Is there a modern day "Peoples' Car"?

IMHO a “People’s Car” has to at least give the illusion of quality. VW did this with its Beetle back in the late 1950s through the mid 1970s. The Nash Rambler, which came out in 1950 had a radio, heater, and turning signals as standard equipment which weren’t standard on many low priced cars. My wife volunteered my services to help a family friend, a woman in her late 60s, shop for a car. She did buy a Honda Civic and I was impressed by its quality of finish.
I remember back in the 1950s, rain leaks were a common complaint on many cars as were squeaks and rattles. The VW Beetle body was tight–no rattles and no rain leaks. The Ramblers through the 1950s gave the illusion of quality and both Ramblers and VWs held their value well.

@Bing, if points are not lasting more than a few thousand miles on an old Bug or Beetle there has to be an underlying reason for the early failure. If not a condenser issue, then premature wear and burning due to lack of distributor cam lube being used or even the use of an incorrect ignition coil. The old VW coils looked like a standard issue coil for anything but the VW coils had an internal resistor in them.

Some years ago on an old Harley shovelhead motorcycle I used to own, contact points were not available locally and that bike ran for a long, long time on VW Beetle points.


“at least give the illusion of quality.”

You hit the nail on the head

That rules out the following, because the people that were buying them when they were new never had any such illusions. And if they did, they might have been blind as a bat

Toyota Yaris . . . sorry, Toyota fans!
Yugo . . . go where?!
The original Hyundai Excel from 1986
Renault LeCar

Sorry, @Cwatkin . . . I know there are some good qualities about your car . . . fuel economy, easy to work on, etc. But I think we can all agree that it wasn’t built as a high quality car

Guys, I know I left out some worthy “contenders” for People’s car. Let’s fill in the blanks

Remember, this is a race to the bottom!

With Renault LeCar I thought we were at rock bottom already… :slight_smile:

I don’t know if I would trust a Yugo or Chevette to an out of town trip. The Geo has done several without issues. Now, I do keep up on the maintenance and all fluids are fresh which is probably better that most were taken care of when they were new. I know it is lightly built and not the safest but will provide good service if maintained and the rust is kept at bay. Mine burns no oil and has no issues keeping up with traffic. The speed is more limited by the fact it becomes unstable at higher speeds, not the fact it has a tiny little engine. The Geo was the cheapest car on the road at the time it was new. So was the Yugo. Metros will run several hundred thousand miles if cared for. Yugos sometimes needed a new engine after several thousand miles. There is a big difference in the quality, even if the Metro was cheap for its time.

The Metro is basically a Japanese Suzuki design. The Japanese are capitalists. The Yugo is basically a Soviet era car that was brought here. Communism doesn’t breed quality products when you only have one choice of car in your home country.

Maybe it had a bad coil. Dunno, that was 45 years ago and can’t remember where I was yesterday. I know the VW was blue anyway.

Also, I know several people who have had Neons. Some of them, especially the earlier ones, were basically junk. They came out when I was a teenager. One guy had one that whistled like a bird as it ran so I figure it had a head gasket or exhaust leak. Something serious was wrong as it blew a rod through the block one day. He figured the engine was trash anyway so he drove it home and it blew another rod through the block. It made it home on two cylinders, no oil, and no coolant. I guess it can’t be too wimpy but still why did these cars have so many engine problems? I know that the engines were designed as somewhat throwaways. The bearings in some were integral to the rods/caps and such so they were not replaceable during a rebuild. Maybe a lot of engines are being made this way but the ones on the Geo Metro are serviceable.

I am not a MOPAR fan at all and the early Neons just added to my opinion that a lot of other cheap cars are a lot better value. I am sure the Neon is safer than a Metro but the advantages probably end there.

At this point I can’t come up with anything worse than the Renault LeCar. Those things make even the Fiat 128 and Honda 600 look good…

As a matter of fact, the Yugo was a Communist “copy” of an outdated Fiat

As far as I know . . .

Check out this propaganda

Wow; talk about slathering lipstick on a pig. :slight_smile:

I don’t know, Neons are like Kia Rios and Cavaliers–cheaply built, disposable cars–the “Bic lighter” of cars if you will. But I’ve had friends that have had Neons that have soldiered on for a very long time. Problems yes, but the damn things wouldn’t die. Same with Cavaliers. Someone in Car & Driver once proposed the idea that “GM cars run bad longer than most cars run” I think that sums up the Cavaliers I’ve seen pretty well.

I’d personally say that the true “People’s Car” is whatever you can find used that some silly person bought new, then got bored with and threw it away after most of the depreciation had already occurred.

That is true. I have seen some really junky Cavaliers out there. I think the best cars for running badly the longest are something simple without all the sensors and electronics of today. It needs to be something that people can neglect and not have the sensors and such make the car nearly non-operational. That being said, running a car this way is a bad idea. It leads to poor mileage as well as leads to other issues. Replacing a $50-100 oxygen sensor can pay for itself in a short time with today’s fuel prices.

Also, there is a saying that finding a perfect Geo Metro today is like finding a unicorn. They simply don’t exist. While the mechanicals of mine are excellent, the cosmetics definitely leave something to be desired.

I think the Toyota Echo was a good “people’s car,” but I’m trying to come up with a good “people’s car” that is still in production.

If you can afford one, the Honda Fit might be a good choice. Aside from the initial price, it’s reliable and it should last long enough that the ownership cost per mile is reasonable.

If the Tata Nano ever stops catching fire (literally) and makes it to the U.S. market, I’m pretty sure it will qualify as a “people’s car.”

Maybe we need to distinguish between a “People’s Car” and a “Cult Car”. The original VW Beetle and the early Mustangs became cult cars. Back in the late 1940s through the mid 1950s, the Chevrolets and Fords were the “People’s Car”. There was one basic model of the Ford which could be obtained in either a basic trim line or higher level trim lines. In the late 1950s, these cars lost some of their functionality. Remember the 1959 Chevrolet? It grew in length and width, and yet, with seats that were hard in the middle, was essentially a 4 passenger car. The 1960 Ford lost some of its utility over the 1959 Ford. Hence, for a people’s car, Chevrolet came out with the Chevy II and Ford came out with its Falcon. The later Chevelle and Ford Fairlane intermediates were about the size of the Chevrolet and Ford of the mid 1950s.
I think today’s People’s Cars may be the Toyota Corolla and the Honda Civic–they seem to have replaced the Fords and Chevrolets of the 1950s.

I agree with the Corolla…for normal size butts. Although what is normal today may mean something bigger. ( Camry/ Accord). After all, a people’s car has got to be one that will sell, big time. Corollas and Civics have. Neons, and the like may mimick what every one would like, but if it does not have enough long term reliability, it can’t be a people’s car. If it drains your pocket book, people won’t buy it. People’s cars have to be affordable, safe, easy to repair and long lasting, at least by the standards of the day. I doubt that the VW would be one today.

I maintain that before forced into it, no car was a people’s car in the US…other then the model A Ford; most later were quite unreliable. The Pinto, Falcon, Chevy 11 era were the epitome of planned absolesence…

@Whitey The Echo is the Yaris. The Echo name was only used for North America, elsewhere they were always called Yaris.

That car has grown away from its original Spartan execution, and is now more of a compact car. Mt son’s wife has the older hatchback and it has an astounding amount of useful space; they brought home a FREEZER in it with the backseat down and the rear hatch closed!

My neighbor had one of those or similar. In the shop all the time. French engineers who copy no one and no one copys.

@Bing The Renault 5 or “Le Car” certainly qualified as a “people’s car”, but it was a bio-degradable piece of junk.

If Kaiser’s Henry J had been around for more than just a few years, it could have become, “the people’s car”, IMHO. This little car was built very robustly, and, if equipped with the optional 6-cylinder engine, it was actually rather peppy–and still remained very economical.

An interesting bit of trivia is that its shape and its dimensions are extremely close to those of the Ford Maverick, which entered the marketplace many years later. Like the Maverick, the Henry J was short on luxury, but it was very functional and it was incredibly easy to repair.

The one black mark for the little Henry J was its price. Because Kaiser did not have the economy of scale that the Big Three enjoyed, prices of Kaiser cars were relatively high for what you were given.