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Small Cars

The Mini revolutionized small cars in the 1960s, so in the 1970s manufacturers battled for a slice of its market with their own interpretations of the ideal small car. Almost all kept the Mini’s front-engine layout and added a hatchback, but not all were transverse, and some still had rear-wheel drive. Some offered more space than the Mini, but none matched its nifty packaging.

Datsun Cherry 100A, 1970


Engine988 cc, straight-four
Top speed86 mph (138 km/h)

The first front-wheel-drive Datsun was inspired by the Mini and sold 390,000 in five years, a period that saw Nissan’s worldwide market share grow enormously.

Mini Clubman, 1969


Engine988 cc, straight-four
Top speed75 mph (121 km/h)

By adding a longer, modern-looking front to the Mini, improved trim, and 1- or 1.1-liter engines, British Leyland maintained a presence in the market until the Metro was ready in 1981.

Fiat 127, 1971


Engine903 cc, straight-four
Top speed83 mph (134 km/h)

Fiat had always had a knack for well-packaged, guick, small cars; the 127 was another success, with sales of 3.7 million. The 1300 Sport option had a 1,300 cc engine and could reach 95 mph (153km/h)

Renault 5, 1972


Engine956 cc, straight-four
Top speed86 mph (138 km/h)

The class-defining and perhaps most popular supermini, the 5 sold 5.5 million in 12 years. Known as the Le Car in the United States, it was reasonably priced, with six engine choices—from 782 to 1,397 cc—and independent suspension.

Volkswagen Polo, 1975


Engine895 cc, straight-four
Top speed80 mph (129 km/h)

VW completed its modern revolution with the Polo. It had a new overhead-cam front engine, all-independent suspension, and front-wheel drive, with engines from 0.9 to 1.3 liters

Mazda Familia/323, 1977


Engine985 cc, straight-four
Top speed90 mph (145 km/h)

First of a long and successful line of small Mazdas, the Familia was old-fashioned—with a front engine and rear-wheel drive-but reliable. Mazda introduced front-wheel drive in 1980

Mitsubishi/Colt Mirage, 1978


Engine1,244 cc, straight-four
Top speed90 mph (145 km/h)

Sold in some markets as Colt, Mitsubishi’s first front-drive car had a two-speed final drive, giving eight forward gears in total, for economy or performance

Opel Kadett, 1973


Engine993 cc, straight-four
Top speed74 mph (119 km/h)

The German version of the General Motors T-car was sold with engines from 1.0 to 2.0 liters. The car was rear-wheel drive, betraying its U.S. design ethos.

Citroën 2CV6, 1970


Engine602 cc, straight-four
Top speed68 mph (109 km/h)

Due to its combination of spacious interior, large sunroof, stylish appearance, and economy, the 2CV stayed in production until 1990, selling almost 3.9 million.

Toyota Starlet, 1978


Engine993 cc, straight-four
Top speed84 mph (135 km/h)

Restricted by its outdated live rear axle, most Starlets were loaded with equipment such as five gears to win sales over the front-wheel-drive, all-independent opposition.

Citroën Visa, 1978


Engine1,124 cc, straight-four
Top speed89 mph (143 km/h)

Conceived as an economy sedan to replace the Ami, the lightweight Visa became Citroën’s choice for rallying in the early 1980s. It was fitted with engines from 653 cc upward.

Peugeot 104, 1973


Engine954 cc, straight-four
Top speed84 mph (135 km/h)

Unusually, Peugeot’s first supermini was launched as a 5-door model only; a shorter 3-door followed later. The all-new engine and independent suspension added to its appeal.

Ford Fiesta, 1976


Engine957 cc, straight-four
Top speed79 mph (127 km/h)

Ford’s first supermini for Europe was basic, with only four gears, but it had engines up to 1,600 cc and was competitively priced. Sales were 1.75 million by 1983.

Vauxhall Chevette HS, 1978


Engine2,279 cc, straight-four
Top speed115 mph (185 km/h)

Vauxhall made a virtue of a live rear axle by adding a big, tuned dual-cam engine. The Chevette went on to win rallies. Most were 1.3-liter hatchbacks.

Talbot Sunbeam Lotus, 1979


Engine2,174 cc, straight-four
Top speed121 mph (195 km/h)

The Talbot Sunbeam had a shortened rear-wheel-drive Avenger platform, so was quite outdated. But adding a big, powerful Lotus engine made it ideal for rallying.


It is a quote. The Definitive Visual History Of The Automobile 2011