31 May 2011

Fuel sippers: Drive these classics, save at the pump

As gasoline surpasses $4 a gallon in many places, more than a few people are pressing their collector cars into service as their daily, or at least “more than occasional” drivers. It’s not an entirely hare-brained idea as most small-displacement sports cars from the 1960s and ‘70s are pretty frugal. The following is a list of some of our favorites — all are capable of returning well over 30 mpg around town according to contemporary road tests.

  • Fiat X1/9 — 34.0 mpg
  • MG Midget — 35.0 mpg
  • Morris Minor — 35.0 mpg
  • Austin-Healey Sprite — 36.0 mpg
  • Nash Metropolitan — 37.5 mpg
  • Lotus Elite — 38 mpg
  • Fiat 850 Spider — 38.5 mpg
  • Honda S800 — 42.0 mpg
  • BMW Isetta — 44.0 mpg
  • Crosley Hot Shot — 48 mpg

We’d probably look for a slightly scruffy but mechanically sound Porsche 356 sunroof coupe. The combination of reliability and practicality is hard to beat in a daily driver. Still, you’ll want to take your SUV off the jack stands when winter rolls around if the roads are salted in your neighborhood. Few cars rust with the alacrity of an old Porsche.

If you want to buy American, the Cosworth example of the much maligned Chevy Vega is an interesting choice. Sold from 1975-76, only 3,508 were produced. Apparently, there was little demand for a Vega that cost nearly as much as a Corvette. Still, it’s quicker than a BMW 2002tii (although build quality is not in the same universe) and new ones occasionally show up at auctions still on the MSO.

However, if you’re looking for your favorite Detroit muscle car on the list, you’ll be disappointed: Single-digit gas mileage was the rule when gas was thirty cents a gallon. You will be surprised to discover, though, that Car and Driver magazine reported that the new Corvette is capable of delivering almost 27 mpg in real world driving.

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