Daihatsu Mira L55 1983

Recently, we told you about the cheap cars of post-war Europe. We’ve understood the reasons for their emergence at that time, but what now prompts one of the most technologically advanced nations to produce cars with an engine volume of a pint of beer and actively use them? Of course, we’re talking about Japan and the small but famous car models – kei cars.

Nowadays, it seems that almost draconian measures are being taken against motorists in Europe and Russia: the cost of gasoline and taxes are rising, restrictions are being introduced on entering city centers, and so on. We are gradually being nudged either towards switching to public transport or buying some kind of economical car. But we are still lucky – this trend only emerged in the 21st century! Japan, understanding its limited resources, decided to monitor its citizens’ motor vehicles immediately after World War II.

Of course, in the post-war years, no one tried to buy a V8 with a consumption of 40 liters per 100 kilometers – at that time, no one was trying to buy anything. Since not all of Japan had experienced the joys of industrialization, horse-drawn transport was still in honor. Remember, the Japanese, like the Germans, lost the war and were almost bled dry, plus they had to deal with the aftermath of the nuclear bombing. There was no money, no production: the country needed to be rebuilt from scratch, just like its ally Germany.

How to stimulate ordinary people to buy a car under such conditions? Most people only had enough money for a moped (by the way, a similar situation still exists in Vietnam), so it was important to offer something really cheap. We already know the recipe for building a budget microcar: small sizes, a motorcycle engine, and external contours of a battered Messerschmitt. But the Japanese government didn’t just want to encourage automakers to make one or two models – they wanted to create an entire class of vehicles and even give these cars some tax and driver’s license concessions. Therefore, they had to describe the requirements and limitations that a future people’s kei car had to meet. In 1949, they were announced: 2.8 meters in length, 2 in height, and 1 meter in width. There were no power limitations, but it was not allowed to carry more than 350 kg of cargo and passengers. The engine could be either two-stroke, which was not very convenient and technological, or four-stroke. In that case, its volume in 1949 was limited to 150 cubic centimeters, a year later the limit was raised to 300, and another year later – to 360 cubic centimeters! By 1955, two-stroke engines were abolished altogether.

Either Japan was tight with former aviators, or they just didn’t make cars resembling an airplane fuselage – their first affordable cars looked as much like cars in the traditional sense of the word as possible. They weren’t overly small, had no front doors – they were just shorter and narrower than usual. Well, and the engine was weaker, yes, but considering the low weight and mainly urban use, this was a very conditional problem.

Not only that: the Japanese forgot to tell that small cars should only be two-seater, so-called, coupes. So, the Japanese went ahead and made minivans, pickups, hatchbacks, and even tiny trucks! And none of this can be called ugly or unharmonious: yes, kei cars are usually angular, or on the contrary, overly reminiscent of a soap dish, but they have their own charm and aesthetics.

The kei car culture has taken root in Japan to such an extent that with the arrival of relative prosperity in the country, it didn’t disappear. Megacities like Tokyo almost immediately began to suffer from excessive pollution and traffic jams, so the kei car became the ideal choice for urban residents. Yes, perhaps, in rural areas people preferred larger cars, but it turned out to be extremely convenient to handle city deliveries in small trucks. By 1990, the Japanese government allowed up to 660 cubic centimeters of engine volume in kei cars but maintained the limitation of 64 horsepower. However, how strictly this was adhered to in some of the all-wheel-drive turbocharged little ones, we do not know – after all, we’re talking about a country where, by a gentlemen’s agreement, no automaker produced cars with more than 300 horsepower, which was clearly disingenuous.

The hero of our article, one of the most famous kei cars – the first-generation Daihatsu Mira L55. This car replaced the Daihatsu Max Cuore in 1980, keeping the predecessor’s dimensions but changing the exterior and interior to a more modern look – the 80s were already here with their angular design. Initially, the updated car was sold under the name Mira Cuore, but in 1982 it received a light facelift and the “Cuore” was dropped from the name. For the domestic market and to fit the kei car classification, the Mira was equipped with a two-cylinder engine with a volume of 547 cubic centimeters and a carburetor fuel system – exactly what is installed in this red little one. In 1982, the Japanese decided to slightly modernize the engine for export and added 70 “cubes” – a total of 617 cubic centimeters and 30 horsepower. Strangely enough, this engine was quite well received in Europe and South America, noted for its spirited nature at high revs and suitability for city driving. But that wasn’t enough. In 1983, an even more powerful version with turbocharging was released, allowing to get 41 horsepower from a volume of 0.547 liters! It may seem funny, but the use of turbocharging soon became a distinguishing feature of Japanese microcars – European analogs typically did not have similar systems. However, both in the case of the L55 and with most modern cars, installing a turbocharged engine was only done for cars for the domestic market.

The car’s interior is extremely simple. A very pleasant color, which harmonizes perfectly with the color of the body, a steering wheel in keeping with the fashion of the time, door handles that can be seen in many cars of similar years and country of manufacture. Some control lamps are placed in a separate block in the middle of the dashboard, which made the instrument panel maximally simple. The front panel itself has an almost flat top part – very convenient for visiting snack bars.

What else can be said about the interior? In microcars, the windows often fog up – a small internal volume is to blame, so owners always have a cloth at hand. In the Mira, you don’t need to be Michael Jordan to reach any window without getting up from your seat! Convenient.

The rear row, of course, hasn’t gone far from the Messerschmitt – it’s possible for an adult to fit only in a folded form. Therefore, in this car, the seats are simply unfolded into a huge trunk, and behind them, you can find Beltek brand speakers.

As for the exterior – you’re familiar with it. Don’t you feel something familiar in these chopped lines, some resemblance to the still familiar brick? The Mira L55 once became the prototype for the VAZ “Oka”! Yes, the general proportions, appearance, and even a 2-cylinder engine with a carburetor. Only the Mira, as always, is more filled with small details that create the image of a quite pleasant city car.

70% of the exterior look, as legend has it, is due to Advan Racing-Dish wheels of 13 inches. Considering that 12” wheels were also put on the car, these wheels look quite impressive.

I’m sure many of you disdain cars with such power characteristics – but in vain. Their charm, which is almost impossible to describe in words, has won over thousands of people around the world and allowed kei cars to become one of the symbols of the JDM movement. Mira is one of the most famous of them, although more often the next generation is meant. I hope these cars will continue to delight their owners and remain on the roads as a symbol of economy and 80s design.

Until next time, friends!