micro cars are the best cars
January 26, 2013 10:48 AM   Subscribe

The Bruce Weiner Microcar Museum, located near Atlanta, will close forever today. The collection will be auctioned off in February. Only the virtual tour will remain as a way to see all of these cars together, but now is your chance to collect any one of these unique pieces of automotive history. Who among us hasn't desired a car you could drive into your office?

The microcar, a vehicle born out of need, was a child of its time and became the symbol of a people's spirit. World War II came to an end in 1945 and Europe lay in ruins...

From the smallest production car ever built, a 1964 Peel P-50, to the Italian iteration of the Messerschmitt, known as the Mivalino, the only 100 percent original one in the world, the collection quite literally contains everything—every imaginable Biscuter, an assortment of four Goggomobil Transporters, of which few additional examples exist, and such rarities as a 1955 Kleinschnittger F-125 and two Voisin Biscooters, the extraordinary microcar built by legendary French aviation and automotive engineer Gabriel Voisin.

Headlining the offering is the world’s only complete Messerschmitt collection, spanning from a 1953 KR175 to the second to last serial number known to exist. It also includes the only surviving 1961 Messerschmitt KR201 Sport, an incredibly rare 1957 Messerschmitt KR201 Roadster, and a highly desirable ‘Tiger,’ the rarest of all Messerschmitts and the only one finished in this color combination. Deemed the fastest microcar ever built, the ‘Tiger’ is capable of a top speed exceeding 70 mph—a truly impressive feat considering its size. Another lot of particular interest is the 1955 Messerschmitt KR200, formerly owned by American circus personality and entertainer Vic Hyde. This pint-sized treasure was given to Hyde by the factory as the first pre-production example for publicity purposes and specially outfitted to hold his musical instruments.

The incomparable Isetta, with its timeless “bubble car” design, is also well-represented in the Bruce Weiner Museum. Aside from a pair of BMW 600s, the BMW Isetta 300 is presented in every imaginable version, from an original German police car acquired directly from the police chief, to a “Jagdwagen” (hunting car), the ultra-rare 1957 Isettacarro ‘Pickup Truck,’ and the most desirable of all—an Isetta 300 Bubble-Window Cabriolet. Other delightful bubble cars were built under license in other countries, such as the Velam Isetta of France and the progenitor of them all, the Iso Isetta. In other cases, the bubble car is presented as a marque all its own, such as the Heinkel Kabine.

the digital catalogue is really worth reading.

a few other favorites:

1970 Honda N600
1962 Mazda R-360 Coupe
1958 Berkeley Sports SE328
1965 NSU-Fiat Autobianchi Bianchina Panoramica
1970 Subaru 360 Sambar Pickup

posted by ninjew (35 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Calling sonascope to the microcar isle, sonascope, please come to the microcar isle.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:56 AM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would totally live on the microcar isle. Assuming I could get still get a regular size garage, I mean, i could keep an Isetta, a Messerschmidt, and a N600 in the space currently occupied by my Volvo. I could throw a 'Busa engine in whichever one is the most ratty and rule the island dragstrip. The King totally agrees.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 11:03 AM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ohmygod microcars! I am going to be squeeing over these all day.
posted by padraigin at 11:04 AM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Me too! Adorable!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:20 AM on January 26, 2013

I remember reading about this collection some time ago in a German classic car magazine. Apparently, it's the finest microcar collection in the world. The thought that it's being sold piecemeal and dismantled is heartbreaking (and compounded by the fact that I'm not going to be among the lucky buyers).
posted by Skeptic at 11:24 AM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

This place looks very cool, but I'm left wondering why the museum really is being closed and the collection sold. The remarks from Weiner about sharing the cars with the rest of the world seem kind of vague. Isn't that what he was doing by putting them on display in his museum?

Of course, he has the right to do whatever he wants with his property. It just seems odd that someone would spend all that time, effort and money to amass a collection and build a museum for it, and then turn around and sell it all off.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 11:44 AM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have long been a fan of microcars, though I had the poor fortune to come into adulthood somewhat after the moment when microcars were briefly affordable and square in the center of Isettas/Messerschmitts becoming a $20K car. Fortunately, my Citroën epoch took place while the United States was beset with imbecilic automotive vulgarians who thought the DS was ugly, so I had a nice stretch driving a DS as my everyday car before they, too, became a $20K car.

I came very, very close to buying my friend's NSU Prinz, but since my musical commute back then involved carrying five hundred pounds of synthesizers back and forth between Maryland and Ewing Township, New Jersey and the Prinz would not quite get up to 55 MPH, I chickened out. I did drive (and still own, albeit in a state of heartbreaking dilapidation) a Citroën Dyane, which is a four door sedan considerably larger than a microcar that did have a 602cc boxer twin engine, so I feel like I've had part of the microcar experience.

I'd drive a Smart in a second if they had a real transmission and the super-thrifty diesel you can get in Europe, and Fiat USA will get my money the very day that they bring the TwinAir here, which is a worthy microcar successor, even if it's really more of a glamorous and somewhat heavy supermini. Unfortunately, the US is apparently surrounded by a massive forcefield generated by the Strategic Defense Initiative that only allows bland, Americanized lumps into the country.

In the same way that my fellow countrymen immediately respond to any notion of a small car by witheringly saying "Well, ah'd hate to be in a crash in onna them things," despite that fact that modern small cars do just fine in crashes and are massively better at surviving crashes by avoiding through the magic of nimbleness, it sort of stuns me that any microcars were ever sold here.

Notably, my rambling radio idol, Jean Shepherd, was an enthusiastic Goggomobil owner.

One day, one fine day, I will return to the fold of non-dullmobiles.

Unfortunately, I'm going to have to get rich, first.

"Mr. Wall, now that you have your Nobel prize in rambling, inconsequential literature, what are you planning to do next?"

"Well, Oprah, I'm glad you asked. See, there's this old French car called a Panhard 24, and I intend to buy the shit out of one as soon as that check clears."

"Umm...and after that?"

"Probably drive around a lot and give the rest of the money to poor people."
posted by sonascope at 11:47 AM on January 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

there is someone in my town who owns and regularly drives a Berkeley. it is truly astounding how small it is, especially in America next to SUVs. but i've even seen him and his wife cruising in it on nice summer days.
posted by ninjew at 11:50 AM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I should add, just so it gets a bit of air time, that the Czech Velorex is about one of the most elemental motor vehicles yet devised. It's a motorcycle in a coat!
posted by sonascope at 11:55 AM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

So, a Nash Metropolitan is like an SUV to these cars, right?
posted by ShutterBun at 12:10 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Awesome. Anyway to get that catalog as a downloadable file?
posted by dobbs at 12:13 PM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I love how the Mivalino is clearly a Vespa that got out of hand.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:18 PM on January 26, 2013

sonascope: "I should add, just so it gets a bit of air time, that the Czech Velorex is about one of the most elemental motor vehicles yet devised. It's a motorcycle in a coat!"

So it is, sonascope! Velorexes started out as CZ motorcycles (two-strokes, of course) with an added frame and canvas body. A friend of mine is a microcar enthusiast; at any moment he has a mishmash of Subarus, Fiats, Velorexes, Isettas, etc. in varying stages of rebuild. Here's his Velorex with its clothes on and off (note the motorcycle gas tank.)
posted by workerant at 12:19 PM on January 26, 2013

Holy crap! I had no idea this was closing. I live about 90 minutes away and am glad I visited it a few years ago. I was even going to make an FPP about it, but madamejujujive had beaten me to it (the "previously" link in the post). I liked the Isetta dragster/a>, a Hot Wheels car come to life!

Bruce Weiner made his fortune with Dubble Bubble gum, and has got to be pretty old by now (if he is even still with us). The museum is a bit off the beaten track and attracted relatively few visitors as best I could tell. It was clearly a labor of love, but I can see how the effort (financially and otherwise) eventually got to be too much.
posted by TedW at 12:26 PM on January 26, 2013

I wrote ane) magazine article (not online) on this place and microcars back in the day. It was a really neat place to visit. I'm sad to see it's closing.
posted by dortmunder at 12:45 PM on January 26, 2013

My favorite is the French version of the Isetta, the Velam. Something about the French design aethetic makes it just that little bit rounder and lovelier. I've wanted one of these cars for thirty years. Sadly I will never be able to afford one, or the full-time mechanic I would have to hire, seeing as how my automobile-mechanical abilities don't even extend as far as the ability to turn the damn lights off when I park (I am, however, in consequence, the fastest jump-starter in the West).

My aspirations are currently limited to the Scion IQ (which I also can't afford, dammit). The IQ is as small as anything currently in American showrooms, but it looks like an NFL lineman next to most of these.
posted by Fnarf at 1:02 PM on January 26, 2013

I've always said that if I could find a car that would fit into the hallway, I would drive to the bathroom instead of walking.

Looks like this auction might just be the ticket.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 1:28 PM on January 26, 2013

The other micro machine car guy. From Galoob!
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 2:24 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the great post. A few years ago I was VERY close to purchasing a 1970's Cinquecento for my wife. Alas, because we had little babies and she had a bit of a commute...we had to get something a bit more reliable.
posted by snsranch at 3:15 PM on January 26, 2013

Anyway to get that catalog as a downloadable file?

There's a download link off to the left of it. Windows, Mac, and PDF versions.
posted by Fnarf at 3:22 PM on January 26, 2013

For the Australians,
"Not the Dart."
posted by taff at 3:31 PM on January 26, 2013

What?! I’ve been meaning to go there for the last few years and keep putting it off.

OK, I didn’t even finish posting that, just got in the car and went out there and made it for the last hour they were open. It was fantastic, much better than I expected. A really beautiful collection of cars, car memorabilia and other stuff we didn’t really have time to look at. I was a little surprised at how many people were there. I’m upset that it took me so long to go, and that I can’t go again, but at least I saw it if only briefly.

Your "a few other favorites" list is nearly the same as the ones we wrote down as our favorites. Except the 1965 Goggomobil TS-300 Cabriolet which my wife fell in love with. They all look better in person, but that 1970 Honda N600 really looks great.
posted by bongo_x at 3:35 PM on January 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Crap. I'm really sad to see the museum close. My son is a huge microcar enthusiast and really wanted to visit someday.
posted by gamera at 4:07 PM on January 26, 2013

It just seems odd that someone would spend all that time, effort and money to amass a collection and build a museum for it, and then turn around and sell it all off.

Unless they needed cash

The earlier Messerschmitts were a bit racier I believe.
posted by mattoxic at 4:14 PM on January 26, 2013

I don't think it quite qualifies as a microcar - more of a minicar, perhaps - but I thought I'd just leave this here: the Nissan Figaro. Because ZOMG SO CUTE.
posted by the painkiller at 4:47 PM on January 26, 2013

I remember when I was a little kid, there was a microcar I'd walk past every day while delivering newspapers on my paper route. Today, I can recognize it as a BMW Isetta, I could never forget that strange car.

The European cars are interesting, in that they all seem to be improvisations of the postwar era in the 1950s, made with scarce supplies and put into an economy where you'd be lucky to even afford to buy any car, let alone a microcar. But the Japanese microcars look like a whole industry built around the concept in the 60s. My understanding is that the Morris Mini was incredibly influential in Japan, they were exported to Japan around 1960 and widely emulated by manufacturers.

I used to walk to school in Hakodate and every day I'd walk past a perfectly restored Mini. Never in my life have I seen such a perfectly restored car, I sometimes would look closely at it and the level of detail was astonishing. And it was just parked out in someone's driveway like it was no big deal.

A few years later, a friend and I drove up to Nikko. On the highway out of Tokyo, we were startled to see a little bintage Mini zoom past us at high speed, it looked like it was brand new. My friend and I were amused to see it, and then all of a sudden, another Mini passed us. Then another. And then a pack of about twenty perfectly restored Minis passed us. We laughed and laughed, it was a convoy of Minis, obviously a car club was out for a spin.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:14 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

If I ever find myself sitting on a pile of cash, I will be sorely tempted to blow some of it on a Peel P-50 reissue and/or a new Morgan 3-wheeler.
posted by gamera at 5:14 PM on January 26, 2013

In 2003, the Microcar club and the Vespa club held a joint rally at the Dubble Bubble Ranch (link contains NSFW tiny thumbnails)

My favorite thing was that we all got tokens (or cards or something) that let us make either a Messerschmidt or Isetta in the Mold-a-rama machine.

Also, Bruce had some how either had made or bought microcar and scooter candy (like American Smarties) I still have a bag of them that I've been meaning to put in a shadow box for the past 10 years. (guess, I should get around to it now.)
posted by vespabelle at 6:13 PM on January 26, 2013

Wah, I write a column called WTH? For a local paper in Athens, GA, and just this week wrote an article about this very place. A Little Road Trip
posted by staggering termagant at 6:36 PM on January 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's like an audition for a Pixar movie.
posted by carter at 6:39 PM on January 26, 2013

these cars started out in post war Japan for the same reasons. they became the kei class cars and are taxed and licensed differently than normal cars. they remained popular and are still being made, though nowhere near as small, because it turns out tiny and efficient transportation is very useful on an island with dense urban centers, small roads, and expensive oil.

now I want to do a kei car history post
posted by ninjew at 6:58 PM on January 26, 2013

now I want to do a kei car history post

You are not alone. I want you to do a kei car history post too!
posted by Fnarf at 7:07 PM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Obligatory Clarkson cruising through London in a Peel P-50 which I just now see you've included in the FPP. Great post!
posted by obscurator at 5:28 PM on January 27, 2013

TedW: Weiner isn't actually all that old. Here's a video that's not ancient. I haven't seen him in ages, but my brother owns an Isetta and is a big part of the Microcar community (such as it is) and talked to him about buying cars sometimes.

Besides microcars, Weiner also has a collection of high-end cars (McLaren F1, Ferraris, etc.) and a large collection of guns - the shooting range is a short drive from the microcar museum. My understanding is that while he enjoyed collecting cars after becoming rich pretty suddenly from the sale of Double Bubble, but didn't enjoy keeping up the museum as much.
posted by 23 at 9:15 PM on January 27, 2013

You're neglecting Clarkson's P45. So-called because it's narrower and shorter than the Peel P50.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:16 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

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