It’s time for another edition
of ‘ strange cars ‘ —
And today, the micro-car
from the late 1950’s –
Some folks might know the Messerschmitt name,
from the famous World War II German Warplanes,
…… like the ME 262 Fighter jet,
ME 163 ‘Komet’ Rocket Plane,
or the BF 109….
But many don’t know that Messerschmitt made a line of micro-cars in the 1950’s and 1960’s —
…. the most well known of them being the Messerschmitt KR-175 and KR-200 “Bubble Cars” .
World War II ended with Germany in economic ruin, and it’s industries shattered.
The Messerschmitt Company survived, but for years was banned from building aircraft by treaty.
Aircraft engineer Fritz Fend had a design for an unusual three wheeled, two passenger “cabin scooter”, and approached Messerschmitt with it.
The company executives, eager to put their factories back into full production, grabbed at the opportunity,
Thus, the first ‘Messerschmitt Kabinenroller’, called the KR-175, rolled off the assembly line in Regensburg in 1953.
Powered by a one cylinder, two-stroke Fichtel and Sachs 173cc engine located behind the passenger seat…
It had a kick starter ( an option for electric starter was available ) and a 4 speed transmission, all four speeds of which worked in forward or reverse, depending on which direction the motor was set to rotate.
Yes, it was a very small engine, but, since the car only weighed a total of about 500 pounds, this wasn’t considered to be much of a liability.
It could accelerate up to about 50 mph with luck and a tail wind, and got 75 MPG.
The steering mechanism was a set of handlebars, which the driver would push, instead of rotate, to turn, similar to that of an aircraft.
On the handlebars were also mounted a handbrake and a twist throttle.
This was not exactly a luxury car… even the windshield wiper was operated manually.
The ‘Bubble’ canopy was hinged on the drivers right side, and was flipped up to enter or exit the vehicle.
Between 1953 and 1955, about 16,000 KR-175’s were built, with another 6,000 built in Italy, under license to Mi-Val, with their own 172 cc engine, and called the ‘Mivalino’.
In 1955, Messerschmitt replaced the KR-175 with the KR-200 —
This new model which, although incorporating the same basic frame and look, improved both the handling and comfort of the car,
………… not to mention the marketability.
It was also faster —
It had a 191cc engine that would now make 56 MPH,
………… assuming the same amount of luck and tailwind.
The KR-200 used hydraulic shocks on each wheel instead of springs, bigger tires, and the rear suspension was totally new.
And, it had electric windshield wipers.
The KR-200 can easily be distinguished from the KR-175, by the cutouts for the front wheels- new in 1955.
The new model was a success, with almost 10,000 KR-200’s produced in the first year,
But by 1956, Messerschmidt was permitted to build aircraft again, and sold the Regenburg plant to Fend.
Fend reorganized his holdings under the name FMR (Fahrzeug und Maschinenbau GmbH Regensburg ) and continued to improve the car.
1957 saw the introduction of KR-201 Roadster, with removable windows and a convertible cloth top.
Other models also followed…
T he most notable of these being the four wheeled ‘sports car’ version of the KR-200, called the FMR Tg-500, or “Tiger” —
This car, the Tg-500, featured a 494cc two stroke, straight two cylinder engine, and a transaxle mounted 4 speed transmission with reverse gear…..
No longer was it necessary to push the ignition key to stop the car and reverse the rotation of the engine…. this had proven to be a major inconvenience for drivers of the KR-175, and KR-200 models.
The Tiger’s top speed was better, too– up to 78 MPH.
By 1964, the demand in Germany for ultra small economy cars was gone, and the unique line of cars that traced their lineage back to the Messerschmitt KR-175 Kabineroller was no longer being manufactured.
But there is, today, a renewed interest in Microcars …
So much so, that I wouldn’t be surprised if one day soon, you’ll be seeing cars like the Tg-500, or the KR-200 on the road again, even here in the United States.
…………………… perhaps a bit larger in the cabin space.