1949 Crosley Hot Shot (© Conceptcarz.com)

1949 Crosley Hot Shot

The arrival of the 2012 Fiat 500 has prompted a lot of discussion about small cars and America. Some people think that the time is right for diminutive driving, but others are convinced that Americans will never understand tiny cars.

In order to gain a little perspective, we've taken a look back at some of the best — and worst — small cars in history. Here are the worst.

Read:  The 5 Best Small Cars in History

1. Peel P50 (1962 - 1965)

A mockery of a car
It is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest production car ever built. At 198 pounds, you can lift it with one hand. A 49-cubic-centimeter, 100-mpg DKW engine lives between your knees. Oh, and it has just three wheels and no reverse gear. The P50 makes an original Mini look giant. But unlike the Mini, it's essentially a mockery of everything good about the automobile. You could drive this or, if you don't hate life, you could walk.

Bing Images: Peel P50

2. King Midget Model III (1957 - 1970)

Yes, people actually bought it
When it was first sold in the late 1950s, the King Midget Model III was billed as "the world's most exciting small car." That's a mighty claim for what was essentially a lawn tractor with a windshield. The 9.2-horsepower Model III was built in Ohio from 1957 to 1970, and believe it or not, it was actually the result of careful development; King Midget Models I and II boasted less power and comfort. Just under 5,000 were sold, which only proves that some people are gluttons for punishment.

View Slideshow:  Small Cars, Big History

3. Renault Dauphine (1956 - 1967)

Click to enlarge pictureRenault Dauphine (© Renault)

Renault Dauphine

Great intentions, horrible result
In 1951, French manufacturer Renault conducted a survey of European drivers, asking them what they wanted in a car. Five years later, after extensive development, Renault launched the Dauphine. It featured a rear-mounted engine, a 30-second zero-to-60-mph time and an interior cheaper than a Kleenex box. It also rusted like crazy and boasted an oversteer-inducing rear swing axle and a noisy transmission. At least it was unattractive.

Bing: Renault Dauphine

4. Crosley Hotshot (1949 - 1952)

Click to enlarge picture1951 Crosley Hot Shot (© Conceptcarz.com)

1951 Crosley Hot Shot

Fragile, slow, depressing
Powel Crosley Jr. got his start making radios and kitchen appliances, which is probably why the Crosley Hotshot, America's first post-World War II sports car, looked like a cross between a tube radio and an old toaster oven. Its engine, a 0.75-liter overhead-cam 4-cylinder, was made of brazed tin, not cast iron. Because those brazed welds often collapsed, the engine often fell apart. Would you want to ride down the road in your toaster? Neither would we.

Read:  Small-Car Smackdown

5. Yugo GV (1985 - 2002)

A bad Fiat made even worse
Twenty-six years after its release, the Yugo's name has become synonymous with bad. The GV — the name stood for "Good Value" — was little more than a Yugoslavian-built version of Fiat's loathsome 127 hatchback. Its U.S. importation was the brainchild of automotive huckster Malcolm Bricklin, the same man who brought Subaru to America. The GV was akin to total automotive failure: It drove badly, wasn't charming and regularly fell apart. Good value? Sure, if someone paid you to buy one.

Bing Images: Yugo GV

Sam Smith is a journalist, a Southerner, and a reformed Alfa Romeo mechanic who spends most of his time mooning over leaky old motorcycles and small-batch bourbon. A multiple International Automotive Media award-winner, he has covered cars for Automobile Magazine, Car and Driver, and Esquire, among other publications. He once drove 4000 miles in a weekend for a hamburger and has only been threatened by the German police twice.