So what's a microcar, anyways?

July 25, 2005

As of noon today, I have asked over 10 automotive journalists about microcars. What is their definition of them? What do you call a microcar? What makes one?

By all accounts, I think it all started after WW II came to an end and most of Europe lay in ruins. Thousands upon thousands of people emerged from all the refuges and bomb shelters to face an unimaginable scene of devastation and ruin.

The shortages of everything, from food to raw materials to electricity were one of the many problems, not to mention the cleaning of the rubble and the reconstruction of a ‘somewhat’ normal life. But it seemed as though everyone rolled up their sleeves and went to work together. The amazing task of rebuilding an entire continent over a period of ten years was accomplished through a unity of spirit and purpose unimaginable today. Bright, talented engineers, many out of the former aircraft industry, put their minds to the problems of mobilizing the population under adverse conditions. It's said that the true master reveals himself within limitations and so this focusing of energy and talent resulted in an enormous variety of small vehicles; some successful, others less so - but all of them interesting!

Some of my contemporaries explained to me that the microcar or "bubble car" (as many people called them) came to symbolize this period of renewed energy and pulling together. And although the micro car boom lasted only a decade, it is without a doubt, a period that left a lasting impression even on those who abandoned their Kabinenroller for a "real" car.

Other friends of mine very much involved in the automotive industry told me about how these diminutive vehicles continue to be found in barns and collections throughout the world but are particularly meaningful to the Europeans, whose lifestyle was, in part, made possible by these tiny cars.

Here in North America, there is a great selection and still relatively good sized population of these tiny four-wheelers being exhibited at car shows, and even rolling down our streets. It is a sight to see and a talk piece whenever we come across a Messerschmitt, or a 1958 Goggomobil DART, or a 1957 Velam Isetta. Many of these tiny wonders achieved lasting fame, and others sinked into obscurity.

Over the last ten years many countries in Europe have adopted the microcar (Quadricycle), where it is fairly common place and can been seen in many towns and cities as well as in more rural areas, where these tiny cars have been taken up by the more elderly as a quick and cheap means of transport.

And with the hybrids being the hot talk in town, and so many celebrities driving them around town, who knows, we might see Cameron Diaz or Leonardo DiCapprio in a new version of some kind of Goggomobil real soon!

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