Pocketful of dreams: 5 micro cars you’ll want to collect

Even James Bond might need the Cygnet for maneuvering through London traffic | Aston Martin photo
Even James Bond might need the Cygnet for maneuvering through London traffic | Aston Martin photo

The best catalog I’ve ever seen for a classic car auction was the one a pre-Sotheby’s RM did in 2013 for the Bruce Weiner Microcar Museum sale. Not only were the cars small, but so was the catalog. Well, it was small in page size — a nice reflection of the cars on offer — but it was brick-thick in depth and good humor. It was downright delightful and someday will be collectible in its own right.

Fiat 500 Abarth shows its spunk on its way to collectible status | FCA photo
Fiat 500 Abarth shows its spunk on its way to collectible status | FCA photo

As a quick review, Bruce Weiner spent 15 years collecting micro cars from around the world and the auction at his museum in Madison, Georgia, drew an astounding number of collectors — some curious, some serious — who bid up the 200 mini automobiles and nearly 300 lots of automobilia offered to the tune of $9.1 million.

Most of the cars were produced in Europe in the 1950s, when a post-war world worked to put people back on the road, even if it was in small, three- or four-wheeled bubbles powered by scooter engines.

But fast forward a few decades and there was a resurgence in micro cars, which means that someday down the road, there will be another bidding war for the what we might term the Millennial Microcars produced around the time the calendar turned from the 20th to the 21st century.

Here are five cars we think will be the subject of bidding battles at that future auction:

Aston Martin Cygnet

Forget James Bond and his machine-gun-firing, ejection-seated DB5, the Aston Martin Cygnet was the car you needed to get around — and to park — in a congested London. Based on a Toyota chassis (see Scion iQ below), the car named for a young swan was designed to extend Aston Martin’s “range of acclaimed luxury sports cars” from 2011 to 2013. It had the classic Aston Martin grille design and leather interior with Alcantara headliner and other accoutrements. And it could turn a circle within little more than 13 feet. But it also cost about three times as much as the Toyota version and not that many were sold, which is part of the reason it’s a future classic!
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Fiat 500 Abarth

So Fiat buys Chrysler and therefore, starting in 2010, we get the newest generation of the famed Topolino/500 minicar. But wait, there’s more: Turns out Abarth also is part of Fiat, sort of an in-house tuning shop, so not only do we get this small car with its delightfully retro design, but a hot-rodded Abarth version with a turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder Fire engine, lowered suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, and more. The more includes some special editions — Tributo Ferrari, 695 Competizione, etc. — that are sure to be sought-after when they start crossing auction blocks.
2012 Fiat 500 Abarth
Swatch/Smart

Nicolas Haynek gave us inexpensive Swiss watches, Swatches, and thought he could apply the same principles to automobiles. The “Swatchmobile” was to offer the same personalization options, including interchangeable plastic body panels, would cost less than $10,000, carry two people safely at speeds up to 90 mph while sipping fuel. Oh, and it was to be small enough it could park nose-first against the curb. Mercedes-Benz became a partner and then took control and the Smart car was produced, and it was about the dumbest thing I’ve ever driven — especially in its convertible architecture. Nonetheless, someday they’ll be cherished by collectors.
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Mini Cooper S

So the traditional British automakers are getting bought up — Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover by Ford; Bentley by Volkswagen, Rolls-Royce and, perhaps most fortunately, Mini by BMW. Still inspired by Alec Issignois’ design and John Cooper’s performance upgrades, the post-2000 Mini Cooper S is a road-going go-kart with a roof and comfortable seats and modern safety equipment. And there’s even a high-performance John Cooper Works edition (and driving school). And someday there will be a generation that reveres these vehicles much as you might covet a Shelby Mustang or Yenko Camaro.
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Scion iQ

Produced from 2008 into 2016, the iQ was badged as a Toyota in Japan and Europe and as a Scion in North America (and, yes, as an Aston Martin in the UK — see above). The letters were short for “intelligence quotient,” the idea being that this was a new and truly smart car, perhaps even smarter than the Smart car from Swatch/Mercedes. I drove a 2012 iQ for a week and wrote at the time that “perhaps the iQ is not quite Ph.D genius, but like Howard on Big Bang Theory, at least it has its master’s degree, unlike the cute but stupid Smart, which appears to have dropped out of a community college.” The car was only 120 inches long — some cars have wheelbases that long — but was comfortable, even at freeway speeds, and not only was sort of cute, but was fun to fling around.
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5 thoughts on “Pocketful of dreams: 5 micro cars you’ll want to collect”

  1. Yuck! Design is everything for a micro car, and none of them have an engine under 1 liter. You forgot the Subaru Justy.

  2. What about the classic ones, this article started with reference to the Georgia auction that put the spotlight on Izettas.
    What about them, Fiats like the 850, original Minis, Austins etc.
    aren’t these collectible too? Seems like this story was written in a room with no contact to the outside world.

  3. I didn’t forget about the Justy. I actually owned one! But this is a list of more recent vehicles that might be crossing auction blocks somewhere down the road.

  4. Unfortunately it is looking like the passion for anything “older” (especially automobile related) is on the way out and collecting in the future will be non-existent.

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