Pint-sized car show finds fans in Pacific Grove
Little car gathering highlights tiny automobiles
By DANIEL LOPEZ
Donald MacLean used to keep his car parked in the middle of his living room.
For the nonbelievers, he has the photographs to prove it. More importantly, he says, he has an understanding wife.
MacLean, of Morro Bay, has since gone to a more traditional coffee table and takes his car, a 1954 King Midget, to shows.
On Wednesday, proud owner and the car with a couple of cocktail glasses propped on the fenders to remember the old days when it sat in his house were in Pacific Grove.
MacLean's car was one of about 40 shown at the Little Car Show on Lighthouse Avenue between Forest and Fountain avenues.
The event, organized by the owners of Marina Motorsports in Monterey, featured miniature vintage and modern cars with engines of 1,500cc and smaller.
MacLean's King Midget pumps out less than 9horsepower and was designed to ship from the factory on an 8-foot-by-4-foot sheet of plywood.
"A lot of them are really neat, cute little cars," said Charles Davis, the show's spokesman.
The idea for an event exclusively showcasing mini and small cars during Classic Car Week on the Peninsula came about to keep up with the growing number of enthusiasts, Davis said, who don't fit well at some of the other car events, he said.
In a world where Lincolns, Cadillacs and Hummers can dominate, the downtown strip was dedicated to the likes of Austin Healey, Alfa Romeo, Mini Coopers and a pair of classic Volkswagen Beetles.
"Most of them have really interesting engineering because when you start shrinking things down, there are going to be some compromises," Davis said of the cars in the show. "They don't have bells and whistles, they are built for simple transportation."
Small-car building began to take off after World War II as manufacturing was rebounding and fuel remained expensive, Davis said.
Kathleen Emerson of Pacific Grove was one local who dropped by to peruse the cars.
"They are so much more roomier than I would have imagined," she said. "They are so sexy you just want to hop in and put the top down and go."
A red 1964 Peel Trident, that looks like something from a "Jetsons" cartoon, drew a lot of attention for its clear dome.
A two-seater powered by a 50cc engine, the car has a top speed of about 40 mph and tires that resemble those of a golf cart. New, it sold for about $760.
Such a car and others from the era are rare finds today.
"They were built to be disposable so most of them that are left are survivors," Davis said.
As interesting as the cars are, so are the stories behind them.
MacLean's King Midget, a Model 2, was one of about 1,500 built by Claude Dry and Dale Orcutt and were first sold around a college campus in Ohio.
The cars were made until 1967 when safety standards, such as seatbelts and doors that didn't screw on with kitchen cabinet hinges, came into play.
Advertised in Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines, some cars were sold as kits (do it yourself assembly required), MacLean said.
"Everyone has seen the ads, but very few people have seen the car," he said.
Some cars on display, such as MacLean's and a 1955 Shannon Crosley Special race car owned by Leland Osborn, have been resurrected.
Osborn, a racer from San Miguel, will compete this weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
He bought the Shannon Crosley, a one of a kind, about 12 years ago to pursue his hobby.
"It took me about 6½ years to restore it because when I bought it it was a pile of scrap," he said. The car sat in a barn for several years.
"We had to scrape the spider webs away to get in," Osborn said.
After investing about $16,000 in parts and a paint job for the fiberglass body and doing most the work himself, Osborn said he has a car that drives like a Corvette.
"It handles better than a car of that time would," he said.
Organizers of the show hope to turn the event into a staple of Classic Car Week and are using their test run to smooth out the wrinkles.
The cars featured this year were mostly European, but there is potential to grow if owners of small Japanese cars get involved, Davis said.
"We hope like everybody that the word will get out and more people will get interested," he said.
Daniel Lopez dlopez@...