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Quirky Small Cars

Fast can be fun, but these cars demonstrated that there were plenty of other ways to get your motoring kicks. From pint-sized sports cars to the quirkiest of lightweight economy cars, they proved that good things really did come in small packages. And they matched the mood of the times. After the oil crisis in 1973, when fuel shortages almost led to the reintroduction of rationing, the cost of fuel skyrocketed and even those who could afford higher prices did not want to look wasteful. Suddenly small, efficient cars were all the rage.

Reliant Robin, 1973


Engine848 cc, straight-four
Top speed80 mph (129 km/h)

This plastic-bodied three-wheeler was designed by Ogle and made by Reliant in Tamworth. It was popular in the UK during the 1970s’ fuel crisis. It was thrifty due to its low weight, and in the UK it could be driven on a motorbike licence.

Single front wheel

Like Reliant’s previous three-wheelers, and in contrast to cars such as the Morgan, the Robin had its single wheel at the front. This made the steering and front suspension simpler and lighter.

Partly practical

The Robin’s fibreglass body had a lift-up rear window for access to the load space. As the window did not extend very far, items had to be lifted high up to get them into the boot.

Simple interior

The Robin’s dashboard was a fibreglass moulding with a speedometer and this combination fuel-and-temperature gauge. Switches were spread across the facia rather haphazardly.

MG Midget Mk III, 1969


Engine1,275 cc, straight-four
Top speed95 mph (153 km/h)

The beloved Sprite/Midget was updated for the 1970s with features including rounded rear wheel-arches, a bigger engine, matt black trim, and a better hood. Revisions in 1974 added black bumpers and a Triumph Spitfire engine, and raised the ride height.

Honda Z Coupé, 1970


Engine598 cc straight two
Top speed77 mph (124 km/h)

Bigger-engined twin of the Z360, this little coupe followed on from the equally tiny N “kei car”. Only the larger-engined Zs were sold in the UK and US, but they still produced only 36bhp. However, while they were not particularly speedy, they were frantic and huge fun.

Bond Bug, 1970


Engine700 cc, straight-four
Top speed76 mph (122 km/h)

The three-wheeled Bug embodied the spirit of youth, freedom, humor, and optimism with which the UK entered the 1970s. But it cost as much as a Mini, though it was quicker and more exclusive. Fewer than 3,000 people were inspired to buy one.

Suzuki SC100


Engine970 cc, straight-four
Top speed89 mph (143 km/h)

Suzuki inserted a bigger four-cylinder engine into the back of its tiny Japanese-market Cervo coupé to make the export-model SC100 in 1978. Not fast, but enormous fun to drive thanks to rear-wheel drive and all-round independent suspension. Today’s owners are more enthusiastic about them than ever.


It is a quote. The Classic Car Book – The Definitive Visual History 2016

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