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.
@Manoffewwords, not many of those cars made it here: only the Honda 600 and Subaru 360 were imported in any "large" number. The majority of the other makes were minitrucks, often never licensed for road use but employed in factories, parks and estates. The Japanese microcars were mostly designed a decade after the European ones, so are often more sophisticated in construction, if not performance.
"On a motorcycle there is not much to do when some fool makes a left turn 30 feet ahead of you. Quickly laying the bike down and getting off doesn't make much difference at 45MPH, much less at 60. 20MPH it may reduce the damages."
@William- "Laying the bike down" is the wrong action if a crash is imminent. At that point the crash has started prematurely, there is no control of the direction and speed of rider and bike, the impact will usually be at a higher speed since sliding friction force is lower than braking force, you're more likely to go under a vehicle instead of over the top, and since the rider usually separates from the bike the small amount of impact absorption provided by the bike is not there. Rider safety courses and articles emphasize maximum effort braking to scrub off impact speed and energy. The one exception I can recall where "laying down the bike" is recommended is if you're going to go over a bridge rail or guardrail with a big drop on the other side.
OK, now add to your relevant facts that I was raised in a suburb of Detroit in the 1960s and its pretty clear why I never saw these models! Where I grew up everyone had either a Chrysler, Ford, GM or AMC vehicle; except the occasional VW, and very rarely, an aging Rambler. I never even saw a Mercedes until I moved away from home as an adult! No wonder these are "foreign" (literally) to me.
While the featured cars are all very interesting, where are the Asian microcars? Wikipedia lists several by Cony, Daihatsu, Fuji, Honda, Mazda, Mitsuoka, Subaru, and Mitsubishi. Obviously they weren't in the Studebaker Museum exhibit, but some of these were sold in the U.S. and would be interesting to compare to the Europeans.
You raise some really good points, William K. Maybe I'm a bit too timid about crash safety. The only accident I ever had was 29 years ago, while sitting at a traffic light. The driver -- a 16-year-old who had gotten her driver's license two weeks earlier -- plowed into the back of my car at about 35 mph without ever touching the brakes. I hit the car in front of me, which hit the car in front of it. My car was totaled. If I had had back-seat occupants, I don't know if they would have survived. Looking at the Isetta, it scares me to think about that crash. As you point out, getting rid of the bad drivers (like that one) is the key. In the meantime, I'll probably continue my timid ways. I like crash energy absorption.
"Iso, which built the Isetta for BMW, also manufactured refrigerators. The company's refrigerator experience is said to have contributed to the Isetta's unique front door design."
I always wondered about that door... When I was about 6 someone gave me a die cast collection of these types of cars and the Isetta was one of them.
In the 70s I owned just about every type VW, a 60' Karmin Ghia, various Beetles, micro-buses. I almost bought a mid-50s bug once. And I had a fiberglass dune buggy on a beetle chassis.
Also had a 65' beetle with huge tires, no doors... or fenders that was for woods cruzin, and when it died we took the body off the frame and hung it from a tree, upside down... and made a swing out of it... Best fun car ever.
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