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

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.