By on March 10, 2010

All right, I have a thing about short cars. I haven’t spoken to a therapist about it yet. Perhaps its just a reaction against the obesity crisis in modern cars and trucks. But where did they all go? There were once so many of them. Well, I’m going to collect all of them: Have the Suzuki Samurai, X-90 and the shorty Kia Sportage. That leaves as few to still find:

Let’s see: Suzuki Sidekick, Geo Tracker, Daihatsu Rocky (in the can), and Isuzu Amigo. I already have a custom shorty VW (which included the shorty Lancer). I could use one of those crazy shortened VW buses to make the collection complete. Did I miss someone?

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44 Comments on “Curbside Classic Outtake: Get More Shorties Edition...”

  • avatar

    Don’t know that the VehiCross strictly fits your criteria, but I do think it’s weird enough.

  • avatar

    The 2-door RAV4 was also available in a soft top version. I’d own one.

    • 0 avatar

      My wife has one. The soft top is actually the only thing I don’t like about it. The two-doors are really hard to find, so when we found one in great shape, we just bought it. Since the top is a pain to get down, I’d much prefer the hard top version. Unfortunately, they stopped making hard top conversions when oil (and plastic) prices jumped up.

      This car is the most fun non-sports car I’ve ever driven. It’s just a hoot. Short wheelbase cars rock. It is great fun on a dirt road or on trashed urban streets, it will tow my jet ski, and it gets damned decent mileage. It’s not fast, but it’s torquey and zippy.

      If Toyota still made a version of this, we would buy another one. As it is, it keeps on ticking, so we’re just going to keep it. From the other owners I’ve talked to, we aren’t the only ones who think it’s a great car.

  • avatar
    Seth L

    Hmm, how about the Chevy tracker variant, and was there a two-door Honda CRV?

    Should we include Subaru Brats in this equation, or do they get their own tiny pickup niche?

  • avatar

    If we are talking short, rather than diminutive, then old school would be 1966-77 Bronco, newer school would be Bronco II, and too new for CC school would be Explorer Sport…

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Good points. I have the old Bronco and the Bronco II in the can. Explorer Sport…didn’t do much for me, but I’d better grab one before they all disappear. Not a popular vehicle.

    • 0 avatar

      There’s still a few Explorer Sports about in my area, but it seems most people who went into a Ford dealership looking for something like that drove out with an F-150 instead.

      I recall C&D doing a short take on the Sport. Their verdict was that, for the money, the Honda Ridgeline did everything better, with one exception – the Explorer Sport had a lot better towing capacity.

      And I also recall a recurring theme in letters to the editor: “Why don’t you rename the magazine Truck and Driver, you never seem to review cars anymore.”

    • 0 avatar


      I’d assume C/D was writing about the Ford Explorer Sport Trac, which is a Ridgeline-like vehicle with a tiny pick-up bed.

      I’m guessing that the “Explorer Sport” Robert.Walker was referring to was the short wheelbase two-door version of the Explorer, last built in 2003.

    • 0 avatar

      In my experience the 2-door Explorer Sport was fairly popular when the ’98s came out. Those were some of the only vehicles we were able to move at a profit during my short stint at a dealership in Fresno that summer. (Pretty much those and the then-new Super Duty trucks.)

  • avatar

    Regular cab shortbox pickups. I’ve got a ’94 Ford, which is about perfect for my dog and I. It still offers the utility and the backcountry go-anywhere (in the SWB even moreso) qualities of more bloated trucks but without all the fat.

  • avatar

    I always hated the look of these Rav4s. They are the stylistic equivalent of a cheap plastic knock-off athletic shoe. The designers must have drawn their inspiration from a trip to PayLess.

  • avatar

    I saw one of these a few weeks ago, after not seeing one for a while and I was surprised at how small the original RAV-4 was. Of course my perspective may be slightly warped since the two biggest vehicles I ever owned were a Volvo 164 and a Ford Ranger.

  • avatar

    It is curious where all the ‘shorties’ went. I wonder if it’s pure economics, that the price just became too cost prohibitive for what would seem to be vehicles that had been aimed at entry-level buyers.

    Maybe the fad just wore off as the market shifted to FWD ‘cute-utes’ based off of car unibodies rather than shortened, RWD BOF mini-trucks.

    Or, more likely, the ‘shorty’ buyers simply gravitated to marginally more practical (but a lot more trendy) stuff like the Scion xB, Kia Soul, and Nissan Cube.

  • avatar

    I love these little guys, but my worry would be getting rear-ended with my kids in the back.

  • avatar

    There is a popular 2-door variant of the current Suzuki Grand Vitara, but it’s not sold in North America.

    The current 4-door European Rav-4 is shorter than the North American version.

    Wasn’t there a 1961 “Park Avenue” Cadillac that had 7″ lopped off the trunk?

    • 0 avatar

      Yes two shortened Cadillacs of the 60s, both VERY rare. The “Park Avenue” and the Sedan De Ville Town Sedan. Honest to God the reason they built them was letters from rich old widows talking about how they were having trouble parking their Caddy’s and wanted something shorter but still a Cadillac.

  • avatar

    How about the Isuzu Amigo? I’ve always been fond of them.

  • avatar

    I still own a 1996 Rav 4, 2 door (Red) with 4wd and manual tranny. Love the car. It has 96,000 miles on it. Toyota made these from 1996-1998 and I think the reason they made them was they were planning to make them all electric vehicles and sell them in California due to the fact that California had some very strict emissions requirements at that time. Later they changed the law there and dropped the zero emissions requirements and then Toyota quit producing these. They made a few all electric RAv 4 2 doors for a brief period to test the market and the vehicles but never went into full production of an all electric RAV4 2 door. That’s why they quit making them, people wante bigger and faster cars.

    • 0 avatar

      They quit making the electric Rav4 because GM, who held the patent for using a NiMH battery in an automobile, sold it to Texaco, who (surprise!) refused to let Toyota continue to pay royalties to use the technology.

      And that, boys and girls, is why you don’t see anyone putting NiMH batteries, which are much cheaper than Lithium Ion and more efficient than lead-acid, in automobiles. There’s still a few electric Rav4s running around, can’t imagine it will be much longer before the batteries quit.

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you Russcycle, I had forgotten that Texaco purchase as the main reason they dropped the electric RAV4 idea. Thanks for correcting me.

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    This IS a car based cute ute. Its a Corolla styled to look like a small trucklet. It came with 5 sp manual. with better tires it was very roadworthy. You could get AWD. It was great in snow. You could see over cars out front through the traffic jam. Potholes didn’t hurt it. They didn’t break.

    Cladding is kind of crap, true. Its not real armor, just cheap cladding over soft steel.

    Where did they all go? They didn’t go. They got super sized.

  • avatar

    I own a 96 RAV4. Love the car but yes, its design reminds one of a giant RED baby shoe. Mine is red in color. ITs a great car though.
    Very dependable and can go just about anywhere withits high ground clearance and 4WD. I have a theory that Toyota produced these from 1996 -1998 with the idea that they would eventually convert all to all electric vehicles for sale mostly in California as at that time California had some zero emmissions requirements for vehicles. Later those standards were thrown out and Toyota never made more than a few demonstration vehicles in these 2 door RAV 4s as all electrics.

  • avatar

    IH Scout 80’s and 800’s need to be on the shorty list as well.

  • avatar

    There is also a Jeep which is pretty short. In fact it’s either rear seats -or- trunk slash cargo in them, but not both.

  • avatar

    Hey, where’s all the Mazda Navajo love??? Much rarer than 2-dr Explorer Sport.

  • avatar

    How about shortie cars? The AMC AMX and the SWB urQuattro come to mind.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d love a urQuattro Sport, but finding any Quattro these days is a tough call and the Sport version near on impossible (only 224 built according to Wikipedia)

  • avatar

    These things scream rollover.

    Narrow, top heavy and with plenty of clearance.

    Bring down the height from wheel center to floorboard.. and they might be safer.

    • 0 avatar

      So don’t drive one then.

    • 0 avatar

      The concept of novelty is one thing…

      These narrow bastards are another.
      Shouldn’t have been made in the first place.

      If ya think the 3rd Gen Exploder was bad…
      The Sport version was an accident waiting to happen.

      I’d bet ya could buy one for dirt cheap.. and roll it over inside of an hr. Id love to give the designer of that WINNER a nice swift kick in the ass. Man what a genius.

      Lets take the Ranger.. that’s already older than god, jack it up, add more weight and a massive engine. But keep the same shitty leaf springs that have been there since the last ice age.. and market the POS for into the 30s for the poser Eddie Bauer version. Make a ton of money, without a DIME going towards safety. Now, lets take that same obese and gutless top heavy mo fo… and shorten it! SO we got long, narrow, top heavy and on firestone tires.

      Do a avoidance maneuver in that..

    • 0 avatar

      Driven as they should, rather than as racing cars all these vehicles perform fine and I still see many of the aforementioned ones on a regular basis. While they may be more prone to rollover than cars, that doesn’t mean for a moment that every change in direction by the driver is a gamble with death.

      I understand you’re scared of them and that’s ok because no one said you have to run out and get one. I’ve driven and owned several and I live to tell the tale.

    • 0 avatar


      My knowledge of the vehicles and their inherent design problems, doesn’t in any way translate to fear, in the least. — Where was Nader when these POS were walking around.

      And just because you didn’t have issues with these being rollover prone, doesn’t mean they aren’t.

      The concept is clear as day. When a standard accident avoidance maneuver couldn’t be accomplished properly in these things… that is a problem.

      Narrow, vehicle based on the ranger, top heavy and with leaf springs. Shorten that and expect it to perform normally, is a lot to ask of it. — These things and E class and GM Savana vans is where ESC should have been installed.

      Perfect scenario.
      A lot of people in an awkward, long and narrow driving vehicle.. doesn’t make for a good combination.

    • 0 avatar

      How did this go from an article on SWB vehicles to you discussing the dangers of long tall narrow vehicles?

      Look, these vehicles may not be for everyone, but I’d venture to say that the basic act of driving isn’t either. There are reasons that a lot of these vehicles aren’t sold anymore and safety isn’t the root cause for all. A lot are niche vehicles to be sure. Nowadays people want one vehicle that does it all SUV’s, then crossovers… Safety regs have had their say as well as the over-litigious nature of the US population. Look at the current Wrangler. It’s become a retarded parody of itself and I don’t see a whole lot of the newer ones on the roads. It’s probably going to disappear at some point in the not too distant future.

      For some reason you dragged the Ranger into this discussion and it’s not related to this article at all. Still aside from an article stating that it was one of the most dangerous vehicles currently on the road I’ve yet to see or hear of a rash of horrific deaths related to it. It’s probably the #1 most common compact truck in the entire US and yet it works as intended and people go on living.

      I miss the variety these old SWB rides added to the roads. I wish there were more to choose from if I wanted to buy a new one. I’m sure not all share my sentiments, but that’s why they build different kinds of vehicles. I’m tired of seeing our means of transportation homogenized into pathetic, people moving devices that can only be distinguished by the increasing size of badges applied to them. I don’t care how many HP they can squeeze out of the newer motors if it’s all just more of the same old smaller windows, higher beltlines, more airbags and diminished driver participation.

      I respect your opinion, I just disagree with it.

    • 0 avatar

      Ranger = Explorer = Explorer sport.. – SWB vehicles…

    • 0 avatar

      The Ford Ranger initially had a wheelbase of 107.9″ and is now 111.6″.
      The Ford Explorer 4 door had 111.6″ initially and is now 113.7″.
      The Explorer 2 door/Sport is the only one that comes somewhat close at ~102″.

      Those are pretty average wheelbase #s today and not considered SWB.

      SWB is closer to ~90″.

  • avatar

    Does short have to mean tall? If it doesn’t, there’s a load of roadsters to be tacked onto the list.

    Otherwise, Metro 2 door?

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    I too have the shorty fetish, and am seriously considering the purchase of
    a Citroen LN as a city car

  • avatar

    What about trucks? What happened to the small trucks with two door cabs of the 1970s and 1980s? Think Mazda B / Ford Rangers and the Toyota Helix.

    Now, a small truck has to have either an extended cab or 4 door cab and be the size of a Ford F 150.

  • avatar

    This isn’t a factory-built shorty, but well into the 1980s there was a company in Simi Valley, CA that sold kits used to build a short-wheelbase roadster out of a 1975 – 1979 Cadillac Seville. It was called the “Milan,” and the proportions were horrible.

    I recently saw one on eBay, and it made me sad to see a butchered Seville of that era. These are some of the few Cadillacs of the ’70s that actually had halfway decent materials and build quality.

    • 0 avatar

      Wow, BuzzDog, I went and looked that up, and you’re right, absolutely horrible.

      This is the first thing I found on Google:

    • 0 avatar

      I’d forgotten about those, C&D or MT did a write up on them back in the day. What a waste of a nice car….although at the time, nobody sold a convertible 4-seater in the US, so I guess they filled a niche.

  • avatar

    The 2 door mitsubishi Montero was a good SWB vehicle.

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