Pint-sized city cars have gone from novelty to road-royalty over the years. Once not taken seriously, featured in comedies like Only Fools and Horses and Mr. Bean, ‘bubble’ cars, are now a practical and fuel-efficient alternative for drivers looking to downsize.
Mr Bean’s lime green 1977 British Leyland Mini 1000
When it comes to parallel parking - (which we can all admit can be pain!) - cars like the Citroen C3 and Mini are much easier than the likes of a Land Rover or large SUV, and smaller cars can twist in between the trollies of supermarket car parks pretty easily too!
But where did this compact cars craze begin?
‘Bubble cars’ first blew onto the scene back into the 1950s. Back then, more people became car owners and larger, clunky automobiles and quadricycles, started clogging up the streets.
Ford Quadricycle from 1896
Car manufacturers began looking to solve the problem of these twisted traffic-starters, working their magic on an urban ‘bubble’ car for towns, suburbs, country lanes and villages.
The solution? Minicars and microcars, and their comical, poxy look WAS comedy gold. These characterful wheelie boxes were just what post-war Britain needed - they were cheap, affordable and so jam-packed with whimsy that there wasn’t any space for much else! Now, the nation are no longer laughing, with popular subcompact cars like the BMW i3 being some of the best value SUVs you can buy.
Shall we home in on the history of some of the oldest bubble cars and how they may have inspired later brand design?
1. From: The Isetta ---> To: The BMW i3
Number one - we’ll wind up the iconic 1956 Isetta, one of the earliest BMWs of its kind, a rare egg-shaped car with bubble-like windows and a single, swinging front door. It was famously taken for a ‘bubble trouble’ type of test drive by Jeremy Clarkson in 2012.
Spring to a modern day version of a BMW bubble day car and we get the BMW i3 with a 120Ah high-voltage battery. It’s hexagonal shape round the back and front complement its curvature, injecting a nuanced new energy into the kinetic electric engine. Delivering 170hp and 250Nm of torque, the car adventurously accelerates from 0-62mph in only 7.3 seconds.
Dual-colours with a silver roof-line strip, front grille and high-gloss, roll-resistant alloy wheels help you hasten attention, creating a sporty and airy look. Of course, you can then customise your car; Streamline Star-spoke style wheels evoke a minimalist look, whereas Turbine-style or jet black wheels offer bold road presence.
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2. From: The Citroën Prototype C10 -----> To: The Citroën C3
Shooting to the aeronautic Citroën Prototype C10, we see it’s bloomed into the burgeoning Citroën C3 in recent years.
Citroën Prototype C10
It might look like it’s floated straight out of Star Trek, but there are some downsides to this featherweight UFO-donning road buggy. Since it weighs only 382 kilograms, it can be a nightmare if hit by a gust of wind.
The Citroën Prototype C10 looks like a space invader
Design has transformed over the years and manufacturer’s have worked out a way - in the form of the Citroën C3 hatchback - to seat the whole family but still lock-in the street cred.
As the brand’s biggest-selling small car, we can see why it’s such a smash hit, flitting between unique, modish and family-friendly features. With interior mood lighting, a 300-litre boot and an ISOFIX safety system for children, we note how the brand has come on leaps and bounds in terms of technology and adaptability.
3. From: British Leyland Mini 1000 -----> To: The Mini models of today
Last, but certainly not least, we have the magnificent little Mini, the world’s first successful four-seater small car.
British Leyland Mini 1000
Back in the 1960s, the British Leyland Mini was mega funny - and we think it was meant to be with Mr. Bean bumbling around in it!
Built as a small, two-door economy car to respond to fuel-shortage, the original Mini was developed with a cylinder engine and featured a monocoque shell.
Mini models of today
This might come as a shock to the system, but the Mini Cooper’s future was somewhat uncertain through the 1970s and the 1980s. The license for the brand was sold to Spanish and Italian companies and new models became more of a novelty than a progression. By the 1990s, the Rover Group, who owned the rights to the Mini, was bought by the German manufacturer BMW. Although selling off Rover at the end of the decade, BMW retained the Mini marque, and since 2000 have relaunched the line.
The versatile Mini Countryman is one of the newest models in the line and contrary to its name, it’s XXL - a full 20cm longer than it was before, with plenty of space for up to five people.
Visually, it’s kind of like a crossover with some British decorum, with roof bars, sill protectors and a generous-sized luggage compartment to assist drivers.
The hatchback is bordered by a honeycomb radiator grille with S Badge above it and benefits from a Mini Driving Excitement pack including an infotainment system and Mini connected services that display engine temperature, power, RPM and torque.