A survey of the really small motor cars



THE advent of the British Motor Corporation’s AD015 mini-cars has set a new standard of baby-car design, putting most of the established peasants’ cars in the background. However, small as they are externally, though full four-seaters with extremely generous luggage stowage within, it must be remembered that the Morris Mini-Minor and Austin Se7en have engines of 848c.c. capacity, which was regarded as unnecessarily large for a baby car by Sir Herbert Austin nearly four decades ago.

There still exist people who need really small cars, either because they need maximum petrol economy, minimum parking area, or just because they like little things. For this reason we present the following notes on four-wheeled cars of under 750 c.c. which MOTOR SPORT drivers have been sampling prior to the Motor Show, particular attention being paid to petrol consumption, to see whether these diminutive engines justify themselves by giving greater economy than the 45 m.p.g. habitually returned by the Editorial Mini-Minor.

It should be noted that the Renault 750 is not included because sales of this model are now virtually moribund in Britain, while the B.M.W. agents, having taken umbrage at some mild remarks of ours about locking brakes on their Isetta, apparently have insufficient faith to allow us to test the B.M.W. 700. In addition, although we are told that the Citroen Bijou is now coming off the Slough assembly line Citroen’s P.R.O. was unfortunately unable to lend one for test, while the Berkeley and Fiat-Abarth are not included as these are sports cars and justify full road tests at a later date.—ED.


The Tipo 110 Fiat New 500 with vertical-twin 479-c.c. blower-cooled engine at the back, is a jolly little car, providing perfectly adequate performance for two people who are not in a tearing hurry. In its revised form the engine, which has push-rod-operated o.h. valves inclined in the same plane, develops 16 1/2 b.h.p. (sans silencer) or 21 S.A.E. hp. without undue fuss and, in conjunction with an excellent four-speed gearbox, provides maker’s maxima of 16, 27 and 44 m.p.h. in the lower gears. In fact, these speeds can be exceeded by some 10 m.p.h. without disaster, while a cruising speed of around 60 m.p.h. is attainable, with perhaps five more m.p.h. to come.

The gears are changed by a delightful little remote lever which is a joy to use and very light, rapid gear shifting is possible, the lever going home with rather a “clonk.” The handbrake lies between the seats, adjacent to two small pull-up levers actuating choke and starter. The view forward is of the road only, the brief ” bonnet” being almost invisible, but the screen pillars are thick, the roof low, so that a tall driver has to adopt a Brabham crouch. The test car had twin vizors, anti-dazzle mirror, and a parcel-well under the facia to compensate for absence of pockets or cubby-hole. There is a good heater and loud horn.

The ride is inclined to be choppy, like a Small boat in a liner’s wake, but over bad surfaces the suspension works very well. The little Fiat corners well, although with pronounced oversteer. The steering is rather insensitive but free from kick-back and the clutch vague and apt to be sudden if care is not exercised, while the location of the pedal close to the metal heater duct makes second-best shoes advisable. The screen-wipers self-cancel if their switch is depressed and two left-hand stalks work the sell-cancelling flashers and lamp settings.

The facia, apart from a few switches and a direction indicators lamp of adjustable intensity (not working on the test car) contains merely a small hooded 70-m.p.h. speedometer with odometer and warning lamps for high-beam, dynamo, petrol level (in lieu of a gauge) and oil pressure. The petrol warning began flashing after 163 miles from a brimful tank.

Excellent features of the New 500 are winding windows and big openable quarter-lights, and a simple but effective folding roof. A full convertible is also available, for £25 10s. extra. There is no real luggage stowage, the front under-bonnet-space being full of petrol tank (4.6 gallons) but the back seat, accessible by tipping up the adjustable front seats, can carry plenty if not occupied by bambinos. The seats, with rubber strips in lieu of metal springs, are adequate but rather hard.

There is a simple hand-throttle, apt to he mistaken for the front bonnet release, and parking lights. The brakes are amply powerful. Fuel consumption in general running, which is almost always full-throttle, came out at 54 m.p.g.

At £499 16s. inclusive, the Fiat New 500 is a most attractive little car, so small it parks on a dime, yet they race them in Italy so there’s no need to be ashamed of owning one. It’s just the job for a couple of love-doves or for anyone looking after the pennies.

In normal form the engine has a compression-ratio of 7 to 1 and a Weber 26IMBI carburetter. A sports 499-c.c. version has a compression-ratio of 8.6 to 1, a Weber 26IMB3 carburetter and develops 21 b.h.p. without silencer, or 25 S.A.E. h.p. The test car had Dunlop ” Gold Seal” tyres.


The basic design of the Fiat 600 is now over five years old but, as we discovered when driving a test car recently over several hundred miles, it is still fully competitive.

On entering the car one finds two separate bucket seats in the front and a bench seat for rear passengers. It is undoubtedly a true four-seater but, with luggage room restricted to a small space beside the petrol tank under the bonnet and a well behind the rear seats, recourse would have to be made to a roof rack if a holiday for four were contemplated. Controls are conventional except that starter and choke levers are on the floor between the two front seats beside the parking brake and gear-lever. The only instrument is the speedometer, which includes warning lights for oil pressure, water temperatnre and dynamo charge, together with a fuel level gauge which incorporates a reserve indicator light.

The direction-indicator and lighting switches are mounted on the left side of the column and are consequently rather difficult to operate as one can easily trip the indicator switch when attempting to flash the lights. The lighting system seems unnecessarily complicated as one has to operate a dash-mounted toggle switch to bring the system into operation white two warning lights are deemed necessary to indicate to the driver that his lights are on. The panel light operates independently of the rest of the system, so that anyone not used to the Fiat will quite likely drive off without lights.

Apart from this criticism, the Fiat is easy to drive; the steering is light, the gear-lever snicks from gear to gear with no sign of protest from the integrally-mounted gearbox although the lever feels a trifle disconnected and spongy. The pedals are ideally placed and heel-and-toe changes are easily made. The clutch foot occasionally fouls the windscreen demister ducts but it was the left hand duct which detached itself on the test car as no fixing method is employed.

The engine is not particularly noisy unless it is taken well beyond the marks on the speedometer dial, which are placed at 15 m.p.h. for first gear, 25 m.p.h. for second and 40 m.p.h. for third. In practice these can be exceeded by some 5 m.p.h. without distressing the engine, but if they are strictly adhered to a petrol consumption in excess of 50 m.p.g. will undoubtedly result. Over 400 miles of mixed city-to-suburbs commuting and longish out-of-town journeys the 600 returned a creditable consumption of 47 m.p.g., which it would be difficult to worsen unless full throttle were used constantly. The Fiat engine is particularly flexible for such a small unit and if Mobil Economy Run methods were used it should be possible to reach 65 m.p.g. On the other hand the speedometer needle can be pressed round to the end of the dial, which finishes at 70 m.p.h., and we held it in this position for several minutes at a time with no signs of distress being transmitted to the driver.

The Fiat’s handling characteristics are rather difficult to evaluate as it appears to fluctuate between quite noticeable understeer to mild oversteer. On the test car which had covered some 13,000 miles and which was fitted with Michelin SDS tyres, still with plenty of tread left, the initial impression gained was that the car understeered. This appeared most marked on fastish open bends, where more and more lock was required to negotiate the bend, and knowledgeable passengers immediately remarked on the understeering tendency. However, on slower, more acute bends the steering tended towards oversteer, but since at no time does the handling become vicious the average owner will not let it worry him.

The ride is particularly comfortable for such a small car, the transverse leaf-spring at the front and wishbone and coil-spring layout at the rear imparting a remarkably pitch-free ride to a car with a wheelbase of only 6 ft. 6 3/4 in. Naturally, if rough roads are encountered the ride becomes choppy but this seldom becomes unpleasant.

Although minor points may be criticised, such as the location of the rear-view mirror or the noise of the heating system, the Fiat 600 remains as one of the best small cars on the market and is immense fun to drive. A pity that its price in this country is inflated to £613 2s.


THE Goggomobil achieved its greatest popularity in this country during fuel rationing when its excellent fuel consumption figures gave it a great advantage over many other four-wheeled vehicles. However the fine handling characteristics came to the notice of racing drivers and the Mayfair coupe was seen in several speed events. Since that time more advanced British designs have been seen while fuel is freely available once more so it would seem on the surface that the Goggomobil has little to offer in this country. We were recently able to discover that this was far from the truth and that the Goggomobil offers commendable economy with not inconsiderable performance.

The little saloon comes in two types, both similar externally but the choice of a 293 c.c. or 392 c.c parallel twin, two-stroke fan-cooled engine can be made, the former having 15 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m. and the latter offering 20 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m. The engine is placed at the rear in unit with the four-speed gearbox and all round independent suspension is provided by swing axles. A larger model, the Royal T700 has been introduced more recently having conventional front-mounted four-stroke 688-c.c. engine driving by propeller shaft to a rigid back axle suspended on leaf springs.

The car we arranged to test was the Regent 300 with the tiny 293-c.c. engine. This is certainly a small car, having a wheelbase of 5 ft. 10 3/4 in. and an overall length of only 9 ft. 6 1/4 in., however no difficulty was encountered in entering or leaving the car, in addition to which the small dimensions were an advantage in traffic. The driver and front passenger sit in separate bucket seats which are well shaped but rather on the hard side so that one begins to squirm after 50 miles or so. The rear bench Seat will accommodate two adults, although leg room is not over-abundant. The tiny two-spoked steering wheel is angled nearer to the horizontal than to the racing drivers’ almost vertical ideal and the column passes between the clutch and brake pedals which are set close together as the wheel arches intrude into the passenger space.

The sole instrument, set in the metal facia panel with mottled grey finish, is the 80 m.p.h. speedometer which incorporates dynamo and direction indicators warning lights. To the far right of the instruments panel are two knobs, one for the heater and one for the choke (the latter marked with an S to confuse the English). Three smaller knobs are next in line, dealing with lights, windscreen wipers and parking lamps respectively. On the left of the speedometer, one above the other are the direction indicators switch, headlamp flasher switch and ignition switch. In front of the passenger there is a small glove locker, and to his left a shelf attached to the body side which contains the tool kit.

The tiny gear lever is placed on a central tunnel which also carries the handbrake and heater ducting. The gear change pattern is rather different to normal practice as although the normal “H” pattern is used it has been turned to the left through 90 degrees so that to select first gear the lever is pushed to the left and second gear is obtained by pulling the lever sideways towards the driver.

Third and fourth gears are nearest to the driver while reverse is selected by lifting the lever out of the main gate and pushing it to the left. Naturally this takes a little getting used to but there must be some satisfaction for Goggomobil owners in having a car which strangers cannot drive off immediately. In practice the gearbox works perfectly and the change from first to second and third to fourth must be one of the quickest on any car. The tiny gear lever requires delicate movements and can be operated with two fingers as it is all too easy to go straight through neutral if one uses too much force. The tiny engine does not provide staggering acceleration, but the quick gearbox saves the odd second or two and the ” Goggo ” moves along quite briskly.

The two-stroke engine starts easily with a whiff of choke and is not a particularly noisy example of its type and will certainly annoy few drivers. Naturally it has no great torque to speak of and, as with most two-strokes the revs must be kept up if performance is not to suffer drastically. Top gear is good for an indicated 55 m.p.h. or more which is probably a true 50 m.p.h., but the engine seems to settle for a 40 m.p.h. cruising gait which it will hold without fuss.

Roadholding is of a very high order. The springing is fairly firm and on bumpy roads the passengers get a bouncy ride but in compensation corners can be taken very quickly with just a trace of oversteer and in fact other faster cars tend to get in time way of the Goggomobil on corners. The 7 in. brakes need only modest pedal pressure and really pull the Goggo up quickly although they have the rather insensitive feel which seems so common to German cars. The clutch is also rather lacking in feel which is not helped by a rather strong coil spring on the cross shaft, which discourages the driver from holding a gear engaged at traffic lights.

Driven hard the Goggornobil returned the creditable fuel consumption of 56 m.p.g. which gives the car a range of over 300 miles. A reserve tap is situated on the rear parcels shelf.

Although the Goggomobil may be lacking in performance by present-day requirements it has a charm of its own, not the least of which is its fuel consumption which approaches the 60 m.p.g. we consider necessary in a really small car.