Sub-compact continues to be a popular division in the car industry. Even the subcompact SUV, a cognitively dissonant category, is gaining ground in the US and Europe. A few cars, however, go beyond sub-compact. They are designated as city cars, minicars, or microcars. Although energy- and space-conscious drivers have been flocking to smaller vehicles these days, millennials didn't invent this trend. Car manufacturers have always been obsessed with the idea of efficiency in both fuel consumption and space. After the Second World War, Europeans in particular took great pleasure in coming up with the tiniest, most fuel-conscious cars possible.
The ingenuity involved in making tiny cars has led to innovations that have pushed automotive engineering to its limits. These automobiles are slight in height, breadth or weight. Many have three wheels instead of four. Some were intended for mass production, others are boutique cars, and others are one-offs. Make no mistake- the cars on this list are comically small. They are not, however, intended for children. They are road cars designed for urban environments where parking is limited and the goal is to get around as efficiently, not necessarily comfortably, as possible.
Today, small cars often are paired with electric energy, but even in the good old days of fuelmania, manufacturers understood that some people wanted a cheap ride, dignity be damned. Below are fifteen of the smallest cars in the world ever. If you miss seeing some well-known little cars on this list, such as the Austin Mini Cooper or the Messerschmitt, you may find a new teeny favorite here.
15 Pasquali Risciò
This Italian three-wheeled electric car resembles the Indian rickshaw after which it is named (at least by Italians). Its manufacturer also produces tractors, so a tractor analogy would also work. It weights 793 pounds (360 kg), is 86 inches (2190 mm) long, 45 inches (1150 mm) wide and 59 inches (1500 mm) high. It has a range of 50 km per charge and maxes out at 40 km/h, so this is definitely not an autostrada car. It comes in two models- a one-person and a two-person. The one-person car does not require a driver’s license if you drive it around Florence, the car’s home town.
14 Piaggio Vespa 400
At 793 pounds (360 kg) in weight, 112 inches (2855 mm) long, 50 inches (1270 mm) wide and 50 inches (1270 mm) high, this car by ACMA, the makers of the famous scooter, deserves the name of microcar. This four-wheeled Vespa holds two adults with room for cargo (smaller people and luggage). The Lusso version is a coupé while the Turismo is a cabriolet. Like most of the other cars on this list, it wasn’t a speedy car (maxing at 55 mph with its 14 hp engine), but it had more longevity and production success than many other vehicles, whether large or small.
13 Goggomobil Dart
Although named after and built upon the German-designed Goggomobil, this fibreglass-body convertible was produced in Australia by Buckle Motors. Car salesman Bill Buckle arranged for the Goggo bodies that he received at his shop to be turned into a sportier-looking car that stoops to a height of 44 inches (1118 mm). It is so short that it was manufactured without doors: you simply stepped into it. It weighs only 760.5 lbs (345 kg) with a 120.1 inch (3050 mm) length and 53.9 inch (3050 mm) width. Its 15 horsepower engine belies its athletic profile, as it has a maximum speed of only 65 mph.
12 Fuldamobil N
Germany after World War II had economic hardships that led to some interesting engineering and production decisions. Elektromaschinenbau Fulda GmbH produced the Fuldamobil from 1950 to 1969. The first model, the Fuldamobil N, measured 107 inches long, 55 inches (1397 mm) wide and 52.8 inches (1340 mm) high. The three-wheeled N model was nicknamed "the silver flea" for its wee pockmarked silvery body. These early Fuldamobils had handmade wooden frames with aluminum skins over plywood body panels. Later the Fuldamobil switched metal for wood in their S series and joined forces with Nordwestdeutscher Fahrzeugbau (NWF) to make a more routine microcar (if a microcar can ever be routine, that is).
11 Smart ForTwo
Unlike some of the cars on this list, you might see one of these rolling around in your big-city neighbourhood. At 106 inches (2695 mm) long, 65.5 inches (1663 mm) wide and 61 inches (1555 mm) high, the ForTwo continues to be produced and marketed to appeal to today's versions of those post-war penny-pinchers that led to the proliferation of the older cars on this list. The ease of parking a ForTwo has convinced both European and American drivers to eschew normal standards of beauty and learn to love the adorably ugly. Its rear engine adds to the novelty factor. Its coupé and convertible models will soon be joined by environmentally-friendly versions.
10 Autobianchi Bianchina Transformabile
This little Italian car was produced by Autobianchi, a joint venture of Fiat, Bianchi and Pirelli that operated between 1955 and 1995. Based on the Fiat 500, the Bianchina Transformabile model was the smallest of Autobianchi; small being what Autobianchi was aiming for in all its models. The Transformabile was 117.5 inches (2985 mm) long, 53 inches (1340 mm) wide and 52 inches (1320 mm) high. Its relatively svelte 1,120 lb (510 kg) body was first kicked along by a 15 hp Fiat engine but later upgraded to 17 hp. The final model, the two-toned Transformabile Special, has an enormous 21 hp engine.
The Isetta was produced by the Italian manufacturer Iso from 1953 to 1955. Iso decided to farm out the car to various European manufacturers, one of whom was BMW, which released the Isetta 250 in 1955, later offering 350 and 600 models until halting production in 1962. Isettas appeared all over Europe with various modifications under various licensing agreements,. The general shape gave this set of cars the nickname “bubble car.” The rarer Iso models are the smaller Isettas: 88.6 inches (2250 mm) long, 52.8 inches (1340 mm) wide and 52 inches (1320 mm) tall. Their 236 cc engines could propel their bulbous 770 lbs (350 kg) bodies at 9 horsepower to a maximum speed of 53 mph (85 km/h).
8 Corbin Sparrow
The three-wheeled Sparrow was originally manufactured by Corbin Motors starting in 1999, but the world wasn’t as ready for electric cars as they are now. The measurements of this 1,350-pound (610 kg) electric car are 96 inches (2,438 mm) in length, 48 inches (1219 mm) in width, and 57 inches (1448 mm) in heights. The Sparrow gets 20 to 40 miles (32 to 64 km) per charge and zooms along at a respectable 70 mph (112 km/h). In 2004, Myers Motors took over Corbin’s assets and changed the bird reference to the acronym NmG (no more gas). For those who like to be early adopters, Myers is taking pre-orders and crowd-funding investors for this re-design.
7 The Tango T600
Rick Woodbury of Commuter Cars created the electric Tango as well, a commuter car. It is heavier car than others on the list (3,326 lbs/1508 kg), but it is one of the skinniest at 39 inches (991 mm). Its dimensions round out at 102 inches (2591 mm) long and 61 inches (1549 mm) wide, so it does look like a cartoon subcompact that got squished between two big trucks. The weight and the squished-in look is by design to make it road- and environmentally-safe. Per charge it gets 100 miles at 70 mph on flat highway and up to 120 miles at 60 mph. Tango says it can be plunked nose-first against the curb for parallel parking.
6 Elva MK VI
The Elva MK VI is a grand 26 inches (660 mm) tall, making its height markedly disproportionate to its 141-inch (3581 mm) length and 57-inch (1448 mm) width. Unlike the other nearly flat cars on this list, the Elva MK VI was built for speed. Creator Frank Nichols called it Elva as a corruption of the French phrase “elle va”, or “she goes.” Most of the 28 chassis for this UK racing car were outfitted with Coventry Climax 4-cylinder 8-valve 1100-cc engines. Hollywood took notice of this little sporty fellow. An Elva appeared alongside Elvis Presley and Ann Margaret in the film Viva Las Vegas.
5 Peel P50
The Peel P50 is a clown of a car manufactured on the tiny Isle of Man from 1962 to 1965 by Peel Engineering Co. It has three wheels to steer its 53-inch (1346 mm) long, 39-inch (991 mm) wide and 53-inch (1346 mm) high body. Although it doesn’t have a reverse gear, the Peel P50 has a handy handle on its back end so that drivers can get out and swivel the 130- pound (59 kg) car around if need be. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, it is no longer the smallest car in the world, but it is still the smallest car in a game, Grand Theft Auto V, due to a player mod.
4 Brütsch Mopetta
Egon Brütsch of Stuttgart, Germany, built this one-seater simply for the sake of showing off a small car for the 1956 International Bicycle and Motorcycle Exhibition. Enthused by the response, he tried to make the original mock-up into a real car. Only 14 of these working versions were ever produced, though Opel did consider picking it up. The 1958 Mopetta (the last year the car was produced) is 67 inches (1700 mm) long, 35 inches (880 mm) wide, and 42.5 inches (1080 mm) high and weighs 172 pounds (78 kg). It kick-starts like a motorcycle and has three wheels. It has a one-cylinder ILO 2-stroke engine and rumbles along at 2.3 horsepower. Carspector lists the 1958 Mopetta as the third-shortest car ever.
Students at Japan’s Okayama Sanyo High School developed the Mirai electric car, now considered the world’s lowest car at 17. 79 inches (45.2 cm). Created in 2010, this sporty-looking one-seater is not exactly a commuter car--it gets 80 km per charge at 30 km/h--but it can reach speeds of 50 km/h. It weighs 617 pounds (280 kg) and its dimensions are 98 inches (2480 mm) long by 49 inches (1254 mm) wide. It uses six main batteries for a total of 72 V with 12 V assistance batteries. This high school shop project is not to be confused with the hydrogen-fuel-cell Toyota Mirai. The word “mirai” means “future” in Japanese.
2 Eshelman Sport Car De Luxe
The Cheston L. Eshelman Company of Baltimore, Maryland, began as a manufacturer of small aircraft. It branched out into the production of boats and tractors, and by 1953 it was producing small cars, both children’s models and adult models. The adult De Luxe is a rear-drive one-seat car with a Briggs and Stratton 6 kW one-cylinder engine. Carspector says it is the narrowest car ever as well as the second-shortest car. It weighed 249 pounds (113 kg) and measured 54 inches (1372 mm) long, 24 inches (610 mm) wide and 23 inches (584 mm) high. The company closed shop in 1961, but this famous little car lives on in the fancies of microcar builders and collectors everywhere.
1 Coulson Car
Austin Coulson’s custom-designed four-wheeler is the world’s smallest roadworthy car, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. It is 25 inches (635 mm) tall, 25.75 inches (654.1 mm) wide, and 49.79 inches (1264. 7 mm) long. A custom car designer from Phoenix, Arizona, Coulson made sure his little car was street legal: it has seat belts and windshield wipers, for example. It is licensed as a low-speed vehicle due to its maximum of 33 mph. It is a Frankenstein’s monster car in its makeup. Its custom-built body mimics a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air, its engine was hijacked from a child’s quad, and its fierce face derives from the P51 Mustang warplane.