Beyond that, opinions vary! There’s no formal definition, but nowadays we usually take it
that a microcar should have no more than 3 cylinders, be under 700cc, and be
designed for economy motoring. Or something like that ...
Microcars have been around throughout motoring history. More
than a motorbike, but somehow not quite a "full" car, early models were called "cyclecars".
They reached their heyday, in Britain and Europe, after the
Second World War, when steel supplies were difficult, lots of people wanted cars
but couldn’t afford the usual models, and difficult fuel supplies meant that economy was more important than
size and performance.
Some microcars had four wheels, but many were three-wheelers –
in the UK, three-wheelers were cheaper to tax, and most could be driven on a
motorbike licence. Having only three wheels also makes a car lighter and
simplifies the suspension (just as a 3-legged stool doesn’t rock, a 3-wheel car
can always have all its wheels touching the ground, without stressing the
chassis). It’s also much easier to attach a chain drive to just one wheel!
Keeping the car small, but making the inside big, gave some
microcars a rather "pumped up" look. With their clear plastic canopy windows,
these became the famous "bubble cars".
The NMCR features mainly classic microcars, from before the war
through to the 1960s – but microcars are still made. Licensing and tax laws mean
that there’s still a market (especially in France and Italy) for these
hardworking little vehicles.