World of Microcars

Going by several names such as kei (pronounced KEE) and Keijidosha in Japan, as sub-compact in USA, Mini-car in Europe, etc. microcars go by several names. For a long time they also had nick-names such as female cars, bubble cars and even cycle cars in the early 1900s. 
 
Though various definitions for the same exist, a microcar^ is essentially a vehicle that is less than 700 cc, weighs less than 900 kg and its length should not stretch beyond 3.5 metres. These cars can have either 3-wheels or 4-wheels and its engine could be either petrol driven or an electric one.
^ in 1912 the then FICM (Federation Internationale des Clubs Moto Cycliste) had declared that a microcar is any vehicle that has a motor engine, clutch and a gear.
^^ Another microcar organization based in the UK said, a vehicle can qualify as a microcar only if vehicles offer economy and have three or four wheels, powered by petrol engines that are less than 700cc and manufactured post 1945.
 
Whatever its defination then, the necessity to have microcars arose in the days when possessing a car was at its infancy. People wanted a vehicle to replace horse-drawn carriages to one that was affordable. The trend that started in the 1910’s in few years time had over 200 manufacturers in Europe making smaller-sized vehicles but after two decades of growth the graph started going down. By the late 1930's the concept of small cars completely diminished as automotive makers started offering larger vehicles for growing income families.
 
But the success story of large-sized cars didn't continue as a war-like situation was looming around. Then the World War II began. With automobile factories diverting their resources in making military vehicles, the general public were seeking other alternatives for transportation. After the war ended, nations were economically broke and there was severe paucity of steel. Automobile components were also in short supplies as the factories were either bombed or closed down due to lack of raw materials.
 
The necessity to have smaller cars was once again felt and soon several manufacturers sprung up across several countries. Some were new and some well established players. Notable among those brands were models made by BMW with its Isetta, Messerschmitt's KR 200 and Heinkel's Trojan (all from Germany) and the Peel P50 from the UK. Even in the communist bloc, microcars were made by the Soviet Union through a firm called Sarpukhov Motor Works (SMZ) who made smaller vehicles for differently-abled persons.

Though most of these microcars were made in the UK, Germany and France one country from the communist bloc were masters in making them - Hungary. At one time there were over 10 different brands of Hungarian microcars.

It is also said that nearly 500 different types of microcars were produced since the beginning of automobile history with most of them being produced in Europe with few in distant Argentina and Japan. 

And yet so less is known about these wonderful cars, especially in India (though it currently produces one - Tata Nano and earlier the electric Reva). We provide a glimpse of some of them,

Peel P50 – UK

This model has been listed by Guinness Book of Records as the smallest microcar in the world. With a body length of just 54 inch, this car would fit one person and a shopping bag. It had a single headlamp and a single wiper. It was made by a firm called Peel Engineering between 1962 and 1965.

 

Chiqui - Spain

Made by Automóviles y Autoscooter Kapi in Barcelona, this car with a 125 cc single cylinder engine of Montessa (motorcycle manufacturer) had 3 wheels and 2 doors and were made for five years starting from 1950.

 

Forshaga Shopper - Sweden

A microcar built in Sweden, this 3 wheel car first rolled out in 1961. After several changes in design, the model was released as Shopper in 1964. The 1 HP engine was from Husqvarna (Swedish motorcycle manufacturer) and had a manual gearbox and a foot operated clutch. Later, the Shopper even had disc brakes on all the three wheels. But what was unique about this microcar was its steering handle that was fixed to the fibreglass roof and when lifted would also move. They were produced until as late as 1994. 

 

Bamby – UK

A single seater microcar with a 50 cc Italian made Minarelli engine, the Bamby was a 3 wheeled vehicle and was made in small numbers in 1984.

 

Kersting – Germany

Kersting-Modellbauwerstätten a German motor manufacturer came up with a car that had a plywood body with removable hardtop. It was powered by a DKW made 2-stroke engine and was designed on the basis of the founder’s first sketch in 1920.

 

André Siames – France

An electrician called  André Siames made this small electric microcar in his backyard. With a 1 HP electric powered engine, this microcar with two passengers could travel upto 80 km/hr. 

 

Uttoro - Hungary

Powered by a Hungarian made 2-stroke Csepel 250 cc engine the Uttoro (Pioneer, in English) had a kick-starter that was placed on the rear axle. It could do about 80 km/hr.

 

Cingolani – Italy

This was a 3-wheeled car that weighed just 119 kg. and was powered by a 125cc Vespa scooter engine. Built by Ezio Cingolani it took him three years to build.