Long before lawmakers tussled over corporate average fuel economies, auto companies produced tiny, fuel-efficient vehicles. During the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, companies such as Nash, BMW, Fiat, Austin, Volkswagen, and Autobianchi built diminutive cars with internal combustion engines as small as 300 cc. One automaker, Taylor-Dunn Manufacturing, even produced a wee, three-wheeled electric car.
"Petite Performance: Microcars," a new exhibit at the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Ind., offers a look at some of those vehicles. The exhibit, on display through October 14, serves as a reminder that postwar culture had its own mini-car revolution.
Click on the image below to see the eight microcars currently on display.
1959 Taylor-Dunn Trident. Decades after the electric buggy and decades before the GM EV1, Taylor-Dunn produced the tiny, three-wheeled Trident between 1959 and 1963. The all-electric Trident was described as a "neighborhood cart" that could hit a top speed of 16 mph.
As others have surely noted, the selection at the Studebaker is hardly comprehensive, but "a good start". Of course the VW is not really a member of the class either - much too large!
One good selection in the US may be found at the Dezer Collection in Miami - they have an entire section devoted to the breed with several variants of each, and a good selection of some of the three-wheelers such as the Reliant Robin which offered not only a good tax dodge in the UK, but good economy as well.
I have to agree that laying the bike down is not a good idea. I used to ride but quit when I had "the big one". I was a simple statistic, an oncoming driver that failed to yield while making a left turn. I stayed on the bike until impact and struck a brand new Lincoln Town car at the rear bumper, shearing the bumper off its mounts. I was hanging on to the brake so tight when I hit that I also sheared the anti-rotation pins off of the bike's front brake calipers when the bike attempted to rotate upwards over the front tire. As for me, I flew over the car and my initial impact with the ground was in a sitting position at about 25MPH. I bounced and then smashed face first into the pavement shattering my helmet, but not my pretty face, at the chin guard. I managed to slow down from 50 MPH to 25 by using every last inch of braking available. I can't imagine what an uncontrolled slide into the car would have been like, or would it would have been like to pick pieces of me out from under the car.
It is perfectly legal in USA to own a 2 or 3 wheeled motorcycle - which has absolutely no safety features, except for brakes and headlight.
To make car to US specifications in safety and emissions costs $18,000 to $23,000 in low volume ( uner 30,000 vehicles per annum production ) so effectively all small cars with the exception of few fancy versions on MINI are a loss on the balance sheet for the OEM.
FIAT 500 for example costs Chrysler $5,000 in advertising per vehicle and another $500 in incentives just to sell one of them im USA !!!
Car wihthout the safety features can be made for under $5,000 and nicely equipped for about $8,000.
There are EV's in NEV version for about that price, but people are not buying them in any significiant volume (ZENN, OKA NEV, ZAP, Wheego, GEM).
Interesting, but far from complete. Powell Crosley , Cincinnati, Ohio, built the Crosley automobile, sedans and wagons as I remember. The cars got 60 or so miles to the gallon. This was in the 1940's, but were not "needed" at that time, I suppose.
Tekochip, I also had an incident, but on a bicycle in traffic going about 18MPH. Everthing was fine until a police car pulled out right in front of me. To avouid hitting him I did lay the bike down, and slid up to his car and stopped. He looked at me and drove away, and nobody challenged him. I did have road rash and a few bumps. This was before bike helmet were common. It altered the way I think about the police in Madison Heights, Michigan.
Small cars are neat, but if they have to be built to our present safety standards theynare indeed not only too expensive, but also heavy enough to lose a lot of the advantage of being a small car. So I stick to my mountain bike, wear a helmet, and watch the cars very closely. WAY TO MANY people ignore bikes. They see them, but ignore them.
Hi Chuck, great post again. Actually no engine in front would give more shock absorption as the front can crumble for longer before something hard gets in the way (like the engine) but of course having the fuel tank there is a bit more of a distraction :-( If the tank were in fornt of the engine and the right crumple design was implemented (it wasn't) and it had a well designed passenger cell (it didn't) it could have been very safe in a frontal. That said I agree, they were all (for various reasons) deathtraps, that Fiat minivan especially.
BTW, I had a 1200cc '65 beetle while living in Germany in the 70's and boy was that an experience. 135kphr with the pedal to the metal. In winter it often got down to -20C and because of all of the salt on the roads the heater wasn't isolated from the engine fumes (air cooled engine with a heat exchanger for cabin air) so I would drive with the little side window open to get fresh air and my breath would condense on the inside of the windscreen so I would scrape the ice off at every chance. It surprises me sometimes why I never got frost bitten or had an accident except that Europeans then used to do a good job of defensive driving -- No thanks I prefer modern safe cars with real heaters
Tesla Motors’ $35,000, 200-mile electric car may not revolutionize the auto industry by itself, but it could serve as a starting point for a long, steady climb to a day when half of the world’s vehicles will be plug-ins.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.