A look back at the tiny cars that once ruled the road

A timeline of micro cars.

Cars are getting bigger—the better to protect you with, my dear. But back when fuel was scarce and safety wasn’t a concern, tiny machines thrived. These wee rides filled a niche for decades, but today, some commuters still demand exceptionally small vehicles.

1953 BMW Isetta

The best-known “bubble car”­­—post–World War II whips that were so small that their windows looked huge—had a single front door, two seats, and no meaningful storage.
Length: 90 inches

1957 Fiat 500

This two-door sported a more conventional design, but its engine sat over its rear wheels. A station-wagon version turned the block on its side for increased storage space.
Length: 117 inches

1962 Peel P50

Certified by Guinness as the smallest production car, the P50 had one rear wheel and no reverse. To back up, drivers pulled the 130-pound auto by a handle on its derrière.
Length: 53 inches

1973 Reliant Robin

Known as the “plastic pig” in British pop culture, thanks to its fiberglass body, this three-wheeled ride had a single tire up front, which made it prone to tipping over.
Length: 131 inches

1998 Smart ForTwo

At less than 100 inches long, two of these city cars could fit in one parking spot. A steel cell surrounded passengers, but the ride lacked crucial crumple zones.
Length: 99 inches

2001 REVAi (G-Wiz)

The REVAi was the best-selling electric car for nearly a decade. However, early models lacked safety features like a reinforced chassis and failed crash tests at as slow as 25 mph.
Length: 100 inches

2012 Renault Twizy

The Twizy is what the REVAi should have been. Driver and passenger sit piggyback along the center. The entire steel vehicle structure could protect the occupants in an accident.
Length: 92 inches

Now/future: Elio

A U.S.-based startup has plans for its new three-wheeled, $7,450, single-seat commuter car: The ­company claims 84 mpg from its three-cylinder engine.
Length: 160 inches

This article was originally published in the Fall 2018 Tiny issue of Popular Science.