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  #1  
Old 08-19-2004, 09:08 AM
HeyHomie HeyHomie is online now
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What Is/Was the Smallest Production Car, Street Legal in the US?

What year/make/model vehicle was (or is) the smallest street-legal (in the US) production car? By "production car" I mean a car built in a factory, and they were built to be sold on lots (rather than special orders built for specific buyers). Use your own definition of "smallest." You can go by weight or dimensions - it's up to you. My other requirement is that it has to run on unleaded gasoline, so the CitiCar, CommutaCar and Sparrow are all out.

Mrs. HeyHomie suggested the Geo Metro convertible, 1989ish - 1996ish. However, I think the MG convertible (1960ish - 1979ish), the Triumph Spitfire (1968ish(?) - 1981ish(?)) and the Mazda Miata (1991ish - 1999ish) may all actually be smaller and lighter. The Geo gets better gas mileage, of course (3 cylinders), but that's not what I'm going for here.

FTR, the Peel P50, apparently manufactured for a few years on the Isle of Man, UK, holds the Guinness world record for smallest street-legal car, but since I can't get one in the US it doesn't fit for this thread. But I still think it's pretty cool.

Before anyone suggests googling, let me state that I googled before I wrote this thread. I got several links to pages that either didn't load, were posts on a message board, or were pure spam. So for industrial strength knowlege, I turn to the SDMB.
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  #2  
Old 08-19-2004, 09:24 AM
AskNott AskNott is offline
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Cushman made a car about the same size as the Peel for many years. The US Post Office used thousands of them before they switched to right-hand-drive Jeeps. The Cushmans were also used by police departments for meter maids.
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  #3  
Old 08-19-2004, 09:34 AM
DougC DougC is offline
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- - - I saw a magazine article on this subject once, in a US-version Car and Driver or Road and Track or something--two guys, who lived in the midwest US--Ohio or somewhere--made a little 2-person, topless golf-cart sized 4-wheeled car (with little fins and everything), that was fully street legal at the time. They made them during the 1950's or 60's. Four people could pick it up. The story went that these two fellows were retired, and thought it would be neat to have their own car company--but they didn't have the finances to make full-size cars, so they made little ones at a very, very casual pace. Only a hundred or two made, over several years. They are collectors items now, but are still street-legal--since in the US, anything previously legal is typically grandfathered (allowed to be licensed, even though standards for more modern cars are stricter). I doubt it would go fast enough to use the interstate though, it only had like 15 HP.
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Old 08-19-2004, 09:57 AM
BMalion BMalion is offline
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Well, here's a car that I am seriously considering buying, it's the Sparrow.

It's a 3-wheel electric car so it might not count.

But it's cool!
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  #5  
Old 08-19-2004, 09:58 AM
HeyHomie HeyHomie is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AskNott
Cushman made a car about the same size as the Peel for many years. The US Post Office used thousands of them before they switched to right-hand-drive Jeeps. The Cushmans were also used by police departments for meter maids.
What is/was their top speed? Are/were they legal on the highway?

I think I'm going to change the "street legal" phrase in my OP to "highway legal." IOW, something that goes at least 65mph at top speed and can be driven on the interstate.
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  #6  
Old 08-19-2004, 10:52 AM
N9IWP N9IWP is offline
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hijack, anyone know what the little car that Steve Urkel from Family Matters drove?
It had one door that was the front of the car, and 2 seats.


IIRC, in the US it has to have 4 wheels to be a car (if it has 3, it is a motorcycle)



Brian
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  #7  
Old 08-19-2004, 10:55 AM
yabob yabob is online now
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I'll point out that the BMW Isetta was street legal, manufactured in some quantity, and was definitely driven on US streets and highways:

http://www.microcarmuseum.com/tour/bmwisetta250.html

350 kg curb weight, 4 wheels (looks like 3 in the pictures because the rear two are closer together). Top speed, 85 kph, not quite your 65 mph. There were other Isetta models which may have been faster.

It's going to be hard to answer this definitively because a lot of oddball microcars were manufactured in very small numbers - are they "production" vehicles?

If we want more contemporary mass produced vehicles, the original Hondas were very tiny - far smaller than the Geo Metro. That may be the "practical" answer to your question.

The Corbin Sparrow is considered a "motorcycle" in CA, btw, giving you the right to drive it in the carpool lane with one occupant.
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  #8  
Old 08-19-2004, 10:57 AM
yabob yabob is online now
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Oh, and an Isetta is what Urkel drove.
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  #9  
Old 08-19-2004, 11:07 AM
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I believe the Smart Car is available in the US now. If you go to the site you are best to go to the UK site and then click on Smartfortwo and look at the tech specs:

Vehicle length/width/height in mm 2,500/1,515/1,549
Kerb weight (without driver)/safe load in kg 730/260
Maximum speed in mph (km/h) 2 84 (135, Electronically limited)

They retail from about £7000 sterling.

Fez.
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  #10  
Old 08-19-2004, 11:12 AM
brianjedi brianjedi is offline
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What about the Nash Metropolitan? Those things were tiny, and they were a full production vehicle (built in England by Austin, then imported and rebadged as a Nash.)

85 in. wheelbase, 149.5 in. total length, 1800 lbs. curb weight.
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  #11  
Old 08-19-2004, 11:20 AM
HeyHomie HeyHomie is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fezpp
I believe the Smart Car is available in the US now. If you go to the site you are best to go to the UK site and then click on Smartfortwo and look at the tech specs:

Vehicle length/width/height in mm 2,500/1,515/1,549
Kerb weight (without driver)/safe load in kg 730/260
Maximum speed in mph (km/h) 2 84 (135, Electronically limited)

They retail from about £7000 sterling.

Fez.
According to the FAQ on that site, the SmartCar hasn't been "hologomated" for the US market. Whatever that means.

BTW, what is the MPG of the SmartCar?
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  #12  
Old 08-19-2004, 11:23 AM
HeyHomie HeyHomie is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yabob
It's going to be hard to answer this definitively because a lot of oddball microcars were manufactured in very small numbers - are they "production" vehicles?
If they were built in a factory (as opposed to some guy's garage) and were built to be sold on lots (rather than by special order) then yes, they're "production vehicles," AFAIAC.
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  #13  
Old 08-19-2004, 11:30 AM
BMalion BMalion is offline
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One reason i'm so fascinated with the Sparrow is that my dad owned an Issetta Dealership in the early 1960's. Akron Ohio. I even remember climbing into one and riding in it. Heck, I think I was still in my diapers.

I wish he'd kept one in.
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  #14  
Old 08-19-2004, 11:56 AM
yabob yabob is online now
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To follow up on the early Honda. The N600 was the first Honda automobile to be exported to the US (1970), and I remember a few of the tiny little things (I used to work with a guy who was driving one about in the late 80's):

http://members.tripod.com/~Pre_ludE/hn.html

Specifications, which are somewhat suspect:

http://www.globalcar.com/datasheet/H...8HondaN600.htm

Somebody apparently thinks you DIVIDE kg by 2.2 to get pounds. I might believe the curb weight of 550 kg = 1210 pounds.
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  #15  
Old 08-19-2004, 11:58 AM
Dummy-up Dummy-up is offline
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Subaru 360 would also fit into this category. They were sold in the US between about 1968 and 1971. They came in three models; sedan, pick-up truck and van. They used a Kawasaki 2 stroke (oil injected) snowmobile engine (Fuji Heavy Industries owned both Subaru and Kawasaki). They got about 60 mpg and had a top speed of about 65 mph.

I owned two of the sedans. They were essentially an aluminum foil body wrapped around a cardboard frame (or it least it seemed like that). Your feet rested on the brackets that hold the front bumper on. Not the safest car that I have ever driven.
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  #16  
Old 08-19-2004, 12:01 PM
David Simmons David Simmons is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yabob
I'll point out that the BMW Isetta was street legal, manufactured in some quantity, and was definitely driven on US streets and highways:

http://www.microcarmuseum.com/tour/bmwisetta250.html

350 kg curb weight, 4 wheels (looks like 3 in the pictures because the rear two are closer together). Top speed, 85 kph, not quite your 65 mph. There were other Isetta models which may have been faster.
I owned and drove an Isetta for about 4 years. I would still be using it except that parts became almost impossible to get. I read in the LA Times that someone in Arizona (I think) bought up all the Isetta parts after BMW stopped supporting it in the US.

Great around town car. Roomy, for two, out of the weather, and with performance that could keep up with traffic without difficulty. I drove it home from Los Angeles, a distance of about 160 miles, and the the right hand lane on Sepulveda Blvd. between a couple of 18 wheelers it was a little intimidating but otherwise just an easy trip.
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  #17  
Old 08-19-2004, 01:09 PM
Sunspace Sunspace is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HeyHomie
According to the FAQ on that site, the SmartCar hasn't been "hologomated" for the US market. Whatever that means.

BTW, what is the MPG of the SmartCar?
Smart cars are not sold in the US... yet. The small two-seater, the "fortwo", is on sale in Mexico, and very shortly in Canada (the first shipments have left the factory in France), but it apparently is not intended for sale in the US. There are other larger models available in some markets (a four-seater, a sporty convertible, and I think a couple of others). The US entry from this maker is apparently going to be a small SUV built in Brazil.

The Smart two-seater will be the shortest car (only 2.5 m long) currently on sale in Canada, but it is vastly larger that that Peel P50 car referenced by HeyHomie; I don't know what microcars or bubble cars were sold here before. I saw both restored bubble cars and the Smart two-seater at the Toronto auto show last February and the bubble cars were smaller.

According to the Canadian site, the Smart fortwo gets 4.8L/100km city and 3.6L/100km highway, which works out to 49.5 miles/US gallon city and 66 miles/US gallon highway. Pretty good, but not as high as I might have thought.
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  #18  
Old 08-19-2004, 02:05 PM
Colophon Colophon is offline
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Looks like it will be a new version of the Smart that eventually reaches the USA:
Quote:
In 2004 the new four-seater smart forfour will be launched and a SUV version will be produced in the Brazilian facility, Juiz de Fora, start of 2006. This unique smart vehicle, developed for the American market, will go on sale in the United States in 2006.
A Smart SUV? That I have to see. Will it be taller than it is long?
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  #19  
Old 08-19-2004, 02:11 PM
bughunter bughunter is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BMalion
the Sparrow. it's cool!
It's way cool!

It'd be even cooler with a machine gun mounted on the front, and an oil jet in back!

For you Car Wars geeks: Sparrow — Med. Rev. Trike, cycle chassis, hvy. suspension, medium cycle power plant, 3 HD Tires, driver, MG front, OJ back, 3pt AWH front, 2pt AWH back, SWC (MG). Armor (sloped): F5, R4, L4, B-, T0, U0. Accel. 10, top speed 130, HC 4; 1040 lbs., $4995.
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  #20  
Old 08-19-2004, 02:49 PM
Rick Rick is offline
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Christ the cars you guys are listing are HUGE when compared to the King Midget or look at this pic
The website is a bit short on specs, but there are a few here and there
Quote:
King Midget was the only small car continuously manufactured for nearly a quarter of a century; from 1946 until operations ceased in 1970. In addition, Midget Motors Corporation was the sixth largest automobile manufacturer in the United States for a number of years....

In the late 1940’s, and through 1951, the Model 1 became available from the factory as either a kit or as a fully assembled car with a 6 h.p. Wisconsin engine...
By 1951, Dry and Orcutt had developed the second model King Midget, a two passenger convertible offered either fully assembled or as a kit, powered by the 7.5 horsepower Wisconsin AENL engine... It began as the 500 pound car for $500...

Sometime in the 1950’s, Midget Motors developed the King Midget Junior and, later, the King Midget Trainer. Neither had a body; that was left to the imagination of the owner. The Junior had an overall width of 32 inches. Wheelbase is adjustable at either 42 or 47 inches. Overall length then is 67 ½ inches or could have been cut down to 60 inches with the shorter wheelbase. It has a raised tubular steel frame around the front and rear, and fenders over the wheels. Both models have square tubular steel frame construction. The Trainer is larger and doesn’t have the raised steel frame around the front. Its overall width is 35 inches with a 50 inch wheelbase and overall length of 72 inches.
Here is a pic of the Junior
They were street legal, no safety regs back in the 50's ditto for smog, etc.
So 32" wide
60" overall
42" wheelbase
That is about the size of my desk!
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  #21  
Old 08-19-2004, 03:12 PM
Doug Bowe Doug Bowe is offline
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There were fewer regulations in the very late '30's when my Dad represented Crosley.



http://home.earthlink.net/~mherman/frame.html
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  #22  
Old 08-19-2004, 06:14 PM
Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bughunter
It's way cool!

It'd be even cooler with a machine gun mounted on the front, and an oil jet in back!

For you Car Wars geeks: Sparrow — Med. Rev. Trike, cycle chassis, hvy. suspension, medium cycle power plant, 3 HD Tires, driver, MG front, OJ back, 3pt AWH front, 2pt AWH back, SWC (MG). Armor (sloped): F5, R4, L4, B-, T0, U0. Accel. 10, top speed 130, HC 4; 1040 lbs., $4995.
Forget the oil jet. Use a linked smoke screen/spike dropper combo.
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  #23  
Old 08-19-2004, 06:37 PM
scr4 scr4 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rick
Here is a pic of the Junior
They were street legal, no safety regs back in the 50's ditto for smog, etc.
If you're going to include that, you might as well include the Sinclair C5 electric car. But I don't think either would make it to 55mph.
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  #24  
Old 08-19-2004, 08:12 PM
Morbo Morbo is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BMalion
Well, here's a car that I am seriously considering buying, it's the Sparrow.

It's a 3-wheel electric car so it might not count.

But it's cool!
I've visited that website before b/c there's one of those in my neighborhood. However, the "Values" link on that site left me a little...oogy.
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  #25  
Old 08-19-2004, 08:17 PM
Mr. Blue Sky Mr. Blue Sky is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dooku
I've visited that website before b/c there's one of those in my neighborhood. However, the "Values" link on that site left me a little...oogy.
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  #26  
Old 08-19-2004, 08:19 PM
GorillaMan GorillaMan is offline
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Originally Posted by scr4
If you're going to include that, you might as well include the Sinclair C5 electric car. But I don't think either would make it to 55mph.
I'm pretty sure a gallon of battery acid would get a C5 a fair way
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  #27  
Old 08-19-2004, 08:23 PM
GorillaMan GorillaMan is offline
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dammit....mpg =! mph ....
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  #28  
Old 08-19-2004, 08:27 PM
Morbo Morbo is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Blue Sky
Shocked in agreement or disagreement?
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  #29  
Old 08-19-2004, 08:29 PM
Mr. Blue Sky Mr. Blue Sky is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dooku
Shocked in agreement or disagreement?
I agree with you. Even if I were interested in this "car", I wouldn't buy it from that company.
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  #30  
Old 08-19-2004, 08:35 PM
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I thought Corbin Motors (maker of the Sparrow) went out of business. What's the link between the original company and the above Sparrow link?
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  #31  
Old 08-19-2004, 08:37 PM
Morbo Morbo is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Blue Sky
I agree with you. Even if I were interested in this "car", I wouldn't buy it from that company.
I thought so, but I wanted to make sure I wasn't going to have to defend my belief system. Phew!
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  #32  
Old 08-19-2004, 08:53 PM
Mr. Blue Sky Mr. Blue Sky is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dooku
I thought so, but I wanted to make sure I wasn't going to have to defend my belief system. Phew!
I get the same feeling when I see a commercial vehicle with a Jesus fish on the back.
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  #33  
Old 08-19-2004, 09:20 PM
yabob yabob is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by scr4
I thought Corbin Motors (maker of the Sparrow) went out of business. What's the link between the original company and the above Sparrow link?
Apparently, the assets of Corbin Motors were awarded to an outfit called Phoenix Environmental Motors, run by (and perhaps consisting solely of?) a guy named Ron Huch:

http://www.motobykz.co.uk/Corbin/Sparrow.htm

Quote:
He plans to finish the assembly 70+ Sparrows that were in process so that they can be supplied in kit form for completion by a qualified assembler. They are interested in finding partners that would like to be involved with PEM.
The http://www.phoenixenvironmentalmotors.com/ link given in that article redirects to the "myersmotors" link given above.

And here's an article on Myers. Huch got financial backing from him:

http://www.autoweek.com/article.cms?articleId=100546
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  #34  
Old 08-19-2004, 09:22 PM
Mr. Blue Sky Mr. Blue Sky is offline
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Is it just me, or does it look like the car was designed Dr. Seuss?
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  #35  
Old 08-19-2004, 09:33 PM
yabob yabob is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Blue Sky
Is it just me, or does it look like the car was designed Dr. Seuss?
I've seen a couple of them around here (Silicon Valley) - somebody used to commute on 85 with one. I's say it looks more like you're driving a giant dayglo colored tennis shoe. That said, it's not a bad stab at doing a personal commuter vehicle.
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  #36  
Old 08-19-2004, 09:49 PM
yabob yabob is online now
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And before Corbin folded, it was planning another single person three wheeler called the "Merlin" - a "roadster" powered by a V twin motorcycle engine:

http://www.pistonheads.com/doc.asp?c=62&i=3511
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  #37  
Old 08-19-2004, 09:49 PM
scr4 scr4 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yabob
And here's an article on Myers. Huch got financial backing from him:
http://www.autoweek.com/article.cms?articleId=100546
Thanks!

I wonder if they have any plans on finishing any of Corbin's prototypes? They had some cool two-seater gasoline engine roadsters in the work, as well as a new version of the Sparrow.

p.s. I loved the Sparrow chase scene in one of the Austin Powers movies...
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  #38  
Old 08-19-2004, 10:02 PM
Reeder Reeder is offline
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The MG midget was way small. Like driving a go cart at highway speeds.
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  #39  
Old 08-19-2004, 10:48 PM
Skywatcher Skywatcher is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rick
Christ the cars you guys are listing are HUGE when compared to the King Midget or look at this pic
The website is a bit short on specs, but there are a few here and there
Here is a pic of the Junior
They were street legal, no safety regs back in the 50's ditto for smog, etc.
So 32" wide
60" overall
42" wheelbase
That is about the size of my desk!
I don't know if they'd fit the OP's description of a production car. The Nash Metropolitan, mentioned by brianjedi, was a production car by anyone's standard. There were nearly 80,000 of them in the US by 1959.
Quote:
Originally Posted by HeyHomie
I think I'm going to change the "street legal" phrase in my OP to "highway legal." IOW, something that goes at least 65mph at top speed and can be driven on the interstate.
Nash Metropolitans had a top speed of roughly 80MPH, definately highway material there.
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  #40  
Old 08-19-2004, 10:54 PM
Mr. Blue Sky Mr. Blue Sky is offline
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Weren't the original Minis available in the US at one time?
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  #41  
Old 08-19-2004, 11:03 PM
Skywatcher Skywatcher is offline
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In the '30s there were the American Austin and the American Bantam; they rode on 75" wheelbases. Top speed is estimated to have been about 50MPH.
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  #42  
Old 08-19-2004, 11:13 PM
Skywatcher Skywatcher is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Blue Sky
Weren't the original Minis available in the US at one time?
I believe they were imported from 1960 until 1967. Lessee...1964 Mini Cooper S Rally...wheelbase 80"...overall length 123"...top speed nearly 100MPH.
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  #43  
Old 08-19-2004, 11:32 PM
Skywatcher Skywatcher is offline
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I found that the wheelbase on the King Midget ranged from 72" to 76½".

There was a company in Kansas City called Small Cars, Inc; their Panda rode a 70" wheelbase but evidently was only made in 1955. Some had a 26½HP Crosley four cylinder.

The Crosleys themselves were small cars. Made from 1939 to '52, all Crosleys rode either an 80" or 85" wheelbase.
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  #44  
Old 08-20-2004, 07:30 AM
BMalion BMalion is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Blue Sky
I get the same feeling when I see a commercial vehicle with a Jesus fish on the back.

Yes, very awful for a company to strongly advocates following the 10 Commandments or something. So much more comforting to follow the Enron values.

If you don't believe in God, your choice, but why dump on a company that is run by someone who uses his belief to try and be a better corporate citizen?

You don't have a problem with him using his profits to feed orphans I trust?
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  #45  
Old 08-20-2004, 12:23 PM
kunilou kunilou is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dummy-up
Subaru 360 would also fit into this category. . . They were essentially an aluminum foil body wrapped around a cardboard frame (or it least it seemed like that). Your feet rested on the brackets that hold the front bumper on. Not the safest car that I have ever driven.
IIRC, the Subaru 360 was the first car ever rated NOT ACCEPTABLE by Consumer Reports. They had so, so many safety concerns, but I think the primary one was braking.

I had a friend who owned one. His dashboard fell off while he was driving.
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  #46  
Old 08-20-2004, 03:08 PM
Dummy-up Dummy-up is offline
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The biggest advantage of driving a Subaru 360 was that you didn't really have to worry about being injured in an accident....you would almost surely die.

I repainted one of mine and from that point on had to be very careful not to lean or brush against it because the slightest preasure resulted in a dent.
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