Small cars are no longer in fashion. In a market dominated by constantly growing SUVs, major automakers like Ford, Fiat, VW and Mercedes (via its unfortunate subsidiary Smart) are abandoning the category, at least in the US market. Even the Minis don’t live up to their name anymore, with the smallest weighing 3,000 pounds. But once a category of car moves away from the mundane, interest tends to increase among enthusiasts and collectors. How else to explain the current fascination with personal luxury coupes of the 70s and 80s?
To quench our growing thirst for subcompacts, British automotive writer Russell Hayes has written a new book about them, The Big Book of Small Cars: A Century of Diminutive Automotive Oddities (Motorbooks, $ 40), which will be available electronically on November 30. The hardcover will be released on December 21.
âDennis Pernu, my editor at Motorbooks, thought the concept would be my kind of book, and I jumped on it,â said Hayes. Car and driver. âSmall cars are often fascinating, sometimes very good, sometimes very bad, or sometimes just crazy. “
As the book explains and illustrates beautifully, the history of the automobile is literally littered with pettiness. This great book covers it all. From the first mass-produced automobiles, like the Curved Dash Oldsmobile of 1901, to pre-war smallness like the Austin Seven, to the heyday of the European small car in the post-WWII era world, the Japanese Kei car boom of the 60s and 70s (and the 80s and 90s and so on), attempts to make small cars happen in an America’s OPEC-oil crisis, and across the more recent efforts to increase the range of electric cars by reducing mass and scale.
Of course, Hayes has his favorites. It points to the 1957 ZÃ¼ndapp Janus, the mid-engined bubble car with back-to-back seats and a door at each end, named after the two-faced Roman guard god, who looked forward and backward simultaneously. He mentions L’Oeuf Electrique 1942 by the Parisian artist Paul Arzens who also appeared in Lost beauties, another of our recent car book picks. âAnd the Orange Bond Bug Forever never fails to please,â he said, referring to a ridiculous, wedge-shaped, three-wheeled, canopy-topped death trap.
Sadly, a few of Hayes’ favorites didn’t make the final cut. âMy apologies to the 1920 air-cooled Rover 8, the tiny 1956 passenger-carrying Fiat 600 Multipla, the 1970 Invacar three-wheeler and the 1999 aluminum Audi A2,â he says.
Although much of the book was produced during the lockdown, Hayes was able to take a research trip to the excellent Louwman Museum in The Hague, the Netherlands. For microcars enthusiasts in America, we can recommend the equally amazing and totally insane Lane Motor Museum in Nashville. He never disappoints and constantly brings back new treasures.
This book is not just for car enthusiasts. People have long been fascinated by little things. What else can explain the current rage for tiny houses, or those little lending bookshelves that people put up in wooden cupboards around street corners – or even the continued, infantilizing interest many adults have in Legos and Legos. Hot Wheels? As Steve Martin’s famous quote said: âLet’s be small. Start with this book.
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