The Culture of Shorty Cars

We covered the sale of a 1971 Plymouth Duster convertible not long ago, but it wasn’t an ordinary Duster. This one had been shortened; as in, its mid-section was cut out and, as a result, had a shortened wheelbase. It also came with a full-size 360 Mopar V8, which produced more than 200 horsepower in 1974. The strange part about this shorty Duster is that shorty muscle cars aren’t actually that unusual. Shorty cars, including muscle cars, were popular in the 1970s for parades and as show cars, and there are many more than just the duster.

What is a shorty car?

Volkswagen Golf Shorty on display in Essen
Volkswagen Golf Shorty on display in Essen | Maik Boenisch/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Like the shorty Duster, a shorty is a car that’s had its midsection taken out. The result is sort of a clown-car-Esque bumper car that measures about the same length as a Miata. It’s custom work like anything else, and there are a lot of shops that do it. Some variants are subtle enough to warrant a double-take, like this 1965 Ford Mustang on AutoEvolution. That owner fitted their shorty Mustang with a 260 bored out to 302 cubic inches.

Though not a muscle car, a different owner thought their Austin Mini was too long, or at least would look better as one of those toy cars you used to get your kid from Toys ‘R’ Us. Its owner could still fit at 6’6″ and claimed it cornered better than a Porsche. 

No shortage of “Shorty” muscle cars

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Other owners caught the shorty bug as well, converting their Chevrolet Impalas and Bel Airs and Caprices. Removing the mid-section from a car isn’t just the absence of steel. You have to make shortened fuel lines, electrical harnesses, and a shortened driveshaft if using a rear-wheel-drive configuration. Murray Pfaff’s 1959 Imperial Speedster project, as outlined on Hagerty’s website, shows the amount of work that goes into a shorty conversion.

Pfaff’s dream was to bring a Mopar speedster back to life. Starting with a 1959 Imperial Crown four-door, Pfaff and some friends chopped out enough material to shorten the Imperial donor car by 48 inches. The wheelbase was shortened by 38 inches. Though this custom Imperial is nowhere near as short as the Mini, it still counts as a shorty muscle car. 

Will cars in the future be shortened as well?

Shortening cars certainly seems like a novelty. It’s hard to say if any modern cars will receive the same treatment. It would be easier with a front-wheel-drive car, like a 1990s Lotus Elan, but most likely, it would be impossible for a car more modern than the mid-90s. Cars these days have lots of safety equipment and chassis reinforcement, not to mention unibody frames. Shortening a ladder frame car, like an old muscle car, is one thing, but cutting sections out of a unibody frame would be extraordinarily expensive and would compromise the car’s structural integrity. Even if a shop were to do it, it would not likely be street legal. 

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