Classic Micro and Bubble Cars
We love microcars and bubble cars because they look like something two little green men might step out of. These small vehicles are bizarrely compact, with the most wonderfully retro-futuristic designs. Each is smaller and more bizarre than the last. Though these cars could only carry one passenger and a driver, they were cheap, light, and easy to drive. They were promoted as fun, inexpensive vehicles that could ease people into car ownership. Though these vehicles might have been a short-lived craze, there is no denying they left an unforgettable mark on the automotive industry.
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You would be forgiven for thinking that this was a giant mouse. Some old-timers might see it as the cockpit of a vintage fighter plane. Despite its jazzy aesthetic, this car represented the very worst and best of the microcar revolution when it was launched in 1952.
The good news was that it was stunning to look at. It was inspired by the designs of 1950s planes. Messerschmitt was no longer making aircraft when it made the Messerschmitt KR175. The bad news was that it was surprisingly basic and laughably unsafe. The car’s only pedal controlled the brakes and the windscreen wipers were manually operated. It did not come with a reverse gear. Imagine driving down the road, attempting to make a turn in the rain, all while keeping one hand on the wipers. It was a disaster waiting to happen.
It was a nice car to interact with, as long as you weren’t the one driving it. This is now regarded as a classic and a collectors’ item. Good luck finding one, the manufacturer only built 15,000 units.
12The Peel P50
According to Guinness, this is the smallest automobile ever built. This three-wheeled wonder was produced between 1962 and 1965. It’s so light that any reasonably-fit adult could lift it. Yes, it’s as light and small as an ordinary desk chair. Everybody thought it was ridiculous right from the beginning. It was just short of being absurdly impractical. It came with one windscreen wiper, a single door, and a single headlamp. The P50 was a big flop although it was highly publicized. Like the Messerschmitt KR175, the Peel P50 couldn’t reverse. It was a hard sell in the 1960s, especially when compared to the tiny smart cars that now populate the roads of modern-day London. The manufacturer only produced 50 units. Today, this vehicle is remembered with nostalgia and amusement; a bizarre retro classic.
11Isetta ‘Bubble Car’
The Isetta was a true bubble car. And, like a bubble, it looked like it could burst at any moment. The Isetta was among the first cars to actually be referred to as a ‘bubble car’. It was at peak popularity during the late 50s and early 60s. You could see it in an array of fun colors zipping through the streets of the United Kingdom and Germany. It was popular for camping holidays because its front-open door could be easily attached to a tent. There was even a police version used in Germany. We imagine it was spectacularly unthreatening and adorable. They must have had to include “must be able to squeeze into small spaces” on the police academy intake form. The Isette sold more units than most of the other bubble cars on this list, selling more than 160,000 units in 1955. Due to its popularity, it’s not unlikely to see remaining Isetta bubble cars at some car shows.
This one is the younger sibling of the Messerschmitt KR175. Just like its big brother, it was created by Fritz Fend; an aeronautical engineer. The Messerschmitt KR200 became an unexpected hit. It was visually delightful, compact and powerful. This was the first Messerschmitt microcar that could reverse. It could hit 56mph at full speed. Some versions had shock absorbers, a sun visor, and a heater. It made more sales than its elder brother and was most common on German roads between 1955 and 1964.
This family looks more like an “ordinary” car when compared to other microcars. It also goes by the name Trojan 200, which is great. Although it had a cramped interior, it could accommodate a whopping four people. The downside is, the only way to enter or exit this car was by unhooking the front of the car. You then had to scramble in over the steering column and pedals. It was hugely popular in South America, especially in Argentina.
This microcar was less compact when compared to others that followed it. It was designed in 1949 by a German journalist. It had an ordinary “American car” look but still came with three wheels and a small frame. It was used in several parts of Europe. It was a cheap means of transport at a time when the continent was at war. The Fuldamobil paved the road for more advanced bubble cars.
The Peel Trident must have been created by a genius who was high on crack. Most car experts place it among the worst cars of all times. This is really the bubble car that people mean when they talk about bubble cars being driven by aliens. Though it is wonderfully impractical it at least comes in bright glossy colors with a charming pop-up top. Two people could fit inside, albeit uncomfortably, and be made to feel like goldfish in a bowl. Its small wheels were barely visible. Just like most bubble cars, it was quite difficult to enter or exit the Peel Trident. To enter, you had to lift the whole top because it didn’t have a door. It comes as no surprise that the manufacturer only ever made 45 units.
The FMR Tg500 was delightfully unconventional. Also referred to as the Tiger, it was another Fritz Fend invention. It stood out from other bubble cars. Why? Well, it’s because it came with four wheels instead of the usual three. The FMR Tg500 had an awkward curved top and boxy base. It looked more like a strange beast than a car because of its goggling eye-like headlights and a long “tail.” The Tiger also came with a tandem seating arrangement that complemented its bizarre appearance. It could only carry a driver and one passenger, and lasted between 1958 and 1961, with only 320 units made.
5The Bond Bug
Now here is one unique car. We imagine driving around in a Bond Bug would be a little like rolling down the road in a coffin on wheels. This three-wheeled microcar was made in Britain by Tom Karen and lasted from 1970 to 1974. The Bond Bug could accommodate only two people. Reliant Motor Company owns it although Bond Cars Ltd started it.
used a 750 cc engine and produced 2,270 units.
The CityEl is a lightweight electric car that is manufactured by Citycom GmbH in Germany. It looks a little bit like a sneaker and a little bit like an old thermos. It was originally made in Denmark and was designed by Steen Volmer Jensen. The CityEl rides on three wheels and has a range of 70–90 km. Production began in 1987, unlike the other cars on this list, continues to date. The power of this car comes from a lithium iron phosphate battery that offers 4.8 kWh. The curb weight is 210 – 280 kg.
3The Smart City Coupé
This microcar is definitely a classic although it might not belong to the “old school” class. Production of this car began in 1998, making it the most modern car on this list. Its small stature helps it move with ease in crowded cities. It’s favored for its fuel-saving ability. It still borrows a lot from the bubble cars of the 1950s; it is colorful, small and curvy. In addition to all this, the Smart City Coupé is fun to drive.
The Berkeley T60 microcar came with an Excelsior Talisman engine that offered 328cc. It was a little three-wheeled wonder. The T60 was very popular. In fact, 1,800 units had been made by 1960. Its popularity in the United Kingdom was partly because drivers were allowed to drive it on a motorcycle license. How on earth the Berkeley was anything like a motorcycle is beyond us.
Janus was the only car to be built by Zundapp. This German car was first made in 1957. It had two faces, like the Roman god, Janus. You could hardly differentiate its front from its rear. It also came with doors in the rear and the front. The Janus Zundapp has been featured as Professor Zundapp in the film “Cars 2”. It was a little more expensive than its rivals and it lacked many modern elements. Zundapp sold the company to Bosch in 1958 after giving up on the project.