Ask most people to name a classic or vintage car, and they’ll probably give you a list of V8 powered muscle cars not known for their high gas mileage.
But the quest for fuel efficiency isn’t a new concept. In fact, there is a fairly large number of classic cars which when properly maintained, provide a fuel economy on par with some of today’s fuel-efficient cars.
Here’s just five classics you’ll want to look at if you want a retro-ride with modern-day economy.
1988-1991 Honda CRX-HF
Of all of the world’s automakers, Honda has historically been consistent in producing cars with a high gas mileage.
During the late 1980s, its most fuel-efficient car was the CRX sports hatchback. Offering seating for just two passengers, the regular CRX offered customers a choice between a 1.4 litre and 1.6 litre engine, married to either a 5 speed manual or 4 speed automatic gearbox.
But while the standard manual 1.5 liter CRX gots an official, adjusted EPA rating of 32 mpg combined, Honda decided to produce an even more efficient version, which it called the CRX-HF (or high efficiency).
With a 1.5 liter engine and a 5-speed manual transmission, the CRX-HF has an official EPA rating of 44 mpg combined, giving it a higher fuel efficiency rating than its newer descendant, the 2011 Honda CR-Z hybrid.
1959-1968 Morris Mini Minor
The original front-wheel drive pocket rocket, the ingeniously-designed Morris Mini Minor may be small enough to fit in the pickup bed of some of today’s larger pickup trucks, but the little British car gets a fuel economy that is hard to beat, even by today’s standards.
Designed with economy in mind, the original Mini featured front-wheel drive and a transverse-mounted 0.85 liter engine which was capable of propelling it to 75 miles-per-hour while achieving just 33 MPG. Given that’s the same combined fuel economy as a 2011 Ford Fiesta, the Mini can still hold its own in the high-fuel economy states.
But be aware -- like many older cars, the original A-series engine in a Mk I Mini may not be hardened to cope with unleaded gasoline -- so you should check before filling up.
1988-2003 Geo Metro/Suzuki Swift
1997 Geo Metro
Yes, we know the diminutive Geo Metro can’t hold a candle to the sportier stylings of the Honda CRX-HF or the British charms of the Mini Minor -- but it is a veritable champ when it comes to fuel economy.
Designed by Suzuki as the Suzuki Swift and sold in the U.S. as both a Suzuki and a Geo Metro in partnership with General Motors, the tiny supermini hatchback remains one of the highest fuel economy classics available today, provided you can live with its “Plain Jane” looks.
With a 3-cylinder 1 liter engine, the Swift/Metro was pretty frugal on gasoline consumption -- but for the best fuel economy out there go for the Geo Metro XFI, which the EPA rates at an astonishingly good 47 mpg combined.
For a lower gas mileage but a whole lot more fun, chose the 1988-2003 Suzuki Swift GT. With up to a 1.6 liter engine developing 100 brake horsepower, the sporty version of the benign hatchback isn’t the greatest for fuel economy -- but at 27 mpg it still isn’t shabby for a fun and drivable fuel-efficient classic.
1973-1979 Honda Civic
When Honda introduced the first generation Civic to the U.S. market the U.S. was struggling to deal with the height of the 1973 oil crisis.
With a simple advertising campaign -- “Honda, we make it simple” -- and a level of build quality that most Americans yearned for, the Honda Civic became one of the mainstays of fuel efficient driving.
Achieving a fuel economy of 40 mpg on the highway, the two-door coupe, 3-door hatchback and -- eventually -- 4-door sedan became a hit with those wanting to a reliable and fuel-efficient engine.
For the highest fuel economy, chose a Civic made after 1975 with the Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion (CVCC) engine. So clean it didn’t need catalytic converters or unleaded fuel to meet tough emissions laws, it has to be on our list for fuel-efficient classics.
But there’s a down-side to the first-generation civic: Rust. During its early years, the Civic had such poor corrosion protection that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had to issue a safety recall after winter salt in some states caused the majority of Civics to suffer from dangerous levels of rust on major suspension, body and transmission parts.
1974-1983 Volkswagen Rabbit
Meant as a replacement for the original Volkswagen Beetle, the Volkswagen Rabbit -- or Golf, as it was known in Europe -- is still one of the best economy classics you can buy.
Available as a three-door or five-door hatchback and spawning the Jetta notchback saloon in 1979, the VW Rabbit combined a lightweight unitary construction with a sure-footed front-wheel drivetrain.
While all VW Rabbits were high on fuel economy, the dizzying array of engine choices mean that there’s a great deal of variance between the higher powered gasoline Rabbits and their more frugal Diesel sibling.
For the best economy, go for a four-speed manual with the 1.6 liter Diesel engine, which the EPA rates at an impressive 38 mpg. For more environmental kudos, convert your it to run on biofuels like used cooking oil.
We know our readers love classics as much as we do, so what other classic cars would you chose as having the best fuel economy?
Let us know in the Comments below.