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.

[sub]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.[/sub]

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.

      • 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.

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!

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.

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)


I’ll point out that the BMW Isetta was street legal, manufactured in some quantity, and was definitely driven on US streets and highways:


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.

Oh, and an Isetta is what Urkel drove.

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.


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.

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?

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.

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. :frowning:

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):


Specifications, which are somewhat suspect:


Somebody apparently thinks you DIVIDE kg by 2.2 to get pounds. I might believe the curb weight of 550 kg = 1210 pounds.

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.

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.

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.

Looks like it will be a new version of the Smart that eventually reaches the USA:

A Smart SUV? That I have to see. Will it be taller than it is long? :slight_smile:

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.

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! :eek: