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More World's Cheapest Cars

As Detroit sings the blues. It's interesting to reflect back on the times when some enterprising car companies built some really cheap rides to find a market among buyers not really able to afford a car and sell them something with four wheels that was passed off as a car.

A couple days ago I posted a rather funny piece on the tiny $2,000 Tata Nano which is the world's current reigning cheapest car. Well, you might wonder what other cheap cars that penny pincher's drove over the years. Here's a few more honorable mentions:

1925 Ford Model T Touring: Price $290. With the advent of mass production, Henry Ford was able to reduce the price of his Model T automobiles from $850 in 1909 and a high water mark of $950 in 1910 down to just a mere $290 by 1925, allowing your grandfather as well as many 1950's hot rod kids a very cheap ride.

1950's Isetta: Price under $1,000. Built in a number of European countries including Germany, Italy, France, with different prices and engines, the tiny single front entry door Isetta cars(first designed in Italy) were pure econoboxes. Some had single cylinder 13hp engines. It looks likely that a new retroIsetta model built by BMW may be available for 2010.

1969 Subaru 360: Price $1,297. When Subaru was only a three year old automobile brand they made a terrible attempt to break into the American automobile market with the pathetic little Subaru 360 cars. These two cylinder wonders might have gotten as high as 66 miles per gallon, but they were extremely cheap cars in every regard. And there was even a tiny little pickup truck version once available that featured a truck bed so small that you only put a few pairs of shoes or garden supplies back there. The cars came in just one color....white. One Portland, Oregon car dealer got stuck with a bunch of these cars that didn't sell worth a darn, so he repainted some of them brown and other colors in hopes of getting rid of them. Finally he closed out on the remaining models by selling them for just $500 each on fiirst come, first served basis. And virtually no options were available.The suicide doors were a nice feature as well. These tiny cars were actually about 3 feet shorter than a VW bug and looked inspired by the VWs.Subaru360.jpg

1970 1/2 AMC Gremlin: $1,879. On April Fool's Day 1970, little American Motors launched the AMC Gremlin, America's first modern subcompact. By chopping about a foot and a half out of the compact Hornet models, AMC was able to build a whole new line small cars with a unique chopped off back look. The $1,879 models featured a fixed and sealed back window and no back seat for extra passengers. But for a mere few dollars more at $1,959, you could buy the better model with a back seat and rear window that opened. Believe me, that was worth the extra cost. But the little Gremlins were well built little cars, with a strong 6 cylinder engine and later a V8 engine in some models that made them into little hot rods. The AMC Gremlins probably rank as one of the best cheap cars ever built for many reasons including sturdy body designs and long running engines and transmissions. Unfortunately, the later AMC Spirit built off of this body design in 1979 until 1983 had many problems with engines or other quality control problems and simply does not measure up to the old Gremlin in durable design.

1971 Ford Pinto: $1,919. Say what you will about these little cars. including the fuel tank problems they had. But for a mere $1,919 these were good cheap cars. For very little money these Pintos often ran for many years and offered reasonable service. They also featured a low seating position and were decent handling little cars. The later station wagon models were a real workhorse for a small business or a family on a budget.

And of course no one should forget the Citroen 2CV and a few other miserly cars built over the years when the buyer's biggest concern was price and certainly not quality.

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Comments (8)

Mac Lorry:

Using the multiplier that the Social Security administration uses to convert past contributions to today's dollars, the 1969 Subaru 360 would have a price of $8,508 today. The 1970 AMC Gremlin would cost $11,743 and the 1971 Ford Pinto would cost $11,418 in today's dollars. That's still some low prices, but all these cars were devoid of all but the most rudimentary pollution control systems, needed tune-ups every 10,000 miles, and offered little protection in a crash. If you compare the low cost cars of yesteryear with something like the 2009 Nissan Versa base for $9,900 or even the 2009 Toyota Yaris base for $12,205 you'll see that you get a lot more for your money nowadays, but it's not coming out of Detroit.

Christina Viering:

Good insight!


Anyone remember the VW diesel Rabbit, that got around 53 MPG? What happened to them? Outlawed by the oil companies, with the help of some of our elected employees. I don't remember the cost of them, but were cheaper than the junk out of Detroit. And the Rabbit didn't need expensive repairs either.

I had a 74 Pinto with a sunroof that you opened with a crank. That was the best car I ever had! Survived a multi-car accident during an ice storm, survived a huge tree branch falling on it.... if only the transmission had held out I might still be driving it.

Paul Hooson:

Hello Denise, indeed the Ford Pintos were very good cheap cars. I owned a wagon one, and it was a very good cheap wagon. The transmissions were the weak point in all Pintos though.

My favorite cheap car had to be the AMC Gremlin. I owned four of them, although two of them I made into hot rods with big tires, hood scoops, custom suspension, exhaust etc. But even the basic 6 cylinder models were very good.

Hello, Allen. Indeed those diesel Rabbits were a decent little car. Diesel motors can be a little dirty burning, however probably not nearly as bad as the two two stroke motorbikes I own. Both produce great power from small engines, but at a cost in higher pollution and lower gas mileage than comparable four stroke bikes. I've had plenty of diesel experience with installing my own furnace. The service station diesel sure looks and smells much more like gasoline than the home heating oil for some reason. The home heating oil has a higher sulphur content as well as red dye in it.

Hello, Christina, thanks for expressing your opinions here at Blue. Great to have you as a reader.

Great insights, Mac Lorry. Today's cars are far better than the cheap stuff from years ago in many ways. Cars are much more high tech today and far more refined. Older cars were much more crude and primitive. But then look at TVs, etc. I spent around twenty years in the TV repair business, and they have sure changed over the years as well.

Mac Lorry:


I spent around twenty years in the TV repair business, and they have sure changed over the years as well.

How true, and like older TV's I used to be able to repair cars. As I kid I worked in a gas station that was next to a restraint. A customer came out of the restraint and couldn't find his car keys and after an hour he gave up and wondered if I could help him. Well sure, I ran a wire from the positive pole of the battery to the ignition side of the coil. With the customer working the throttle I crawled under the car and shorted across the starter solenoid and the car started right up. I found out later the guy was able to drive home with no problems, which was some 60 miles away. Can't do that with today's cars.

Mac Lorry:

Should be Nest to a restaurant and came out of the restaurant.



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