The Big Book of Tiny Cars by Russell Hayes – Review
By Liam Bird
You may have read recently that Ford are going to stop making the Fiesta. I read, only last week, that the Volkswagen Polo’s days are numbered too. It costs big money to make small cars, and even more to make them comply with constantly changing rules and regulations. Like it or lump it, the automotive world as we know and love it is changing.
Small cars make a huge difference, they always have. Firstly, they’re relatively cheap to buy, and of course, they’re relatively cheap to run. When the first owner decides it’s time to move on, the next bags themselves a cheap second-hand runabout, as does the car’s third owner when the second decides to sell. Then there’s the fourth, the fifth, the sixth… Small cars have mobilised us all. Whose first car wasn’t a very well-used hatchback of some kind? I passed my test in a Fiesta, my first car was a Hillman Imp, my second an Austin Mini, my third a Metro, my fourth a Peugeot 205. Then came a Peugeot 106, a rare series 1 Rallye, Oh how I wish I’d kept that. If only I’d kept my Audi A2 too.
I thought I knew my small cars, my Messerschmitts from my Minis, my Peels from my Pandas, my Imps from my Innocentis. It turns out I was barely scratching the surface.
In The Big Book of Tiny Cars, motoring journalist Russell Hayes – whose clients have included the Times, Channel 4’s Driven, the London Evening Standard and Top Gear – introduces us to a plethora of diminutive automotive oddities; microcars, minicars, bubblecars, kei cars, subcompacts, all of which have been built, sold, and perhaps most importantly of all, enjoyed, all over the globe for more than a century. The aforementioned Hillman Imp sits proudly on page 86, there’s the original Mini Minor, the Peel P50, Messerschmitt’s KR175. Strangely, the Audi A2 doesn’t get a mention, neither does the Jimny. Nevertheless, there’s an Electric Egg on page 23.
Hayes profiles each in his selection in chronological order, with an entertaining and informative history, a fact box, and Tiny Trivia – for instance, did you know Aston Martin built a Cygnet, a 9 feet, 10 inch long 3+1 seater, with a V8 engine and 430bhp? Each car’s history too is accompanied by beautiful period photography and/or illustrations – all of which provide an illuminating insight into just how far we, and our tiny cars, have moved on.
Brightly coloured and entertainingly written, The Big Book of Tiny Cars is not just for car lovers – all of us are amused and sometimes delighted with small, curious, or exquisitely manufactured things. And you never know, written now, just as the numbers of tiny cars are potentially set to get smaller, it might just become a reminder that we never really appreciate how good something was – bright orange, wedge shaped, three-wheeler Bond Bug included – until it’s gone.
‘The Big Book of Tiny Cars: A Century of Diminutive Automotive Oddities’ by Russell Hayes is published by Quarto, £28