Category: Compact and Economy Cars

Frugal basic transportation of all shapes and sizes.

Thunder and Lightning, Part 2: The AE86 Toyota Corolla Levin/Sprinter Trueno

In the eighties, the Toyota Corolla and its Japanese-market Toyota Sprinter sibling switched to FWD, but not without one last fling for the sporty rear-drive coupes. In the second part of our story, we look at the origins and history of the final RWD Corolla — the 1983–1987 AE86 Corolla Levin and Sprinter Trueno — and consider the later history and fate of the Levin and Trueno coupes.
1986 Toyota Corolla Sport SR5 (AE86) - Corolla decklid decal © 2014 Aaron Severson
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Thunder and Lightning, Part 1: The Toyota Corolla Levin and Sprinter Trueno

Although the Toyota Corolla is one of the world’s bestselling automotive nameplates, it’s not one that generally arouses much enthusiast interest. Twenty years ago, however, the Corolla Levin coupe and its near-twin, the Sprinter Trueno, were sporty rear-wheel-drive cars that are still coveted by street racers today. We’ll get to the legendary AE86 in part two. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we examine the history of the early DOHC Corolla and Sprinter coupes, their Yamaha-developed 2T-G engine, and the more mundane cars on which they were based.

1976 Toyota Corolla SR5 hardtop (TE37) rear fender badge © 2011 Aaron Severson
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Party Downsize: The Ford Fiesta Mk1 and Mk2

The original Ford Fiesta, introduced in 1976, was the Ford Motor Company’s most important new car of the seventies. It was a staggeringly expensive project that began Ford’s conversion to front-wheel drive and took the company into the modern B-segment for the first time. However, the Fiesta also provoked great internal controversy and emerged only after a protracted and contentious development period. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we look at the origins and history of the 1976–1983 Mk1 Fiesta, the Fiesta XR2 hot hatch, and the 1984–1989 Mk2 Fiesta.

1978 Mk1 Fiesta S fender decal © 2012 Murilee Martin (used with permission)
(Photo © 2012 Murilee Martin); used with permission)
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Contrary Compact: The Life and Death of the Chevrolet Corvair

There is no American automobile more controversial than this one. It’s the car that launched the career of Ralph Nader and led directly to the passage of the first U.S. federal safety legislation. Automotive historian Michael Lamm called this car a martyr; others said it should never have been built at all. It was flawed, at least in its original iteration, but it was also one of the most daring cars GM has ever built. We’re talking about the Chevrolet Corvair.

Author’s Note: The original version of this article was written in 2007. It has been extensively revised and expanded, adding new information and correcting various factual errors.

1960 Chevrolet Corvair badge
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Jet Crash: The Compact Hudson Jet

When the Hudson Jet was first announced in 1952, company officials thought the compact sedan would be a renaissance for the venerable automaker. Today, many historians will tell you it was Hudson’s fatal mistake. This week, we look at the origins and history of Hudson’s much-maligned 1953-1954 Jet.

Hudson Jet badge on a 1953 Super Jet four-door sedan
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Tiny and Triumphant: The Morris / Austin Mini

The original Mini is one of a tiny handful of vehicles that are truly iconic, immediately recognizable even by people who know nothing about cars. It’s as enduring a symbol of sixties Britain as the Beatles and James Bond — a revolutionary little shoebox on wheels that rewrote the rules for compact cars. This week, we look at the history of BMC’s original Morris and Austin Mini.

1963 Austin Mini Cooper front 3q view
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Five by Five: The Renault 5 and the Mid-Engine Renault 5 Turbo

If you’re an American over 30, you may have some hazy, not necessarily happy memories of the Renault Le Car, sold here from 1976 through 1983. To Europeans, who will need little introduction, it was known as the Renault 5, a ubiquitous French subcompact that helped to popularize the supermini genre. Although it never sold very well in the States, Renault moved more than 5 million of these cars in other markets between 1972 and 1986, making the “Cinq” one of the best-selling French cars of all time. It also spawned a wild little rally car: the fearsome mid-engine Renault 5 Turbo.

1985 Renault 5 Turbo 2 hatch
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Falling Star: The Checkered History of the Chevrolet Vega

It sounded so promising at the time. After years of dismissing imported compacts as cars for kooks, GM was finally going to build an attractive, sophisticated subcompact featuring the latest advances in manufacturing technology. To follow that, Chevrolet was going to offer a sporty version with a racy twin-cam engine built by the legendary English firm Cosworth. It was the car that was going to save America for American cars — that is, until it all went wrong. This is the story of the 1971-1977 Chevrolet Vega and 1975-1976 Cosworth Vega.

1971 Chevrolet Vega badge
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Fashionably Small: The Compact Nash Rambler

Every ten years or so, the American market rediscovers the compact economy car. This “discovery” is inevitably treated as a revelation, as is the idea that a small car might not be a sluggardly automotive hair shirt. Our younger readers may therefore be surprised to know that the idea of a small, luxurious economy car goes back at least to this primordial American compact: the original Nash Rambler. This week, the story of the 1950–1963 Rambler and Rambler American.

1960 Rambler American Deluxe badge
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Everybody’s Kid Brother: Chrysler’s Compact Valiant

Advertised as “Nobody’s Kid Brother,” Chrysler’s compact Valiant was originally intended to be its own marque. The story of how it became the Plymouth Valiant is a complicated one, going back to the origins of the Plymouth brand and its relationship with other Chrysler divisions. This is the story of the original Valiant, its little-known Dodge twin, the Lancer, and the long and contentious relationship between Plymouth and its sister divisions.

1960 Valiant badge
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Except as otherwise noted, all text and images are copyright © Aaron Severson dba Ate Up With Motor. (Terms of Use – Reprint/Reuse Policy) Trademarks referenced herein are the property of their respective owners and are used here for informational/nominative purposes.