Microcar Bonanza: The Biggest Sale of the Tiniest Cars
Years before either Mini Coopers or Smart cars came on the scene, European car companies, who were recovering from the devastation of World War II, built a generation of microcars. These very small cars provided an alternative mode of transportation, to a country where raw materials were in short supply, and to a population who couldn’t afford the luxury of owning a full-sized automobile.
Some of these miniatures, which were essentially enclosed scooters, looked like toy pedal cars, but others, particularly the three-wheelers, barely had any resemblance to automobiles. You couldn’t expect radios, plush interiors, or even heaters in these little buggies. They offered only basic mechanized transportation, at an affordable price, and nothing more. When the era of microcars came to an end, most vehicles were unceremoniously disposed of, since they had served their intended purpose. However, a few microcars from this period survived, and have since become prized collectibles.
Bruce Weiner’s Microcar Collection
One person who caught the microcar fever was Bruce Weiner, the person behind the “Dubble Bubble” gum franchise. Bruce began collecting and restoring these special vehicles in the ‘90s. Eventually, the collection grew into a museum that also included coin-operated kid rides, candy machines, and neon signs. In 2013, the entire museum inventory was auctioned in a two-day sale by RM Auctions. Here are some of the more interesting small cars in Bruce’s collection.
Although the BMW marque is easily recognized, only car enthusiasts may know that the Isetta was built by BMW in the 1950s. Its most unique feature is a single door that opens the entire front of the car. The steering wheel column, which is attached to the door, swings out of the way upon the driver’s entry and exit. Several variations of this popular microcar are displayed throughout the museum, including a Polizei (police) car and a factory-built pickup. For those who need some speed, there’s also a custom drag car, which was an interpretation of the famed Hot Wheels model “Whatta Drag.”
The shape of the Messerschmitt microcar looks like a small World War II German fighter plane on three wheels. In fact, this is exactly where the design originated. Equipped with a canopy that hinges to the side, it has a single seat up front for the driver and a bench seat in the back for two passengers. This microcar model is the one that first caught Bruce’s eye when he began collecting, and the one that fills many of the spots in his museum. The vast majority of his Messerschmitt collection is comprised of coupes, but he has a few convertibles and one very rare sports car that is estimated to drive the bidding well into the six figures.
Goggomobiles, which sound like cars from the ’60s, more closely resemble traditional cars, only, of course, they’re much smaller. Highly successful in their time, the company sold more than 175,000 units. A rare convertible model, which is believed to be one of only two known to exist, will be part of the auction. Also, included will be Goggomobile delivery vans, beautifully restored in bright colors with company logos, such as Coca-Cola, Double Bubble bubblegum, and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.
The Reyonnah was displayed at the 1950 Paris auto show, and despite its appearance in three later shows, production of this car never actually started. Although some Concept models were fitted with a tilting canopy top, others had a canvas top like the one in Bruce Weiner’s collection. Like other microcars, it was small, but with an added feature – foldable front wheels. When the owner lifted the lightweight front end of the Reyonnah, the wheels pivoted down and under the car, making it easy to pass through a garden gate or even the door of a house.
Inter 175A Berline
The Inter Berline, which was first introduced in 1953, is the French version of an airplane-inspired microcar. Economical and small enough to navigate narrow streets in Europe, this car had inline seating for two and had a tilting canopy that allowed access to the driver and passenger. Its unique feature was the technique used to start the engine. First, an electric motor spun a flywheel up to speed and then the driver engaged the flywheel to the gas motor, turning it over and (hopefully) starting the motor.
Although Japan may be known for producing small cars, the three-wheeled Fuji Cabin, takes small to a whole new level, even in this country. This unique microcar has side-by-side seating for two “smaller people,” with the entry on the side opposite the driver. Produced between 1955 and 1958, only a handful of these streamlined microcars are believed to still exist.
Even for a microcar, the Peel P50 is small. This tiny one-passenger enclosed 3-wheel scooter was produced from 1962 to 1965 in the Isle of Man. As a cost-cutting measure, the first cars were built without a reverse gear. When the driver needed to back up, he either manually pushed the car backward or walked to the rear of the car and lifted the car to rotate it in the direction he wanted to go. At 100 miles per gallon, the company’s slogan, “Almost cheaper than walking,” most certainly was not false advertising.
Ten Significant Microcar Sales
- Lot #603, 1958 Messerschmitt Tiger — $280,000
- Lot #594, 1951 Reyonnah – $160,000
- Lot #613, 1958 Pez Goggomobil Transporter — $150,000
- Lot #590, 1955 Inter 175A Berline — $140,000
- Lot #297, 1959 Coca-Cola Goggomobil Transporter — $120,000
- Lot #563, 1963 Dubble Bubble Goggomobil Transporter — $115,000
- Lot #623, 1955 Fuji Cabin — $110,000
- Lot #258. 1964 Peel P50 – $105,000
- Lot #584, 1959 BMW Isetta, “Whatta Drag”- $80,000
- Lot #553, 1961 BMW Isetta, Police Car – $75,000
Note: All of the above sale prices are hammer prices, which do not include 15% sales commission.For more photographs of microcars, see our gallery and for Bruce Weiner’s memorabilia sale, click here.