European microcars like the Messerschmitt KR-175 were originally designed to solve transportation problems during World War II. Such inexpensive vehicles with engines smaller than 750 cubic centimeters and a length of less than 10 feet were perfect for cash-strapped families to navigate through densely populated cities. As the New York Times puts it, however, function has given way to form. Microcars are now darlings of the collectors’ circuit.
Microcars: Futuristic design and practical function
In the 1940s and 1950s, Americans were steered toward large vehicles by automotive advertising. The opposite was true for Europe, and the presence of microcars is a perfect example. “These cars were a response to desperate conditions,” microcar historian Peter Svilans told the Times. Design touches like three wheels on the original German Messerschmitt KR-175 and entry doors that make up the entire egg-shaped front of the car on the Italian Isetta continue to impress auto enthusiasts. Places like the Bruce Weiner Microcar Museum near Atlanta are a testament to just how highly regarded microcars are, even today.
Weiner has been collecting microcars since 1991. He told the Times that microcars aren’t easy to obtain.
“With microcars, you don’t just show up with a wad of cash and say sell it to me,” he said. “In Europe, they mean something more. It’s like you showing up and asking me to sell my dad’s watch.”
Microcars aren’t toys
Microcars may appear to be giant-sized children’s toys, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Cars like the French Rovin Z-4 are capable of near-highway speeds, but the power isn’t accompanied by modern crash safety standards. The crumple zone on a microcar is just about non-existent, which means that in the event of a collision, the force would be transferred almost entirely to the driver’s body.
Economic prosperity killed the microcar
Once Europe began to recover from the economic doldrums of the mid 20th century, automotive mass production became more prevalent. By the early 1960s, safer, more powerful Volkswagen, Renault and Fiat vehicles began to appear in greater numbers. The “small wonder” that is microcars became increasingly obsolete. Only museums keep the memory of microcars like the Messerschmitt alive. Today, only 50 KR-175s are known to exist.
It’s all fun until there’s an accident…