Pacific Grove, California — The Little Car Show is a sleeping giant of Monterey Car Week each year. It typically takes place on Wednesday before the onslaught of enthusiasts and big-ticket events, but with its casual location in downtown Pacific Grove and its free attendance, it attracts big crowds each year. Here are our 10 favorite cars from this year’s show and a small nudge to you to attend next year’s event.
1949 Crosley Hotshot
Crosley was at one time the largest manufacturer of radios in the world, but by the end of the 1930s, its founder had branched out into diminutive, utilitarian automobiles. Post-WWII, the Crosley Hotshot went into production and is commonly referred to as the first American sports car built after the war. With a 26-hp, 0.7-liter engine mounted behind the front axle, the Hotshot was capable of reaching 80 mph.
1956 BMW Isetta 300
One of BMW’s most famous models, the little Isetta is actually Italian in design. The car’s was licensed to several international manufacturers, including BMW, by Renzo Rivolta and his ISO manufacturing company. In addition to small cars, ISO was a leading refrigerator manufacturer in Italy, leading to the distinctive design of the Isetta’s front door. Power comes from a 0.3-liter engine making about 13 horsepower. Having driven one of these in the rush-hour clogged streets of Munich some years ago, I can tell you they are an experience to have at least once in your life.
1957 Fiat 600 Multipla
Fiat’s 600 Multipla was really a precursor to what would today be called a minivan. Despite its tiny size and just 0.6-liters of displacement from the rear-mounted engine, versions of the Multipla, like this one, could carry up to six people inside. Once an odd duckling of the classic Fiat lineup, the Multipla is now very collectible, with top examples bringing as much as $70,000. My grandfather owned one of these in Los Angeles in the 1960s and my father remembers a family vacation with the car loaded to max capacity, chugging its way at low speed up Southern California’s “Grapevine.”
1957 Nash Metropolitan
Nash Motors was an automaker that prided itself on economical automobiles and the Metropolitan was designed to be a small car that could serve as a practical second car in a growing household. It boasted a monocoque chassis, a rarity at the time, and was available with a variety of small Austin engines, from 1.2 to 1.5 liters.
1961 Austin-Healey “Bugeye” Sprite
The Sprite was an attempt at a lower cost sports car for those who couldn’t afford the company’s larger 100-4 and 100-6 models. Designed by Donald Healey’s company, the Sprite’s original design called for retractable headlights, but that plan was scrapped to keep the cars on-budget. The result was a fixed-headlight setup which became the car’s most distinguishing feature, creating the nickname “bugeye” in the U.S. and “frogeye” in the U.K. These cars originally had 0.9-liter engines making about 48 hp and were spartan to the max, with removable plastic side windows, no exterior door latches and optional rubber mats on the floor.
1966 Austin Mini Cooper S
The original Mini, designed by Sir Alex Issigonis, is one of the most influential cars of its time, featuring exceptional packaging for an inexpensive, practical small car and leading the mass-production front-wheel-drive charge. When Formula 1 manufacturer John Cooper got involved, the Mini Cooper became one of the leading small sports coupes of its day, going on to plenty of success on tracks and rally courses worldwide. This Mini Cooper S takes that legacy a step further, with a 1.3-liter engine making 146 horsepower and fully adjustable suspension.
1967 Toyota Sports 800
Toyota is an automaker with plenty of famous sports cars, from the 2000 GT to the Supra. The Sports 800, however, was the brand’s first attempt at a sports car. Utilizing an uprated engine from the Publica 700, a small Japanese economy car, the Sports 800 produced around 44 hp from just under 0.8 air-cooled liters and aerodynamic bodywork, courtesy of a Toyota designer who had previously built Japanese war planes. The car was considered for the U.S. market, but ultimately was never officially exported there.
1973 Lotus Super Seven
The Lotus Seven was designed by Colin Chapman as a small, inexpensive club racing car that could also be driven on the street. It boasted a lightweight tube-frame design and used a variety of Ford I-4 engines. This Super Seven was built in the last year of Lotus production, by which time most body panels had been changed to fiberglass from the original aluminum. Post-’73, Lotus licensed the car’s design to Caterham which continues to build them today.
1984 Honda CRX
Honda’s CRX was a true innovator and leader in the sporty compact car market, with a space-efficient hatchback design, economical front-wheel-drive architecture, and a variety of small front-mounted inline-four engines. This “Sport” example, from the first year of U.S. production, has a 1.5-liters of displacement, a five-speed manual gearbox and even retains its original window sticker.
1991 Honda Beat
Designed as a fun, sporty entry in Japan’s tiny kei-car (small economy car) class, the Honda Beat was originally a design project at Pininfarina before being bought by Honda. The Beat has a 0.6-liter, three-cylinder engine which makes about 64 hp at 8,100 rpm and allows a top speed of just shy of 90 mph. These cars were only sold in Japan when new, but federal 25-year vehicle importation regulations allow these now-classic Beats entry to the U.S.