Kei cars don't usually make it out of Japan, which is why they're sometimes called "Galapagos" cars, like those tortoises uniquely adapted to their own island. But when they do, the result can be pretty special, as is the case with the Suzuki Cervo, which left Japan to become the Suzuki SC100, or more memorably, the Whizzkid.
The Whizzkid name was used mostly in the UK, where the car was introduced in 1979 and almost immediately found a cult of devotees. A lot of you may be glancing at that picture and wondering why — it looks pretty much like any number of little Japanes econoboxes of the era — what makes the Whizzkid so special?
Well, a big hint is at the rear, where the trunk area may look a little suspiciously too-ventilated. That's because the Whizzkid kept its engine back there, which was a big factor to what made this car so special — it was a rear-engine, rear-drive micro-911 in an era of front engine/front drive econobox clones.
Freed from Japan's Kei-class regulations, the UK Whizzkid got a 970cc four instead of the Kei-mandated 540cc three. The 970cc motor made a modest-sounding 47 HP, but the car didn't weigh much more than a heavy thought about if there's aliens or not.
Now, I've never had a chance to drive a Whizzkid, a failing I hope to correct one day, but from what I've heard and read, they were a hell of a lot of fun to throw around. People as esteemed as auto journalism legend and amateur ZZ Top re-enactor LJK Setright had them, and there were plenty of people who seemed to love cramming high-revving motorcycle engines in them and racing them.
What I can appreciate is the basic layout and design. The Whizzkid had a great fastback look, with a nice sloping c-pillar with some stamped gill-like detailing that sort of reminds me of a fastback Mustang. The rear window opens like a hatch to give access to luggage in the back seat and parcel shelf area, and there's a decent-sized trunk up front.
Another fun detail? When they gave it the bigger engine, they had to add a counterweight to the front bumper to keep things balanced.
There's just something so satisfying about this rear-engined little guy that I think it's a shame it's generally so unknown here in America. The Whizzkid is a great reminder that you don't always have to stick to the dominant, expected formula for cheap, entry-level cars, and sometimes, when you do take a bit of a risk, the end result can be a blast.
Now I need to figure out who has one of these I can drive.