April 21, 2009 Slideshows

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Before the Prius: 10 Compact Cult Cars 

They're compact, mostly cheap and often cute. Here are ten compact cars that inspired a following, long before smug Prius drivers took to the streets.
Chevrolet Vega
A subcompact rolled out during the fuel crisis of the '70s, the Chevrolet Vega rivaled the puny Ford Pinto and AMC Gremlin. It was a big seller back then, even though it's looked at as a relic today. Read Paul Knight's Prius feature: "Wild Rides."
MINI Cooper
After BMW bought the MINI brand in 2001, the car has grown in popularity in the U.S., partially due to its marketing efforts: "During the production of first generation Mini, as a joke and undoubtedly as a part of Mini's viral marketing approach, purchasers of the Mini convertible were asked to sign a "contract" promising that they would drive the car with the roof open at least 90% of the time. Mini also set up a telephone hotline (in the USA: 1-888-DO NOT CLOSE) which one may call to report convertible owners who are driving with the roof up inappropriately. The automated system offers such helpful advice as how to administer a wedgie to the offender." Read Paul Knight's Prius feature: "Wild Rides."
AMC Gremlin
The AMC Gremlin has Web sites and fan clubs dedicated to it -- this after a car was roundly ridiculed for its design when it debuted in 1970. But it was cheap and despite its name (Gremlin is defined as "a small gnome held to be responsible for malfunction of equipment"; not the best name for a car.), it was a popular model. Read Paul Knight's Prius feature: "Wild Rides."
Fiat Ritmo
The Fiat Ritmo: More than 1.7 million of these quirky little rides were made between 1978 and 1988. This is the 1982 model of the Ritmo. Read Paul Knight's Prius feature: "Wild Rides."
Ford Cortina
The Ford Cortina (this is the Mark IV, 1979-1982 model) was an extremely popular car here and in Britain, Its drivers were devoted as well, as it was one of the ten most driven cars in Britain up through 1992. Most of them had been scrapped by 2000. Read Paul Knight's Prius feature: "Wild Rides."
Honda Insight
The modern hybrid predecessor to the Prius, the Honda Insight's design initially received some light jabs for its style. This from the New York Times: "[Its style] suggested Popeye's pal, Olive Oyl, in her ankle-length dress. The rear fender skirts seemed frumpy." Read Paul Knight's Prius feature: "Wild Rides."
Smart Car
What else should we expect from a car made by a company that makes watches? The Smart car -- a project started by Swiss watchmaker Swatch -- was started to make cars that be parked with their noses facing the curb. Read Paul Knight's Prius feature: "Wild Rides."
DeLorean DMC-12
The DeLorean DMC-12: Stainless steel finish, gull-wing doors and the car from Back to the Future. The short life of the DeLorean Motor Company ('75-'82) has only made these cars more sought-after among collectors. Read Paul Knight's Prius feature: "Wild Rides."
Volkswagen New Beetle
Perhaps the biggest cult car of them all, the Volkswagen Beetle. It went from being known as the "People's Car" to a hip favorite after the introduction of the New Beetle in 1994. After its debut to U.S. buyers in 1998, new generations of drivers have been strangely in love with this bubble of a car. Read Paul Knight's Prius feature: "Wild Rides."
Yugo 45
The Yugoslavian-born Yugo 45 was introduced to U.S. buyers in 1984, with a wave of publicity that touted the car's ten-year/100,000 mile warranty. A 1987 Consumer Reports review of the car concluded that buyers would be "better off buying a good used car than a new Yugo." Still, it retains popularity with U.S. owners, who collect the cars. Read Paul Knight's Prius feature: "Wild Rides."
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Chevrolet Vega
A subcompact rolled out during the fuel crisis of the '70s, the Chevrolet Vega rivaled the puny Ford Pinto and AMC Gremlin. It was a big seller back then, even though it's looked at as a relic today. Read Paul Knight's Prius feature: "Wild Rides."
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