Often overlooked in favour of the headline-grabbing exotics, classic performance compacts combine thrilling handling, practicality and funky looks to offer budget-conscious buyers fun and stylish motoring packages.
From a motorist’s point of view, if engineered correctly, downsized cars are often the most entertaining to drive on a daily basis. For example, a shorter wheelbase and light weight result in nimble and responsive handling that larger-engined exotica can only dream of, while the high-revving, small-displacement engines are pure joy to operate when combined with a decent manual gearbox.
The limited power on offer means that making rapid progress in the car requires thought, planning and skill, as opposed to a simply pressing down one’s foot on the gas pedal in any given gear of something more potent.
To combat the overcast wintry chill creeping in as the year draws to a close, The Collectors Index selected some of the quirkiest upcoming compact auction lots to look forward to over the coming months and daydream about driving once the weather clears up.
Citroën Visa Mille Pistes (1985), Les Grandes Marques Du Monde Au Grand Palais (Paris, France), 4 February 2016, £14,000 – 22,000
Legendary French manufacturer Citroen has a long history of producing entry-level cars that are both practical and immensely fun – so much so that they are arguably the champions of producing driving excitement without pomp or frivolity.
It’s a simple formula – low weight, simple equipment, no clutter. It works beautifully, time and time again.
The Visa was a fruit of Peugeot’s takeover in the 1970s and combined Citroen’s latest developments with a Peugeot chassis and drivetrain.
As Citroen often did with its cars, it took the Visa racing, and developed the platform for an assortment of competitions on the world rallying stage.
In accordance with the sporting rules at the time, manufacturers needed to produce road-legal versions of their extreme race cars.
This Visa Mille Pistes is one such road-going homologation special. It combines the rally car’s extremely lightweight plastic bodywork (note the riveted-on wheel arch extensions), highly-tuned engine and competition-specification four-wheel-drive with a full interior that makes it suitable for daily use. It’s one of the most accessible ways to own a piece of international Group B rallying history.
Nissan Skyline 2000GT (1975), USS Kyushu (Japan), 12 December 2015
The Skyline nameplate famously exploded into the world’s consciousness with the advent of the all-wheel-drive, twin-turbo R32 GT-R model of the late 1980s – it was a technological powerhouse that destroyed lap records across the globe and dominated international motorsport competition.
However, the Skyline had enjoyed a rich history until then, albeit largely confined to the shores of Japan.
Although the Skyline is one of the larger cars in Japan’s domestic market, on the global stage it’s a fairly compact model in comparison to its American and European equivalents.
Part of the fourth-generation lineup of Skylines, codenamed C110, the Skyline 2000GT offered a more relaxed and practical alternative to its raw, stripped-out stablemate, the fabled and brutally fast GTR.
The 2000GT featured a sublime front-engined, rear-wheel-drive chassis mated to a smooth and powerful two-litre, straight-six engine, and this particular example is wearing fender-mounted mirrors, ubiquitous the roads of Japan, and a race-inspired front lip, as well as a number of subtle aftermarket additions.
Renault 5 Turbo II (1984), Scottsdale 2016 (USA), $90,000 – $110,000
Disclaimer: the introductory paragraphs of this piece outlined the normal scenario when compact cars are concerned. However, as with any concept, there are always exceptions. The Renault 5 Turbo is that exception. It is not normal. Nor practical. Nor sensible. Nor underpowered.
In fact, 35 years on from its initial launch, the Turbo is still fast compared to its contemporary competition.
Much like the Visa Mille Pistes above, the Renault 5 Turbo road car was created in order to comply with sporting regulations that required a race car to have a roadgoing equivalent. Much like the Visa Mille Pistes, it is a barely disguised rally car with slight adaptations for road use. In this case, the rally car was a brutally powerful, radical, cutting-edge, mid-engined, turbocharged, flame-spitting monster turned up all the way to 11 (maybe even 12). The road car, as a result, was all of the above but with road tyres and marginally more comfortable seats.
These small Renaults are becoming increasingly difficult to find as time ticks by – the 5 Turbo is one of the most radical and extreme cars of our lifetimes and easily one of the most exciting purchases a collector could make.
Alfa Romeo Giulia Super ‘Polizia’ (1965), Sotheby’s Arizona (USA), 28-29 January 2016
Alfa Romeo’s Giulia is, perhaps, the epitome of Italian compact sports saloon ideology. By combining an athletic engine with a lightweight body, Alfa Romeo created a car that was among the lightest and nimblest in its sector.
To this day the Giulia remains one of the most respected Alfa Romeo models, so much so that their latest and most ambitious assault on the sports saloon segment is also called the Giulia in deference to the original.
This particular example was built to Giulia Super specification and is as such powered by a 110hp, twin-cam 1570cc engine mated to a five-speed manual transmission and rear-wheel drive. Stopping power is provided by four-wheel disc brakes – very unique and avant-garde for a car of this era.
Curiously, chassis AR337918 was never used as a police car but was, instead, restored to look like one. It features period-perfect details including police radio and siren and was even featured in a number of films including 2012’s Piazza Fontana: The Italian Conspiracy (Romanzo di una strage) by Marco Tullio Giordana.
Suzuki Mighty Boy (1985), USS Kyushu (Japan), 12 December 2015
Japan’s famous kei or keijidōsha class of vehicles utilises small-capacity engines and narrow bodywork to make it easier and cheaper for car owners to comply with an assortment of Japanese motoring regulations.
The mandated sub-660cc engine sizes and tiny size mean that, done right, a well-engineered kei is essentially a roadgoing go-kart with the added benefit of headlights a passenger seat. Suzuki’s curiously named Mighty Boy certainly lies on the quirkier side of the spectrum and manages to combine the functionality both of a coupe and a pickup truck. However, its headturning looks, snappy manual gearbox, short wheelbase, ultra-low weight and zingy engine make Mighty Boys and absolute hoot to drive.
Furthermore, they have a very strong cult following and a wealth of aftermarket tuning parts and support, making this an oddity definitely worth watching.