10 “people’s cars” that have earned their cult following
Throughout the automotive industry, car manufacturers have tried to create vehicles suitable for all aspects of everyday life. While some still pursue this philosophy, the trend was more evident after the end of World War II, when many could not afford the cars already available.
Automakers in the respective country then set out to create their own “people’s car” to help the country develop its industry and economy, thereby creating a better world for all. The original “people’s car” was the Volkswagen Type 1 – also known as ‘Bug’ or ‘Beetle’. Although it has an unfortunate past, it was the car that sparked a revolution in the automotive industry, prompting neighboring countries France, Britain, Italy and Russia to make same. This even spread to the Far East as Japan busied itself designing its own versions. This global trend has resulted in vehicles that are compact, inexpensive to build, inexpensive to operate, and cheap to buy, while being practical, durable, and easy to repair with handy tools rather than specialist tools.
Today, these “people’s cars” are revered for their simplicity and genius, with many be presented as works of art in galleries and car museums. These classic cars have also gained a cult following, with an almost countless amount of clubs dedicated to their restoration and preservation. With that, here are ten “people’s cars” that have earned their cult following.
ten VW Beetle
The VW Type 1 – or “Beetle” – is one of the best-known vehicles ever made. Originally commissioned by Adolf Hitler and designed and manufactured by Ferdinand Porsche, the Beetle made its debut in 1938 and remained in production until 2003. The Beetle was built by different companies with over 21.5 million units sold worldwide.
The Beetle is powered by a series of flat-4 engines, starting with a 1.1-litre and ending with a 1.6-litre. The original Beetle only produced 30 hp, but was eventually increased to 57 hp when the Beetle ended production. The VW Beetle is probably one of the most influential cars that ever existed, as it redefined what the automobile was meant to be.
9 VW bus
The VW Type 2 – also known as Bus, Microbus, Kombi or Transporter in different countries – was a more practical alternative to the Beetle. It was designed by Dutch VW importer Ben Pon and went on to become a hugely popular work/family and entertainment vehicle. The Type 2 was in production between 1950 and 1975, with subsequent models still in production as the T6.1. VW has also recently started production of the IDBuzz, an electric spiritual successor to the original.
Over the years, the Type 2 has become a popular choice among all kinds of people, from construction workers to campers, large families to celebrity chefs. The Type 2, built on the same platform as the Type 1, shared the same engines and horsepower as the Beetle. This made the vehicle quite sluggish and relatively underpowered – not that it mattered much as people certainly weren’t buying the Type 2 for the straight-line speed.
8 Citroen 2CV
The Citroën 2CV was France’s answer to the VW Beetle. It had almost the same underpinnings as the Beetle, but with a real French flair. The 2CV was larger than the Beetle, but had much smaller and less powerful engines, the most powerful developing only 29 bhp.
The 2CV’s debut was met with criticism from the international press, but within the first year of production the waiting list for the 2CV grew to five years. The 2CV was a monumental success thanks to its simplicity, comfort and durability. Citroën’s ingenious suspension system made headlines and was reworked and updated to eventually become the basis of Rolls-Royce’s suspension.
seven Renault 4L
Like the Citroën 2CV, Renault was working on its own popular car. The Renault 4 debuted in 1962 and remained in production until 1992. The 4 featured various inline-4 engines, ranging from a tiny 0.6 liter to a tiny 1.1 liter, the version The most powerful R4 developing only 32 hp. .
The 4 was a more conventional car than the 2CV, but it still had some interesting quirks. An example of this is the fact that the gearbox was at the front of the engine and rather than developing a complicated gear changing system, the lever simply went directly above the engine. It’s a bit weird, but it worked and the Renault 4 sold over eight million units.
6 Minor Morris
Across the Channel, the Brits were busy working on their own version of the VW Beetle, called the Morris Minor. Unlike the Beetle which was a rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive car and the Citroën 2CV which was a front-engine, front-wheel-drive car, the Minor combined the two to create the best layout – front engine with rear wheel – to drive.
The Minor was in production between 1948 and 1971 and featured small inline 4-cylinder engines. Like other people’s cars, the Minor was available as a 4-door and 2-door hardtop, as well as a 2-door convertible. The Minor was a great car that was eventually replaced by the Austin Mini in 1959.
5 Mini Cooper
Like previous cars, the original Mini was the result of economic instability. In the 1950s, Britain was facing a fuel shortage, so Britons needed a fuel-efficient car for travelling. The result was the Austin Mini, also known by 15 other names over the 41 years of production. Like the Morris Minor before it, the Mini was powered by a series of inline-4 engines, mounted transversely due to the front-wheel-drive layout.
The Mini was a revolution and, thanks to the frugal engines, helped the British through this difficult period. The Mini was also a brilliant race car, able to easily keep up with the big American V8 barges around the circuits during the Touring Car Championships. The Mini was also excellent in rallying thanks to its punchy engine, short wheelbase and light weight, winning 32 titles between 1960 and 1972.
4 Fiat 500
On the Italian mainland, Fiat engineers didn’t want to be outdone, so in 1957 the Italian marque unveiled the Fiat 500. It was a small 2-door city car with an inline-2 engine powering the rear wheels via a 4-speed manual transmission. The 500 as we know it replaced the Topolino, a pre-WWII car that had become obsolete.
The 500 was available as a hardtop, convertible and even a 2-door station wagon, mainly used as a delivery vehicle. Today, the 500 lives on as a city car with a modern take on the original styling, and it can even be purchased as an electric vehicle. The Fiat 500 is also featured in the Cars film series as Luigi, the Radiator Springs tire shop owner.
3 Fiat Panda
The Fiat Panda followed the criteria of a popular car, but with a little more space. Introduced in 1980, the Panda has been in constant production and is currently in its third generation. The original Panda was a front-engine, brick-shaped hatchback with various inline-4 engines, even sporting an inline-2 and a 1.3-liter diesel.
Hilariously, the Panda was also available with 4WD and the mighty 48hp engine. The Panda 4×4 was the first small, transversely-mounted engine car to feature a 4WD system, which was selectable and had an ultra-low first gear. The original Panda was a great car and was made even more famous by the taste of James May.
2 Datsun 510
The Datsun 510 was the Japanese equivalent of the people’s European cars. It was bigger and more comfortable but it was the same basic idea – cheap and reliable that would last a long time. The 510 was available in sedan, coupe and station wagon body styles, sporting larger 4-cylinder engines starting with a 1.3-litre and eventually ending in a 1.8-litre.
The 510 had some very nice trim throughout its production runs, with the SSS trim even putting out an impressive 108 bhp. Luckily for enthusiasts, the 510 was the right front-engine, rear-drive configuration, which made it popular among riders and racers, even competing in the Trans Am Series in the early 1970s. Today, the 510 is massively collectible and has a huge following.
The original Honda Civic was the Japanese marque’s first real sales success, selling around 100,000 units a year between 1972 and 1979. The Civic was available in 2- and 4-door fastback, 3- and 5-door sedan and even 5 -wagon door. It featured inline 4-cylinder engines, ranging from the entry-level 1.2-litre with 50 bhp to the 1.5-litre with 75 bhp – when mated to the 5-speed manual.
Most Civic models came with 4-speed manual transmissions, but Honda offered a 2-speed automatic, called the Hondamatic – however few people opted for this option. The Civic was a popular choice in Britain and the United States, as the energy crisis was in full swing and American cars were pretty terrible. The Civic may have come a little late to the party, but it definitely deserves a place in the ‘People’s Cars’ category.