sized company on the road.

2. 2013 Fiat 500

FiatUSA.com

Length: 140 inches
Width: 64 inches
Height: 60 inches
Weight: 2400 pounds

The latest entry into the American micro-car market is also Fiat’s first U.S. model in 20 years. These little guys are based on a classic Fiat design from the 1960s, but with modern tweaks and J. Lo-worthy amenities. Believe it or not, the new Fiat 500 is nearly two feet longer than the old one and a full foot wider.

3. 2013 Tata Nano

TatoNano.com

Length: 122 inches
Width: 59 inches
Height: 65 inches
Weight: 1322 pounds

When Tata introduced this car in India, the manufacturer trumpeted the fact that the Nano would be the world’s cheapest car, not that it’s also one of the smallest. It’s not exactly the hot seller Tata had hoped for (the Indian company also owns Land Rover and Jaguar, in a nice twist of post-colonial fate), given some labor disputes and its pokey 37-hp engine. But now that the small car segment is so big in America, a more powerful version that meets U.S. safety standards could arrive in the next three years.

4. 1961 Mini Cooper


ClassicandPerformanceCar.com

Length: 120 inches
Width: 55 inches
Height: 53 inches
Weight: 1287 pounds

This is the Cooper made famous by the original The Italian Job. Design-wise, the newest Mini Coopers are a distant echo of the originals, but the originals were seriously small—a full foot shorter and half the weight of the modern Mini. It was launched in 1959 as the answer to an engineering challenge to create a car four feet high, ten feet long, and with room for four adults and their luggage. During the 1960s, surprisingly, the Mini proved its mettle as a rally racer, a feat the Mini Countryman is trying to repeat today.

5. 2012 Scion iQ


Scion.com

Length: 120 inches
Width: 66 inches
Height: 59 inches
Weight: 2127 pounds

Japan has long loved tiny cars, which are far easier to maneuver and park in crowded cities. Every once in a while, when the United States is in a small-car mood, Japanese companies allow one of their Hello-Kitty-cute cars to be sold in North America. This time around, it’s the Scion iQ, which seems to have driven straight from the pages of manga without changing its dimensions.

6. 1962 Fiat Jolly


MicrocarMuseum.com

Length: 117 inches
Width: 52 inches
Height: n/a; the top, as on a European bikini, was removable
Weight: 1069 pounds

The Fiat 500 Jolly is the kind of car swinging playboys of the 1960s would keep on board their yachts to drive from the dock to the casino at Monte Carlo. Because who wants to cart a Lamborghini Miura around on a boat? The Jolly had wicker seats and an infamously fringed top to keep the Mediterranean sun from burning a blonde bombshell’s delicate skin.

7. 1956 Messerschmitt KR 200

Wikimedia Commons

Length: 111 inches
Width: 48 inches
Height: 49 inches
Weight: 507 pounds

This wee three-wheeler was invented as a way for disabled WWII vets to get around, though it found a modicum of popularity as a “bubble car,” with its available Plexiglas roof. But the strangest thing about the Messerschmitt isn’t, surprisingly, its looks—it’s what you had to do to drive in reverse. The engine had to be turned off and a switch flipped, which reversed the direction the engine ran. When you started the engine back up, you’d go backward.

8. smart fortwo


Wikimedia Commons

Length: 106 inches
Width: 61 inches
Height: 61 inches
Weight: 1808

For modern drivers, smart cars are the most micro of the microcar segment. Though they’ve only been in the United States since 2008, they’ve been popular on the narrow cobblestone streets of Europe since their debut 1997. That’s when Mercedes-Benz teamed up with the watch design wizards at Swatch to come up with a drivable fashion accessory.

9. 1955 BMW Isetta


Wikimedia Commons

Length: 89 inches
Width: 53 inches
Height: 52 inches
Weight: 778 pounds

If the oddball Messerschmitt could be said to have a direct competitor, the egg-shaped Isetta is it. Early models were three-wheeled Italian affairs, but by the time BMW bought the concept from its refrigerator-manufacturing owners it had sprouted a fourth wheel in the back. The Isetta had a reverse gear, so it had to find its weirdness elsewhere, like the front door. The whole face of the car is the door the driver uses to get in and out. If you’ve ever driven a rental car down an ancient Parisian street, you’ve probably wished for just such a feature.

10. 1964 Peel P50


PeelEngineering.co.uk

Length: 54 inches
Width: 41 inches
Height: 47 inches
Weight: 130 pounds (not a typo)

For half a century, the Peel P50 has held the title of World’s Smallest Production Car, according to the list masters at Guinness World Records. The P50 gained recent fame when the very tall, very grumpy Jeremy Clarkson, host of the very popular BBC show Top Gear, did some very ridiculous things in the cyclopean car. Only 50 were ever built, but don’t let that put a damper on your small-car dreams. Peel Engineering is taking names for a new limited run of P50s.

11. Wind Up!

WindUpCar.co.uk

Length: 51 inches
Width: 26 inches
Height: 41 inches
Weight: n/a

This one is really pushing it, since it’s a one-off built by Perrywinkle Customs in the UK, but it has been recognized as the World’s Smallest Car by Guinness. It is street legal, even at this size, with a body borrowed from a coin-operated kid’s ride and a chassis from a four-wheeler.

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April 11, 2013 - 2:11pm
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