Adorable Bubble-Cars

"QUANTUM SHOT" #645(rev)
Link - article by Avi Abrams

These miniature cars are small enough to hug - and they're so easy on gas and parking that hugging them would only seem natural!

We covered most of the three-wheeled micro-car varieties in our previous article, and today we'll have a look at so-called "Bubble Cars" of the 1950s and 1960s: (mostly) four-wheeled marvels of compact engineering with a bubble-shaped canopy or a cute little cabin for a driver and (if the model is spacious enough) for a passenger, or two:

(right image via)

It would not be easy to find these vintage models at your local used-car dealer, though. This is a very rich collector's category, even though there was once a multitude of models produced in many countries. The 1950s were definitely the "boom" times for miniature cars: many prototypes achieved mass production, and Europe (and in a lesser degree, Asia) was swamped with these cute little "bugs" skittering here and there... Eventually their popularity cooled off in the Sixties, and their production regretfully almost stopped in the Seventies, with compact Japanese imports effectively killing the sub-compact market, and more people now being able to afford larger cars worldwide.

(images credit: Robert Elzey - seen in Microcar Museum)

These "bubble-cars" were all the rage in the 1950s: when even the Communist cover art reflected that (left image), and babies were carried in style in small automobile-like cabins of their own (right image: this is the Brevetatto Baby Carriage from Italy):

To give you an idea of how small some of the bubble-cars actually were:

Vintage European Bubble Cars: Great Things Come in Small Packages

The fascinating British "Peel" P50 was the smallest car ever to go into mass production (you could almost carry it as a suitcase):

(images credit: Peel Microcars)

Really small! -

Despite having only one headlight (and no turning lights) and tiny 5-inch wheels, the car was nevertheless deemed street legal in Britain:

(image credit: Chris Littler, courtesy Peel Microcars)

These hilarious guys at "Top Gear" have recently tested one "Peel" car, driving it to - and INSIDE! - their office; see the video here.

The "Trident" model came in 1964, described as "a terrestrial flying saucer". Photos by kind permission of Andy Carter.

(images credit: Peel Microcars)

There are many good pictures of these cars on this page. You can even order an assembly kit for a "Peel" replica.

1964 Scootacar MkII De Luxe carried this venerable tradition of British insanely-small-yet-likeable microcar further:

(images credit: DaveSeven)

In Germany, the Brutsch 1958 "Mopetta" was another vintage vehicle that we like:

(images via, left image credit: Schowver-online)

Designed by Egon Brütsch to be "the world's smallest car" in 1956 this cute design also looked somewhat like a fiberglass boat, so it was marketed as one (no matter that the body could not hold water); a bigger two-seat prototype has been made as well -

"Cabin Scooters" inpired by the fighter planes

This Messerschmitt KR-175, in all its (yellow) glory, is not a plane, but has the same military pedigree (left image). On the right is Messerschmitt KR200:

(image credit: Matthias Weinberger)

When shortly after World War II German companies were prohibited from making military planes - they started to make fighter-plane-inspired miniature cars. This weird little Messerschmitt Kabinenroller, aka "Cabin Scooter" (also known as a Flitzer) could only seat one, and to get in and out of it you had to lift up most of the bodywork to one side.

1954 Mivalino small car (a truly rare find, by the way) is the Italian Mi-Val motorcycle company's own version of the Messerschmitt KR-175:

(images credit: Microcar Museum)

Another aircraft-inspired micro-car was the 1955 Inter 175 A Berline, designed by the French aircraft builders S.N.C.A.N., or Societe Nationale de Construction AeroNautique:

(images via)

It was introduced at the 1953 Paris Show and eventually even spawned a "topless" variation, called the "Torpedo"! It came complete with an aircraft-style steering bar with vertical grips:

(images via)

"The front wheels were mounted on outriggers, which folded forward underneath the car to enable the vehicle to be parked in narrow spaces. Another interesting feature was the helicopter-type starter, or Gyrostarter, which revved up with a whining sound, and then suddenly engaged the engine when the lever was slammed down."

The Trojan 200 was another bubblecar originally designed by a German aircraft manufacturer: Heinkel Flugzeugwerke built them from 1955 to 1959 and then sold the rights to Trojan Ltd in 1961, with the last bubblecar model manufactured in 1965 -

(images via)

This little wonder on wheels seem to have captured the hearts of many collectors and did enjoy significant popularity at the time. For example this Trojan 200A from Heinkel (model from 1963) was a car similar to Isetta, but hyped as a better one, with even stranger design:

(images credit: Microcar Museum)

Isetta, My Beloved

This is easily the most recognizable of all "bubble cars" of the vintage era. Isetta evokes the feelings of sophisticated European romance like no other small-budget car. It can be seen in many movies of the era, and remained quite popular for many years, thus earning many names. French called them "yogurt pots", Germans were often referring to them as "coffins on wheels" (apparently disdaining the shortage of space inside), Italians called them "little eggs". Originally designed in Italy, Isetta was made by various manufacturers, namely ISO, Velam and BMW.

(right image credit: Ice Sixxx)

The classic Isetta car was originally designed by Renzo Rivolta in Genoa, Italy and marketed as "Iso Isetta":

(image via)

"The Isetta Bubble Car is a miniature car for two persons and front entrance, initially with only three wheels, later, for reasons of stability, with four wheels (the two on the rear very close together). About 20,000 of the bubble cars were built at the Rivolta works near Milan. The BMW-Isetta went on to dwarf the production volumes of Rivolta and fulfilled the dream of mobility in post-war Germany. About 130,000 had been sold by 1962."

"The Bubble Bliss" BMW Isetta was also marketed as "The Little Miracle with a Big Heart and a Tiny Thirst":

(image credit: Judith)

Here is the 1957 Velam Isetta - quite a rare version:

(images credit: Microcar Museum)

The "Little Miracle with a Big Heart" Isetta apparently had enough power in her to pull a trailer:

Here are even smaller Isetta trailers:

Some guys having fun with Isetta in 1960 in Ontario, Canada:

(images credit: George Rogers, via)

Microcar Museum has quite a few interesting Isettas, check out this or this examples. But here is a BMW car that's commonly mistaken for Isetta: Model 600 -

(images credit: microcarmuseum)

It was larger than Isetta, with room for four people! However, more often than not, people wanted a "real car" as opposed to its micro-version, so the days of German micro-car were sadly numbered - and came to an end in the 1960s.

Here is the very fast... very loud... Isetta "Hot Wheels":

(images credit: microcarmuseum)

This car goes both ways... or so it seems

1958 Zundapp Janus has perhaps the weidest appearance of them all - with doors placed on both ends, front and rear, and a centrally-mounted engine, it truly was an unconventional vehicle, aptly named after the two-faced Greek deuty Janus. All in all, 6,800 microcars were produced before 1958 - with prototype designed by yet another German aircraft manufacturer Dornier Flugzeugwerke:

(image via)

(image via)

Check out the ultra-minimalist dashboard! -

(images via)

German Champion 400, 1953 - more info - also was a convertible:

(images via 1, 2)

Japan has its own bubble-car variation (featuring clean, smooth lines) made by an aircraft manufacturing company - the 1955 Fuji Cabin. Hitachi Aviation was expressly forbidden to build airplances after the war, and so need to diversify into other transportation-related products.

(image via)

"Hitachi became Tokyo Gas-Electric Manufacturing Company and merged with Fuji Automobile and by 1952 was producing motorcycles and small two-stroke engines, called Gasuden." Tokyo Motor Show in 1955 saw the introduction of the Fuji Cabin, little more than a motor scooter fully-enclosed in a polyester body - and a distinctive design for motor covers: insectoid wings folding at the back of the car.

In our next article we are going to continue to catalog the rarest and the most bizarre of bubble cars (can you have enough of them? it's hard to stop when there were so many irresistibly weird models produced); but before we finish the article, here is an interesting addition to our three-wheeled micro car overview. The Martin Staionette seen at the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee:

(image credit: Dave Seven)

Weird Applications for Bubble Cars

Taxi BMW Isetta! Makes a lot of sense, actually, as it gets great fuel economy and never fails to attract customers looking for a unique experience:

(image via)

BMW Isetta serving as a police vehicle? Well, in the narrow streets of European towns it would come in very handy.

(images via)

And we finish with the 1979 "Loeschi" - the world's smallest fire engine, based on BMW Isetta:

(image credit: ff-schnelsen.de)

Article by Avi Abrams, Dark Roasted Blend.





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Blogger Klimax said...

Link to Top Gear video is no longer working (account was deleted)

But Topgear itself uploaded the episode:


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