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The 10 greatest minimalist cars of all time

  1. The designers of the new C4 Cactus - Citroen’s bubble-wrapped, back-to-basics family hatch - are at great pains to tell us that less can equal more. And generally, we agree. Debt, mullets, deep V-necks - the world would be a better place without them.

    Which got us thinking. Do any cars from the annals of history prove Citroen’s philosophy? Stuff that’s actually improved by trimming the fat, streamlining the spec, and narrowing the remit?

    Turns out there are. Several. Some are icons. Some are bloody awful. All are the very least they can possibly be.

  2. Mini Moke

    Originally conceived as a light military vehicle, the Mini Moke was notably rubbish off-road. So BMC sold it to the public as a bargain-basement utility vehicle instead.

    What’s been taken away?
    Most of it. Most notably the roof. And any semblance of conventional styling.

    What’s been added?
    Insane amounts of cutesy-coo utilitarian cool. It was a fashion accessory in its time, and remains an increasingly expensive one today.

  3. Ariel Atom

    Road-going track cars don’t come more pared-to-the-bone than this. Somerset’s third-finest export boasts no bodywork, and, beyond a chassis, drivetrain and a set of wheels, only the most rudimentary concessions to the legislators.

    What’s been taken away?
    All the weight. And panels. And fizzog-protection.

    What’s been added?
    Face-bending performance, and proper singularity of purpose. We like the Atom. A lot.

  4. Caterham Seven 160

    It’s a 490kg Caterham, but instead of a supersonic bike engine, there’s a turbocharged 660cc three-cylinder that makes just 80bhp.

    What’s been taken away?
    All the power.

    What’s been added?
    A sort of democracy of fun. You don’t have to be able to handle one ZILLION horsepower or be super-rich to get out and drive a proper little sports car.

  5. Citroen Mehari

    This corrugated beach cruiser was based on a Citroen Dyane and weighed only 570kg. Which went some way to ameliorating the asthmatic 26bhp 602cc engine.

    What’s been taken away?
    Lumpen Citroen Dyane bodywork.

    What’s been added?
    Plastic panels, which made it insanely light, and, combined with Citroen’s soft, long travel suspension, an incredibly nifty off-roader.

  6. VW 181

    Aside from a heavy-duty gearbox and lifted ride height, this was mechanically identical to the VW Type 1 Beetle. The 181 took advantage of America’s dune buggy dictum of rear-engined lightweightness.

    What’s been taken away?
    The terrible Beetle body.

    What’s been added?
    Off-road genius, and insane durability. Twinkies and this. They’re the only two things that’d survive a nuclear apocalypse.

  7. Reboot Buggy

    A man called Joey Ruiter designed a 470bhp off-roader without people in mind, then added stuff like seats and driver controls afterwards.

    What’s been taken away?
    The ergonomics. Any sense that humans, rather than robots, are in charge of our planet’s destiny.

    What’s been added?
    Unrelenting, brutal purposefulness. Fear. Bruises.

  8. Peel P50

    The now-infamous newsroom-bombing P50 is a three-wheeled microcar with a wheelbase of just 50 inches.

    What’s been taken away?
    Most of the scale. Dignity.

    What’s been added?
    Peerless capability as a city car. It’ll wriggle into any parking space, through any traffic jam, and into any lift…

  9. Willys Jeep

    The brief was this: light enough to be lifted by four soldiers, have four-wheel drive and a wheelbase of 80 inches. It was also the inspiration for the Land Rover Defender. Hammond likes it too…

    What’s been taken away?
    Literally everything that doesn’t need to be there. Including anything resembling comfort.

    What’s been added?
    Military-grade durability and simplicity. And a name that remains silly to this day.

  10. Tabby 60-minute

    Buy OSVehicle’s flat-pack Tabby online and they email you the plans and send it off, then it takes just 60 minutes to assemble.

    What’s been taken away?
    Time. And much of your self-respect.

    What’s been added?
    The ability to be carless and online one day, and have a vehicle you’ve built yourself - running and driving - the next.

  11. Dacia Sandero

    Good news! Britain’s cheapest car has made the list. The success of Renault’s Romanian arm in post-downturn Europe has suprred other manufacturers to go back to budget: Nissan and VW will release super-cheap rivals in the near future.

    What’s been taken away?
    The cost. Niceties. Proper wheels.

    What’s been added?
    A statement that you’re over-endowed with common sense. It’s new, it has a warranty, but it costs less than anything else on the road.

    Which of history’s back-to-basics big hits have we missed? Nominations below, please…

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