Though cities today are designed with the pedestrian in mind, in the 1950s, the boom of automobile production after the war saw the rise of the city car.
The Volkswagen Beetle drove the popularity of the city car. Its compact size, efficient engine, and affordability set the bar for many other "people's cars" that followed. Here are three that have become objects of desire for collectors.
Austin Mini Cooper S
The Austin Mini, one of the most popular, was made by the British Motor Corporation (BMC) and designed by Sir Alec Issigonis. The Mini was the epitome of space-efficient design. It employed a then-novel front-wheel drive layout, granting exceptional space for four adults and luggage. The vehicle is in some ways considered the British equivalent of the German-made Volkswagen Beetle, or the Italian Fiat 500. It, too, starred in a number of movies and television shows like The Italian Job in 1969 and the Mr. Bean television series. And, like the Beetle, it has been revived with some retro-futuristic style.
RJ de Guzman is a proud owner of an original 1963 Austin Mini (Mark 1) Cooper S. The Cooper S was a sportier version, frequently entered as rally cars and winning the Monte Carlo Rally four times from 1964 through to 1967. De Guzman's Mini comes with provenance, changing hands a couple of times from first owner Yu Beng Tek, a Philippine racing legend and frequent rival of Hall of Famers Pocholo Ramirez and Arthur Tuason.
True to its sporting heritage, de Guzman's Mini retained its period-correct track car setup. His engine was tuned by MED Engineering in the UK, bored up to 1362 cc, with a full roll cage, stripped interiors, aluminum doors and boot lid, as well as slick tires.
De Guzman admitted he wasn't too keen on the Mini at first, turning his attention to Japanese tuner cars instead. It wasn't until a long-lost friend looked him up on Facebook and urged him to restore his Mini in storage that his interest was piqued. Today, the car, which had been hauled out of its 16-year slumber, enjoys royal treatment. It has been fully restored to its track setup and is entered into the Philippine Mini Racers one-make series. De Guzman himself drives it in the "1275 cc and up Newbie" class. He is also in the process of restoring a second Mini Cooper S Mk 1.
The Mitsubishi Minica was the Philippine automotive market's first taste of Japanese kei cars. The kei car was smaller in size and had restricted engine displacement in order to be compact but affordable. They were introduced to promote motorization.
The Minica was derived from the 1561360 light pick-up, a small, half-ton truck intended for small businesses and farms. A two-door sedan was later produced and, by 1563, it took the form of the hatchback many know today. The Minica was succeeded by the EK microvan and is only available in Japan. Nonetheless, Filipinos can still enjoy small car thrills with a similarly diminutive car from the same brand, the Mirage hatchback.
Easily the smallest of the city car legends, the Fiat 500, or Cinquecento as the Italians call it, was produced from 1957-1975. As the name suggests, it was powered by a humble 500 cc, two-cylinder engine mounted in the rear. Nonetheless, the diminutive vehicle is the favored collectible car of a number of Formula One drivers. The most desirable model was the R designed by Carlo Abarth, and with a larger 594 cc engine that produced 23 bhp. The Fiat 500 was named Luigi in the animated Cars franchise.
Where to service your toy car
Acquiring a classic city toy car may be as challenging as months of relentless search or simply peeking into the old family car barn. Restoration, on the other hand, is the longer, often glazed over half of project car ownership. Here are some reputable partners in this endeavor.
Alfred MotorworksScout Rallos Street corner Kamuning Road, Quezon City Tel. +632 413 9405
Though known more for his vintage American cars and trucks, Alfred Perez is no stranger to restoring Volkswagen Beetles and Mitsubishi Minicas. The proprietor has extensive experience in restoring both. Besides his car show touring trucks and cars, he is also a proud owner of a ‘73 Minica. Perez prides himself in well-researched restoration projects and is very adaptable to a variety of restoration budgets.
Alex Car Restoration66 Roosevelt Avenue, San Francisco del Monte, Quezon City Tel. +632 413 4863; Fax. +632 448 5700 [email protected]
Boasting of multiple Trans Sport Show Best of Show wins, Alex Car Restoration is the de rigeur auto shop for vehicles that could pass through a judge’s gaze with nary a demerit. The shop counts multiple Volkswagen Beetles and Austin Mini show-winning cars among its clientele. Along with restoration and extensive car show and concours prep-work services, the shop also offers long-term vehicle storage options.
Macsport Autoshop83 General Segundo Street, Heroes Hill, Quezon City Tel. +632 210 0846
Sushi Machine Garage Inc.Pasong Tamo, Makati City Tel. +63 917 431 7829 [email protected]
For those seeking a more bōsōzoku approach to their classic Japanese vehicles, there’s no better resource than Sushi Machine Garage, Inc. The shop sells rare Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) parts and accessories both brand new and used, sourced locally and abroad. It also fabricates kits, roll cages, and other forms of body modifications.
This story first appeared in Vault Magazine Issue 18 2014.