The Changing Shape Of Cars: Compacts 1938 – 2020 – The Buick Encore Overlaid On Some Older Small Cars

Chris Cieslak and I had a good time with our first batch of composite overlays, comparing the 2020 Buick Encore with some cars from other vintages. So we’ve decided to do a few more, starting with compact/small cars. And what better way to start than with two compact cars from GM, about as polar opposites as possible: the 1960 Corvair and the Encore.

The 1960 Corvair pushed a lot of boundaries, starting with its rear engine. But it was also remarkably low, with a height of only 51.5″. That makes it the lowest mass-production sedan ever. But thanks to its flat floor and no frame, its interior room was actually very good, equaling or the full size 1960 Chevrolet in several key metrics. But the Corvair’s low height really stands out in today’s traffic, especially compared to the Encore.

The Encore reflects the current state of a compact passenger car. The term “CUV”, first applied by AMC to the XJ Cherokee, is becoming increasingly irrelevant, as it’s really just a tall compact car. And at 65.3″, it towers over the Corvair by a good 14″. And of course its seating is more upright, but that only results in a modest 1″ improvement in headroom over the Corvair (39.6 vs. 38.7″) and actually less front leg room than the ‘Vair (40.8″ vs. 42.8″).

Let’s compare the Encore with the immortal VW Beetle, whose shape was finalized in 1938. And with a height of 61″, it’s a lot closer to the Encore, but still comes up short.

Here’s a different coloration, if it helps to see the two better.

And here they are by themselves.

I suggested to Chris to include the Citroen 2CV, since it’s so tall. At 63″, it’s only a couple of inches shy of the Encore.

But in every other metric, the Citroen is dwarfed by the Encore.

But there is a fundamental similarity between them, in being unusually tall and narrow for their times.


Thanks, Chris. And we’ve got some more in the works, but without the Encore.