A Minimal Motoring Manifesto

A couple of years ago, Hackaday published an article, “Electric Vehicles Continue the Same Wasteful Mistakes That Limit Longevity“, in which we took a look at the way the car industry, instead of taking the move to electric traction as an opportunity to simplify their products, was instead making their electric offerings far more complex. It touched a nerve and received a very large comment volume, such that now it is our 19th most commented story of all time.

It’s something brought back to the fore by seeing a The Drive piece bemoaning the evolution of the automobile as a software receptacle governed by end-user licenses rather than a machine under the control of its owner. In turn that’s posed the question: Just what do you really need for a car, and what is superfluous? Time to provide an answer to that question, so here it is: a minimal motoring manifesto.

It’s The Subsystems, Not The Design

The mechanical parts of a motor vehicle are by and large a done deal. We worked out long ago how to make motor vehicles that don’t decay in a short time, that have reliable mechanics, are safe to use, and handle well on the road. The front-wheel-drive car with transverse motor and transmission, a wheel as close to each corner as it can be, and independent suspension all round has been a staple on the road since the 1970s, and the probability is high that one will be sitting on your driveway.

It matters not whether it has an internal combustion engine or an electric motor, over time it has evolved to offer exceptional crash protection and a reasonable weight. Thus this is not about the physical and mechanical design of a motor vehicle, instead it concerns the subsystems that run the show. In a world where engines don’t break at 100,000 miles and it’s not uncommon to see two-decade-old cars with no rust, it’s these subsystems which will make the difference between a car under the control of its owner and one which makes an early exit to the scrapyard.

Separate The Subsystems

An electronic module with a visible PCB
A Lucas engine management system from the 1990s. ColinMB, CC BY-SA 3.0

In every motor vehicle, there are different systems responsible for their respective tasks. Sometime these are integral to the safety or operation of the car such as the engine management or the antilock braking, other times they are not, such as the air conditioning or the entertainment system. The former are essential, the latter are toys to entice would-be owners to buy the cars.

We get it that a new car buyer wants plenty of toys to brag about and feel good about their purchase, but at the same time the extra complexity brought about by those toys should not be the reason for a car with plenty of life left in it to come off the road a few years later. So here’s the first manifesto point: separate the toys from the essential stuff such that whatever runs the toys is not mission critical to the operation of the vehicle, and what remains is not governed by subscription or software licensing terms. By all means have the navigation system disappear when the app goes to abandonware, but this should not come at the expense of the car’s being able to operate.

Provide A Minimal Way In

An OBD II Bluetooth dongle
The OBD interface provides a way in, but not the one that’s needed. Losch, CC BY 3.0

The saddest thing about walking round a scrap yard here in 2022 is that where once there would have been plenty of worn-out cars, today there are as many near-perfect cars. The computing power behind those toys for the person who drives it off the forecourt is a technological tour de force, but that’s of scant comfort to whoever owns it at ten years old who is faced with a bill for its replacement.

We understand that the manufacturer wants to build planned obsolescence into their products, but at the same time it’s for them to make better cars without resorting to dirty tricks. It should not be beyond the bounds of technical possibility to have a standard interface with enough capabilities for third party electronics to provide those essential functions to keep the vehicle going.

Here’s A Novel Idea…

A Triumph TR3 dashboard
Would anyone like to claim that minimalism can’t be fun to drive? Neozoon, CC BY-SA 3.0

We mentioned earlier that to some extent automotive design is a done deal, in that the transverse engined front wheel drive vehicle is king. Of course owners of RWD vehicles will chime in below in the comments, but it’s fair to say that with not many exceptions there’s surprisingly little difference between models.

A VW and a Ford and a Nissan feel so much like the same car in a way that their equivalents from several decades ago wouldn’t have, so the differentiating factors come down to the details. So desperate are they to differentiate themselves, that to distract from the blandness of the driving experience they instead concentrate on the experience of being in the car. It’s been such an insidious process as to be almost invisible, but should you try sitting in a car from decades past you’ll immediately see the difference. The older car has very little to distract the motorist, it’s a much less cluttered experience.

So here’s a novel idea, how about starting the design process from a point of view that less is more, and creating vehicles with the minimum required for them to be driven, because they are simply fun to drive? Perhaps people have forgotten even that driving can be fun.

Of Crooks And Dreamers

Of course, we know that this grandiosely-titled manifesto is simply a collection of ideas, and that no manufacturer will act on them. I once heard the adage that there were two types of small-production motor manufacturer, either crooks or dreamers, and I’m guessing that puts this article firmly in the land of dreamers.

But watching motor vehicles as an enthusiast sometimes feels like being an outsider in your own world, while everyone is gushing about the in-car entertainment system and you’re wondering why they don’t seem worried about its longevity or that the utilitarian styling cues aren’t matched by any pretence of ability away from the school run. We may be living in late-stage automobile design, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.

Header image: Unknown author/public domain.

91 thoughts on “A Minimal Motoring Manifesto

  1. Jenny,

    Great article.

    Don’t forget that the Mini trailblazed the transverse engine FWD in 1959.

    The Citroen Traction Avant was more than a decade earlier with FWD.

    I have been building and using electric vehicles for 31 years.

    In the early 1990s you had to build your own.

    Now I have a 2014 Nissan LEAF that serves all my local needs. For anything else I have a small diesel Citroen.

    1. I haven’t forgotten the Mini, or the Innocenti. But they were outliers when they arrived, and also the in-sump gearbox was a bit of a dead-end. It’s the likes of the FIAT 127 and VW Golf Mk1 that are the direct ancestors of the modern FWD box.

      1. Yeah, Austin-Rover, or was it Leyland at the time, and whatever Chrysler was then both went with the Golf gearbox on their similar size hatches. Their own were developed as the models went on, but it was a VAG box on early models.

    2. Coming in late, but want to pile in on the article and comment about a vehicle I recently purchased which IS minimal: My motorcycle.

      I have a 2022 Zero FX. From what little I know of the manufacturer’s product lineup, this is either “the only” or “one of the few” models which have… almost no bells or whistles. And it’s incredible.

      290 lbs, 41 HP and 81 ft-lb of torque at the motor, geared for a top speed of 85MPH (apologies for stupid units, too lazy to convert). I could do a frame replacement with little more than a socket set, some screwdrivers, a pocketknife and some glue. A new battery is $3100 or so, but I could order it and probably swap it out at home (there’s probably a bit of electrical tomfoolery I’d probably need to get up to to manage inrush, but it looks mild). I can even see where there are spacers on the motor mounts because the manufacturer is reusing the frame for bikes with a bigger motor.

      Sure, it has an app. The app connects to the bike over Bluetooth. It sets some simple values for a custom drive mode, maybe a firmware update here or there. Hell, the Internet claims the speed controller for their motor is a warmed-over forklift drive. Everything is recognizable, standard, repairable/interchangeable, and the only thing that talks to the manufacturer is the firmware update (that I can have the shop do). The bike itself has no cellular connection, and I’m pretty sure if I have issues I email the manufacturer the collected log dumps.
      But I don’t have a login with the manufacturer.. I don’t have a login with anyone! Stick the key in, kick up the kickstand, flip the e-stop switch and go.

      The bike doesn’t bust my balls, for anything. Every day the same consistent (glorious) performance, and I can wrench with enthusiasm because it’s not trying to hide things from me. Error codes are on the dash! (And it has OBDII).

      Maybe they will call Zero crooks for charging $14k for a little dual-sport motorcycle (and people do call them crooks for the software shenanigans they pull on the bigger bikes), but I found my little slice of dreamer perfection. It’ll be a Ship of Theseus by the time I give it up (because that’s a realistic option!), but I will have known and loved it.

  2. I sense some sort of assumption that it’s the electronics that ultimately fail.

    I’ve driven several old cars until they were ready for the junk yard. Only two suffered computer failures. One was a 1980s car so maybe not what you are talking about in your article. I bought a replacement, swapped it out and kept driving. The other only failed because water had entered the aftermarket sunroof, and leaked down into the car’s electronics.

    I had a cheap car fail because the timing belt broke causing damage to the rest of the engine. That’s my fault because I didn’t even know replacing that was maintenance to be done. Then again, this was my only car cheap enough to have a timing belt so…

    Besides that it’s always been a preponderance of individually repairable mechanical problems that have led to me junking a car. Well, that or someone crashing into it. Eventually there are enough critical parts needing replaced at the same time that it just isn’t worth the money.

    Consider that by that point due to both wear and obsolescence the car is inefficient. Both a problem for economy of use and environmental concerns. Thanks in part to the increasing complexity of our vehicles that help them to use less fuel and produce less pollution. So it’s not really a sad thing when such a car finally goes to the recycler.

    No, I think the majority of why you might see so many near-new condition vehicles in a junkyard has nothing to do with electronics or add-ons. It’s a cultural problem. People are vain, repair-ignorant and see their cars as status symbols.

    1. Stuff that goes out somewhat frequently to my knowledge across a variety of cars are ABS controllers and dashboard panels developing connection faults. Also a number of electrical systems fail from vibration killing joints. I would also point to electrical items in doors, the power windows, mirror controls and tailgate lights and wipers tend to enable a “Kamikaze” mode where fatigue cracking and fraying of the hinge wiring will cause shorts taking out half the electrical system (and potentially setting the car on fire)

      But we also have the problem where if it’s replaceable and somewhat standard between vehicles it’s stealable… car stereo theft used to be a much bigger thing when a unit could be put in any car and taken from any car.

      1. Not to mention accessibility, trying to break loose and pry back in place panels and tapestry, to access gadgets without breaking the plastic clips and hoops that make it impossible to reassemble and leaves crap dangling round the coupe.

    2. I’m not sure that last paragraph is true, yes some people are, but there are more than enough folks out there that if the cars of the early years of this millennium were actually fixable for anything less than both kidney would… But it just works out so much cheaper to repair the older motors, even if they are rather rusty and need heaps of work!

      Its the fact these more modern things are engineered to be really really hard to work on*, the parts are so often only sold in massive complex and expensive assemblies (if you can get them at all), it all just leads to making it not viable to run these otherwise great condition vehicles any further as you just can’t fix the little niggles that start going wrong with them.

      *(may not been the design intention, just the limitation of shoving so much crud into a space and design by committee, but its how it works out – even for simple things like just changing the bulb in a car for instance, the first car I remember my dad having it was a really simple job, took but moments and you didn’t need to consult the manual to find out how to get the the damn light unit off the car, so you can then consult it again to figure out how to open it, all just to actually get to the bulb you are changing – yes the last time I had to change a bulb it was really quite awful, full of moments you are sure this rather cheap feeling plastic housing will explode on you if you do as the manual says)

    3. This has been my experience: when the car goes, it goes to the salvage yard, because the head gasket is leaking, one of the CV joints is shot, all four shocks have failed, and the limited slip differential is making horrible noises because the silicone in it has overheated and now it’s just bare metal on metal, and on both of my last cars I had indeed fixed every one of those items previously but when they all happened at more or less the same time, it was double the car’s value to fix them all.
      BTW when I walk out of work and it’s 40C and the interior of my car is 48C (this is a regular occurrence in the summer) I consider air conditioning a lot more critical than ABS. I regularly drive a car without ABS (or power brakes or power steering) and I far prefer that over a car whose interior is well above body temperature.

      1. The head gasket and transmission I can buy, although with the head gasket that’s really frustrating: replacing it is more tedium than skill. But it’s certainly fair to be an “abandon all hope” issue.

        But shocks and CV joints should be trivial replacements. I know they aren’t on many vehicles, but that’s a design issue. Nothing you can do is going to make a head gasket a cheap and easy repair, but shocks and CV axles should be easily doable.

        1. Yeah, couple of thousand for most shops to do a HG if no machining needed a lot won’t even do it, due to getting into it and customer going, “Oh, it’s gonna run $3k now, never mind I’ll scrap the car”. However if you’re up for a weekend of pain and struggle, it’s a couple hundred in parts.

          CVs… some are real easy, some not so much, axle nuts can be a problem if high torque specified and can be weird sizes, then varying by model a retaining clip on the inside end of the axle can be more or less of a problem. Some it’s more or less drain some out of the transaxle, loosen the axle nuts, pop off the tie rods, unhook the balljoint and splay out the wheel assemblies knock kneed, slide old one out, slide new one in, done in an hour or two. Turns into a fortnight of pain when you get clamp bolts rusted solid, swaybars mounting ditto holding the A arm rigid, and finding other bad parts in process, and then you find CV stuck in there real solid on the clip and do something hinkey like use a screw jack against vicegrips locked on the shaft to pry the bugger out. Then you think you’re near done and find a 250ftlb wrench to put the axle nut on at 225 per spec and your 32mm socket explodes at about 190, fun fun fun.

          1. I’ve never replaced a CV…
            Thanks for the warning.
            I’m far too optimistic about the time needed to work on a vehicle.

          2. Well you can try some exploratory bolt pre-loosening, Give them shots of penetrant a week in advance etc. If they’re just grumbling on tight turns you can consider it “due” but not super urgent.

          3. “Plumber’s candle” has saved me several times. If any of a bolt’s threads are exposed, you can gently heat the bolt until a candle melts when held against the threads – the wax will wick into the thread channels and when it cools, it expands, much like water freezing. Tends to work a little better than penetrating oil, and even serves to defeat pipe dope when you’re doing plumbing work – hence the term “plumber’s candle”.

            Ymmv, just one of those things to have in a tool box. Mine is literally a little baggie of 3-4 tea lights.

            Note – be careful heating bolts that go through rubber or plastic bushings/etc – this isn’t a barbecue, just barely warm enough to melt the candle, and let her cool off to room temperature or lower before wrenching on it.

          4. “CVsโ€ฆ some are real easy, some not so much, axle nuts can be a problem if high torque specified and can be weird sizes,”

            I think you’re misunderstanding what I was saying. I’m talking about from a design standpoint. Yes, of course, there are car designs that are disasters to maintain. Don’t buy them. Yes, swapping out a CV axle is terrible when you let the car go to hell. Don’t do that. Axles, shocks, brakes, exhaust should all be 1-2 hours of labor by a low-end technician and replaced on a regular schedule (rather than waiting until failure). If they’re not trash, they’re 100k parts easily. They should be under 0.5 cents/mile *including* labor. That’s utterly negligible from a continuous maintenance standpoint. It’d be like trashing a car because the tires need to be replaced.

            I can’t imagine a modern car design where a head gasket replacement (at a reasonable mileage) wouldn’t be a full-day job by a high-end technician, and in addition I also can’t imagine an engine that would last through *multiple* head gasket replacements without effectively needing to be replaced entirely.

            Engine/transmission repair, catalytic converters should make you stop and think about replacing a car. Other stuff, not so much. Frame rust too, obviously, but that can be designed/prevented to be on timescales greater than the accident half-life.

            This is why EV manufacturers won’t ever make battery swapping easy and affordable. If they do, the cars will last way, way too long.

      2. Recent maintenance problems with AC though is that often you could just swing out the compressor and tie it up out the way on older vehicle, enough room, enough flex in the lines… and you only needed to do that for engine drop or raise operations like timing belt or chain… now even to change sparkplugs it requires dropping motor and it’s like i) Drain the AC system… ii) disarm the collision system…

    4. I don’t agree. More efficient engines so they could make heavier cars is closer. My Toyota from -78 consumes about what a modern car consumes. .. But then it only weight 800 kg.

    5. It is sad because there are enough good spare parts going into the crusher to keep a lot of cars on the road. Just the amount high quality fasteners being disposed makes me sad.

      Not to mention CA requiring catalytic converters so expensive (if even available) you must junk the car or sell it out of state.

      1. Catalytic converter standards drive me nuts at this point, because they’re all *fractional* standards. As in, the limits are fractions of the exhaust. So for some reason you need to replace a car that’s emitting a hair over the standards at 34 mpg but a 17 mpg truck just under is perfectly fine.

        Which means, of course, if the person replaces a highly-efficient vehicle with a lower-efficiency vehicle due to failing emission standards, you end up with… more… emissions…

      2. My last car had only 126K miles (200K km) on it when I decided the cost to repair it was not worth the value left in the vehicle. It was running fine, plenty strong and only had bad paint (thanks California because of environmental regs) and a rear door lock solenoid that was flaky. But, the reason I let it go is because it had three (!) catalytic converters, one on each side’s exhaust header and a main one under the car. For over a year the car had been throwing an O2 sensor code that translated to “the first cat is no longer doing anything” while the second cat’s O2 sensor started intermittently doing the same thing. It wouldn’t pass the bi-annual smog check (thanks again, California) so off it went to be crushed. If it weren’t for that I would have gotten at least twice the number of miles (and years) out of it.

  3. “We worked out long ago how to make motor vehicles that donโ€™t decay in a short time, that have reliable mechanics, are safe to use, and handle well on the road”

    They must’ve forgotten how some time ago.

    1. Zinc treated body panels slow rust down a lot, buit still need an impermeable coating on top.. It is frequently that compromise of this protective envelope is what starts the rust going, Small stone chips and scratches that are unnoticed. Ironically, or steelronically, since pure iron tends to rust slower, sometimes this is a result of rust protection efforts…. plugholes are drilled in top of rocker/sill and inside the wheelarches at the end of the section for spraying of oil coating etc, and what happens is the bare metal exposed in the edge of the plug holes is in the spray blast of the wheels, washing away the oil that it might have gone on there, and rust creeps out from those.

    2. When my generation got our first cars the scrapyards were full of rusted out 10yo cars, and our old wrecks were complete rust-buckets. Engines lasted 100k miles on 20w50 oil. Many cars had laughable crash protection. A lot of cars had RWD and live axles, and had predictable but awful handling.

      Compare to a modern generic FWD 5-door hatch, and it’s like being on another planet.

      1. The YT videos of people in modern minivans just absolutely wiping the walls with 60’s supercars on autocross tracks because their handling is so good.
        I remember the late 70’s and every time we’d go driving anywhere we’d see a car off the side of the road with its hazards blinking, a flat tire, or the hood up and steam boiling out, or sometimes actually on fire. Now almost every car I see pulled over is running and the person is talking on a cellphone. Almost the only time I see actual disabled cars is after they’ve hit into something.

      2. I have a general sense or maybe a hope that the EV cars that look, work and act like ICE cars are just temporarily adaptations meant to continue sales of the new cars without cannibalism of the current product lines.
        My sense is after a few years the cars won’t be evolution, but someone somewhere will do a complete redesign of the passenger vehicle and it won’t have an opening in the front where the radiator ‘used to be’, won’t have compartments in front of the vehicle where the engine ‘used to be”, etc. I’m thinking more about the motors integrated into wheels, etc.
        Really looking forward to the EV revolution, but it’s not here yet.
        The shutdown of 3G and it’s impact on automobile network connectivity should be a real example of how not to design a critical system and why not to depend on technology that’s likely to be replaced in the next 5 years.
        I grew up in the Remington and Smith Corona era where a device should continue to do it’s designed job whether or not the manufacturer goes out of business or there are technology improvements. I really expect the same thing from cars. They should be able to work in 50 years just like they do now no matter what the internet or radio comms evolve into. And DRM repair rights and BS upselling monthly option contracts? Don’t get me started….. ;)

        1. Not sure how much safety concerns and maintenance of crumple zones is keeping the car in it’s familiar shape. We’d expect a form factor more like a Kei microbus with a lower floor maybe. It would be less tippy with all the heavy stuff low, but there would still be concerns about having passengers/operators right near the front and rear with no cushion. So I don’t know if we’d see something more podlike or not, with say a four seat “lounge”.

          Boxes however, such as what seem to be the minimum container for a few seated humans, are not terribly aerodynamic, and apart from lowering the hood a bit (As you may note some Teslas do) the current form of the car ain’t that terrible in comparison. Mercedes had an interesting vehicle modelled on the “Boxfish” that had decent aero while maintaining good interior space. That was a decade or so back, but maybe our new electrics should aspire to something of that form.

          Meanwhile, you maybe wanna build a Dymaxion replica by modding a PT cruiser to drive backwards :-D

          1. The PT cruiser would be a _horrible_ starting base for that project, having owned one.

            It had it’s own design flaws, mostly from stuffing the drivetrain from the Neon into a even more cramped space and other questionable design decisions. (like putting the alternator at the lowest possible point on the vehicle and not putting a splash guard to prevent it from getting soaked if the car went through a deep puddle; requiring removal of a half-shaft to get to all the items on the secondary belt (power steering, A/C…) stuffing the battery in said cramped engine bay where the desert temperatures would bake it to death without fail every 18 months (as opposed to putting it in the trunk!)…

    3. Mid to late 90’s was the pinnacle of motor vehicles. Finally got the rust-proofing right, all direct injected instead of the crazy complex carburetor contraptions of the late 80’s, catalytic converters, minimal computers and gadgetry to go wrong, almost every problem can still be diagnosed with a multi-meter and fixed with a soldering iron. No CAN bus anywhere to be seen.

      You could argue that early 00’s was still okay, but you started to get trip computers and digital dashboards etc. which eventually break down or run on Windows CE and you can’t really do anything to them.

      1. Recently I got to drive a brand-new VW Golf, less than a year old. Handbrake was electric – at first I couldn’t find it. Didn’t know if it was on or off – the computer decided that. Didn’t know whether the running lights were on or off – the computer decided that. The computer kept telling me which gear to drive on. The dashboard kept telling me the speed I should drive at. Where or how it got that information – nobody knows. Was it trustworthy? Nobody knows. How to turn on the radio? Beats me – I can’t take my eyes off the road to cycle through the menus on a touch screen panel.

        All in all, the experience was like driving a magic sofa with a changing scenery in front of you. Do what the computer says and it goes – try to understand what it’s doing and you’re hopelessly lost. Sixth gear at 1200 RPM – alright, if you say so…

  4. I have been hankering for something simple a long while. I was recently trying to track down plans (Should be public domain now) of “The Lads Car” by the Niagara Motor Company, to see if an electrified old school cycle-car replica type vehicle would be practical for city errands.

    Safety systems seem to me more of a problem than a solution. It has been documented that humans adapt behaviour to perceived risk, so therefore every added safety system just makes them drive more carelessly, putting risk back to what it was before it was implemented. Then the more in the way of education about severity of risks, like mangled corpses on billboards to shock people into being safer, the more they get scared and bleat for protection by the government rather than modifying their own behavior, and more safety devices and restrictions get imposed and nothing actually gets any safer when after a short period of time, the humans in the mix re-adapt. Meanwhile cars just get heavier while trying to be economical as all these systems are added and methods of arresting momentum also have to get more extreme because there’s more of it, so to be just as safe as before extra safety was added more safety has to be added *sigh* … I still say the perfect solution is to put a driver facing spike in the middle of the steering wheel and chuck everything else out.

    Maybe they were right at the turn of the previous century, horseless carriages are dangerous, because the horses have sense to stay out of danger.

    1. This argument only works when the primary driver is at fault in the accident. If I get t-boned because some dumba$$ is texting and runs a red light then you can bet that I want airbags and ingress protection. (for the record I’ve been hit 4 times by people texting)

      And I’d never want to go back to a car that doesn’t have ABS.

      Traction control I’m a bit iffy on. I Grew up in the 70’s so am used to RWD cars – when they get squirrely underneath me I automatically correct, but now when I automatically correct and the Traction Control also goes active the results aren’t so good.

      1. I am a complete un-fan of ABS it has almost killed me 5 times more often than it has saved me, and that one time it “saved” me was so similar to a dozen times I had saved myself with cadence braking that I doubt I would have had a problem without it.

    2. I know a lot of people using electric-assist cargo bikes as their primary or only transport for in-city usage. They sure have a lot going for them. I’m working (slowly) on an electric assist trike that’s more closely related to a motorcycle, for my primary transport. There’s a real safety issue that bikes will get crushed by some inattentive person texting and switching lanes in some giant SUV, the same way motorcycles do. But as I regularly drive a 1960’s tiny sportscar and face the same issues, I feel like making the drop from 850 kilograms down to 100 kilograms isn’t really going to be that much more dangerous than the 850kg car is vs a 2500kg SUV. I may even be able to make it safer with an actual rollcage. But the 100kg vehicle is going to use a whole lot less energy, and tiny cars sure are easy to park.

      1. I’m kinda wishing for a solid body in a Triumph Spitfire with a resin GT6 top and a missing or dead motor to fall in my lap… with the hatch, just enough load space to be practical, shouldn’t be too heavy. RWD for super easy electric conversion. Maybe a spridget would work….with a home made top… I have “ideas” about how to make one off large parts by making a “buck”/mold and shrinking a garbage can or supersize tote etc over it with construction heaters.

        1. I drive a Spitfire, and I think about the same thing: keep the hood, build a new body shell. There’s a wrecking yard near me with probably a dozen spitfire frames/running gear. TBH a spridget might be a better idea: the spitfire had a weak differential and because of the really strange rear suspension design, it’s quite non-trivial to substitute a stronger differential. But something that size, as a coupe with a flatroof shooting brake body, like a Jensen GT, would be a pretty great project. They handle pretty well and are really economical to work on. I think you can buy a whole set of tires for a spitfire for less than a single headlight for a new ford pickup.
          Making a buck with plywood and putting fiberglass/resin over it isn’t that difficult. I’d be worried about the longevity of totes, based on what I’ve seen with them outside in the sun over a couple year period.

          1. Yah or there’s the Reliant Scimitar or weird crap by Ogle and Marcos that might respond to remodelling.

            I was intending on painting the plastic for UV protection.

        2. Want a 1970 Fiat 850 convertible? Free? It’s a mess.
          Solid body? Not even when it was new. Now, yikes.

          Was somebody else’s aborted project, Bug power. Keeping the bug drivetrain.

          Too many projects, I’m cleaning up.

          I know you didn’t ask, but you want a Triumph, so obviously not choosy.
          I turned down a free, rust free (CA), running TR-8 once.

          You might prefer my 64.5 mustang project…not free though.

          1. I stared long and hard at a free Lotus Europa a year or so ago… someone had tried to “tub” it and hack it out for a V8 in the back… also everything else was pretty stripped… so basically if you had a complete Europa with missing doors and glass it was a bargain, but otherwise needed most of another car for donor.

            Another free Lotus a while back in this area was another sad story, original Elan, with a very minor engine fire, basically only put a saucer sized soot patch on the hood… but it was insurance recorded and totalled, and here anything totalled for fire damage is not repairable, meaning it’s never going on the road.

            Fiat’s problem through the 70s was supposed to be bargain Russian steel, which they finally gave up on, so the late 850s and the Alfa versions weren’t quiiiite so rotty if locked after. Family had a 1982 127 that had perfect bodywork until a tree fell on it. (Why is it that when you get a true anti-lemon, a premium example of it’s type, crap like that happens to them??)

  5. “a wheel as close to each corner as it can be”

    … not so sure about that. My Volvo 740 has a smaller turning radius than a Renault Twingo. If the wheels were in the corner I wouldn’t be able to navigate the European streets.

  6. I share much of the same sentiment, my 90s Acura has all the bells and whistles of the time: sunroof, trip computer, power seats, heated mirrors. Half of these don’t work anymore but it still drives great and has minimal rust, the computer controlling the engine is separate from any of those extra systems. Regular maintained cars from that period drive just like new in my experience.

    With new metallurgy and things like better polyurethanes for bushings, cars now wear out even slower than my 90s car. But when it comes to replacing an $800 headlight in a newer Lexus like my dad has, I don’t think the future owner will be able to stomach that. Not to mention the 10+ airbags going off in the case of an unlucky fender bender, likely at least $1000 a pop not to mention interior damage.

    I also see the push for electric cars mostly showing in the luxury segment, granted that is where much of the risks and innovation come from for new technology. The new Hummer, Teslas and Mustang Mach E are priced way higher than an equivalent gas car. I see most of them as environmental virtue signalling accessories for the rich. I imagine most of the molds and tooling are specific to those models too, further negating their perceived green impact.

    Sadly these days it would be impossible to put to market a car that has little more than the basic components of an electric RC car. Safety regulations are to blame, but also consumer expectations.

    1. Not sure what exact RC car you’re thinking of, but some things don’t scale up or down, therefore the kind of RC car that’s even likely to be considered as basic human transport if enlarged is the $1000 jobbie, not the no suspension or spring and no damper, beam axle, no differential, no variable gear ratios, no actual brakes, no air in the tires $20 one like Radio Shack used to sell. Primitive cars of the buckboard type, which were typically small, match the latter description more closely, but still, you don’t see larger ones because it doesn’t scale.

  7. Sounds like Colin Chapman’s philosophy. Add in some reliability, be and you’re sorted. However, that’s not what the great unwashed want from a car. They want a lounge on wheels.

  8. Some of us would like to have ‘minimal’ full size gas vehicles period. No infotainment. No satellite radio, no, no, and no. For example, just a powerful 4X4 pickup with manual everything. no buttons in sight. Just a manual gear shifter for into and out of 4 wheel drive hi/lo. Automatic transmission ok, but manual should be available. Only ‘luxury’ would be power steering and power brakes (anti-lock would be optional). No cameras, No fancy turn signals. When on they are on… No fancy screen dash with just manual gas, oil, temp, speed, rpm indicators. No need for automatic windows. No to four doors. Just two will do with a little extra space behind the seat. With a 6 or 8 foot bed. Keep it simple and get the job done. Sounds perfect to me. Cost ‘should’ be minimal too. Right now, I am priced out of the ‘new’ trucks, so will keep my Dodge around.

          1. The difference between me and him is I grew up on an Oxfordshire farm (Just under 20mi away), while he bought one and had someone else run it for years before his reality show.

    1. You could buy Tarpan Honker with Andoria 4C90 diesel engine (don’t buy 4CT90) or FSO 1500 petrol engine. It’s very reliable and perfectly fits your description of 4×4 fully manual pickup built on solid steel frame. One of its advantages is that most panels are simple flat sheets of steel, very easy to fix in case of damage. Sometimes you can buy them directly from Military Property Agency (Agencja Mienia Wojskowego, AMW) for pennies.

    2. I had essentially the same requirements when buying my last vehicle, just add that it needs an actual key that serves as an emergency Killswitch, rather than that push to start garbage.
      I wound up buying a jeep wrangler jk, one of the only vehicles still available with full manual everything, minimal electronics, and easy to do work on. I do wish I got the 4-door version if only because of the increased cargo capacity for lumber and whatnot. That they included torx bits and a wrench for removing like half the parts struck me as an acknowledgement that I truly own the vehicle, rather than “owning” it subject to their terms.

      I have a preorder on a cybertruck, but I often think about whether I’d be willing to give up one of the last vehicles that’s incapable of phoning home in exchange for a self-driving electric utility vehicle designed to be nearly indestructible. I just hope I can convince my wife we need both a hacker vehicle that won’t record our every move, and a eco-friendly truck that’ll be the “forever” vehicle…

    3. Trucks similar to those exist (in a smaller size), but our government only allows them for “off-road” use. I suppose they have some official reason, but I suspect it’s more to protect the American truck market who keeps makeing them larger, more plush, and more expensive. They are widely used in other areas of the world, refurbished, then imported and sold as maintenance or utility vehicles. I would love to have one for my daily driver.

      Recently, Ford came out with a smaller, simpler truck that sold as fast as they could be manufactured, but Ford stopped taking orders in order to use the chassis for a more profitable SUV.

  9. The problem is that there are so many mandatory systems in modern cars that it becomes very hard to design a minimalist car in the way it was possible in the past. Cars also have to look pretty much all the same nowadays as they have to meet certain EU and US (mostly) rules about bumper shape and height, free space beneath the hood, light locations, minimum and maximum crumple zone dimensions, ABS/ESP, auto cruise-control, lane-assist, e-call system, etc, etc, etc. You need at least some sort of electronic screen and an input device to operate all these systems. I’d love a modern car without all the doodads and wizzbangs focused purely on driving, but unfortunately such a car can simply not be road legal in the EU or US (when built by a commercial manufacturer).

    1. While the design requirements are a significant force in car profiles and such I’m sure that the internal electronic wizardry is only because ‘its what the clients want’ or at least what they think all the clients want – a few companies out there that make gizmo reduced or removed road legal (in the UK at least – so i’d bet EU and US too) cars Morgan, KTM, Aerial, Radical all make more sporty or outright road legal race cars, Caterham too…

      Must be a make out there producing decent cheap working vehicles with the minimum of “doodads”, and probably a few more practical but normal cars too. The one concession to this sort of stuff I think now you will struggle to get away from is integrated satnag and some music/radio player in a more practical everyday car – partly as without satnag for almost everyone not into oldschool navigation it wouldn’t be a practical everyday car anymore…

      1. Wonder how much of the infotainment and driver “aids” type “wizbangs” you can actually remove from a modern car before it refused to function because its onboard computer says Nope or I suppose because the primary brain is built into the system you removed so it no longer has a computer.

        1. A friend was looking into buying a V10 from a Viper and putting it in his 1970’s Dodge, and the sheer quantity of sensor interfaces into the ECU, that it required to run at all was daunting. Then he found out that if it was missing some of the sensors it would decide it had been stolen and turn off and refuse to turn back on even if the sensors were correctly wired: it required a factory reset, only available by taking the ECU into an official Chrysler dealership. And that’s on a car that went out of production like 10 years ago.
          (Factory ECU because it can be challenging to run a V10 with aftermarket ECU’s as they have a weird firing order.)

          1. News to me, but I’ve never dug deep into ECU for anything – I just assumed being effectively a simple software problem any ECU fast enough with enough IO to handle that many sensors and sparks could run any engine easy enough. Seen plenty of aftermarket or retuned ECU done on engines to not know there was any challenges.

  10. i think there is massive room in the market for minimalistic kit cars.
    design a great base platform, give options for various bodies, and make it stupid easy to bolt together at home. just those pesky gubbernment regulations to get past.

    but seriously. when i grew up, EVERYONE built their own go karts and rail buggies. wtf happened to that american diy? i live in prime real estate for rail buggies, i rarely ever see one.

    1. It was easy when there was massive supply of body on frame donor vehicles, now, not so much.

      One of the last doyens of that school passed away late last year I think it was after falling into ill health. R. Q. Riley (Robert Quigley?) of RQ Riley enterprises, home of the Trimuter, and other innovative vehicles, often featured in the likes of Mechanix Illustrated, Popular Mechanics etc through the 1970s and early 80s.

  11. ” It touched a nerve and received a very large comment volume, such that now it is our 19th most commented story of all time.”

    So…
    where is the list of the Top Twenty?
    B^)

  12. It seems the auto industry has tentacles firmly grasping other industries, change one and the other changes as well. Jobs gained, jobs lost. I think it a mess off sorts as my thought is that it is no longer just the ‘auto industry’. Tentacles. Unfortunately, I think the best we can do is await alternative transportation to ICE, which is currently electric by popular vote. As much as I would like to keep driving my 1995 4.8 LS powered pickup truck, and the like, I don’t get the feeling there will be a foreseeable future for that. I read that California was going to phase out ICE soonish. Personally, I have accepted that, while not liking it, and then proceed to hope they do just that asap. My thought is this ball needs to get rolling and what better way to have gone entire state go EV. From there we can finally see what all the negative aspects are going to be for everyday life, which I think are going to be quite a few due to Tentacles. Once that is hammered out, if that is even possible, Maybe we will see some minimalistic type vehicles, well as far as that could go being mostly ‘electronic’. I think the days of the WT are long, long over, if not in time then in the minds of decision makers at mega corp. My opinion.

        1. I guess it’s got sunlight going for it if you were all to have at home solar charging, probably storage required for most who work days though.

          If it’s true that something like 80% of your vehicles are actually acting as air cleaners, then your smog problems are elsewhere though and will get worse with merely a change to electric cars, unless they mandate a HEPA filtered vacuum cleaner running on them or something.

          1. Not sure if that is true looking at ICE as a whole, if it were then I supposed it would come to light with a state as big as California going electric. Lots of reasons beyond just going electric to go electric, in my opinion.

          2. >your vehicles are actually acting as air cleaners

            It’s got nothing to do with reality. The politicians just think that by setting unrealistic demands, the market would try their best instead of simply cheating the test. Even if the regulations don’t actually do much, they still provide the tools to punish the companies arbitrarily for not doing the impossible – should they choose to disobey the state.

          3. FWIW, I remember the LA air pollution of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, and not being to spend much time outside playing/exercising without serious respiratory problems. As bad as the economic impact has been, the results are plainly visible in more than one meaning.

            I’m not a fan at all of these great social(ist) experiments, but here’s one that actually paid off.

          4. “As bad as the economic impact has been, the results are plainly visible in more than one meaning.”

            Yeah, and in Avengers: Endgame, they saw a pod of whales in the Hudson. Just because the problem got better doesn’t mean you did it the right way. Carbon emissions went down during the pandemic, too, but I don’t think anyone would suggest “release global pathogens yearly” as a strategy to combat global warming.

            What was the problem? Total emissions. Of all types. Not just cars, and not the *fraction* of emissions. The total. So tax the gas, and allow emissions inspections to discount the tax. Think of it working the way loyalty cards work: you scan it, the price of the gas goes down.

            Now it’s an economic decision. Either you pay a bunch (which the government can use for other methods to reduce emissions!) or you keep your car maintained.

            If you barely drive the car (so the emissions are pointless) your emissions don’t matter, so you don’t have to bother. If you drive the car a ton, it matters a lot more, and you might even push to more fuel efficient vehicles, too.

  13. People rarely consider the risk involved when deciding to drive somewhere unless the weather is very bad. Vehicle mileage is very relevant; the improvements in cars and road design have dramatically lowered deaths per mile.

  14. If the car industry and the economy keep going as they are, we are going to get real minimalistic on travel and transportation. Lawn mowers, bikes, horse and buggy, and dog sleds.

  15. Back in the early 1900’s there was an automobile that had 14 moving parts in the engine/final drive, less than 50 in the whole vehicle, and had a sports model that would do 80 mph. Seems like we have gone backwards rather than forward. Oh and by the way it was an external combustion vehicle, a Stanley Steamer. Wonder what it would do if the billions that went into developing the internal combustion vehicles had been spent on its technology

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