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NY Times mentions Crosley.

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  • mrcooby
    From the Sunday New York Times: =========================== The timely arrival of fuel- sipping small cars like the Honda Fit, the Nissan Versa and the Toyota
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 19, 2006
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      From the Sunday New York
      Times:
      ===========================
      The timely arrival of fuel-
      sipping small cars like
      the Honda Fit, the Nissan
      Versa and the Toyota Yaris
      may finally answer the
      question of whether
      Americans are ready to
      downsize their aspirations
      in automobiles.

      Should gas prices continue
      to rise, drivers may be
      willing to consider
      vehicles smaller yet —
      even tiny urban runabouts
      like the stylish Smart
      ForTwo, which
      DaimlerChrysler recently
      announced would go on sale
      in the United States in
      2008.

      Showroom success is far
      from certain for this new
      generation of
      petro-misers, though.
      America's previous
      flirtations with the
      microcar — a
      class loosely defined by
      collectors as cars less
      than 10 feet long with
      engines smaller than 1,000
      cc — have all ended on sad
      notes.

      Microcars in America go
      back at least as far as
      the 1930 American Austin
      (later sold as the
      American Bantam), a 1,200-
      pound 750 cc version of the
      British Austin built under
      license in Butler, Pa.

      Though blessed with scale-
      model cuteness — the
      Depression-era roadster
      looked like a dodge-'em
      car that somehow escaped
      from Coney Island — the
      public was able to resist
      its charms. Aside from
      providing a sight gag for
      movies — usually with a
      very tall driver at the
      wheel — Bantams failed to
      catch on and the company
      did not produce
      automobiles after World
      War II.

      Powel Crosley Jr., an
      appliance maker from
      Cincinnati, produced a
      full line of thrifty,
      innovative small cars from
      1939 to 1952, but again,
      consumers were
      unimpressed. The microcar
      gained wide acceptance
      only in Europe, where
      a combination of congested
      cities, high gas prices
      and scarce raw materials
      created an urgent need for
      cheap transportation. Not
      surprisingly, Germany
      and Italy produced some of
      the most popular microcars.

      With no demand for their
      military products after
      1945, German aircraft
      factories turned to
      civilian products. In a
      plant that had built the
      world's first jet-
      fighters, Messerschmitt
      started making the KR 200,
      a bug-eyed three-wheel
      microcar. It was
      relatively popular with
      Germans who could not
      afford larger cars but
      wanted something more than
      a scooter or a motorcycle.

      Rather than swing-open
      doors, passengers entered
      the Messerschmitt KR 200
      after flipping open the
      clear canopy — just like
      the feared Messerschmitt
      fighters. It even had an
      aircraft-style steering
      wheel. But the KR 200 could
      manage only about 50 miles
      an hour from its 9.7-
      horsepower engine. Gas
      mileage, however, was
      impressive — between 50
      and 80 miles a gallon,
      depending on driving
      conditions. Messerschmitts
      are generally considered to
      be among the best
      engineered and most
      collectible microcars;
      they have an active
      following and a ready
      availability of parts.

      One of the oddest microcar
      stories is that of the
      Isetta, a 7.5-footegg-
      shaped car with a single
      front-hinged door and a
      247 cc 13 horsepower
      motorcycle engine.
      Conceived by an Italian
      refrigerator maker —
      continuing the peculiar
      tradition established by
      Crosley of appliance
      companies entering the
      microcar market — the
      Isetta was sold in Italy
      under the Iso name.

      Sensing a market for the
      car in a still-rebuilding
      Germany, BMW, then near
      bankruptcy, licensed the
      rights to build the car;
      it made more than 100,000
      before moving on to larger
      cars.

      Today, BMW has a sense of
      humor about the Isetta,
      though it is doubtful an
      Isetta will show up in
      advertising the way a
      vintage 2002tii has in the
      past, or that ad copy will
      proclaim: "BMW— from
      Isetta to iDrive in just 50
      short years."

      Isettas and Messerschmitts
      may be cheeky oddities in
      the United States —
      they are often called
      "bubble cars" — but there
      is considerably less
      affection for them in
      Germany. Unlike the atomic-
      age optimism that a boldly
      finned '57 Chevy evokes
      for Americans, an Isetta
      reminds older Germans
      mostly of the hardships
      endured before the West
      German economic miracle
      took hold.

      Microcars have often found
      favor with collectors who
      have a sense of the
      absurd — and humble enough
      to embrace cars with
      minuscule engines, tiny
      tires and quirky styling.
      Isettas have sold for
      $12,00 to $20,000 at
      collector auctions and on
      eBay Motors; one notable
      Messerschmitt brought
      $25,000 at a British
      auction last year.

      Because of their crowd-
      pleasing ability,
      microcars are now welcome
      at some exclusive vintage
      car shows. The Amelia
      Island Concours d'Élégance
      in Florida added a
      separate microcar class
      this year; it was won by a
      1950 Reyonnah, a tiny
      French car that resembles
      a cross between a small
      speedboat and a praying
      mantis, owned by Bruce
      Weiner, a prolific
      microcar collector.

      Their attractiveness has
      prompted many car museums
      to add microcars to their
      collections. The Lane
      Motor Museum in Nashville
      has a large collection that
      includes lesser-known
      brands like the Peel and
      the Scootacar. The curator,
      Susan Lane, co-founder
      with her husband, Jeff
      Lane, enjoys introducing
      microcars to visitors.
      "You can explain the
      history and why these cars
      developed in gloomy
      postwar Europe and you'll
      get blank looks and
      questions like, 'Yeah, but
      can it drive on the
      road?' " she said.

      Mr. Weiner's collection of
      microcars must surely be
      among the largest in the
      world. Mr. Weiner, who
      houses the cars in a
      museum in Madison, Ga.,
      expressed his belief that
      devoted microcar
      collectors were the true
      iconoclasts and oddballs
      of the hobby. "Microcars
      were the sole domain of
      low-budget, blue-collar
      types with a sense of
      humor," he said, noting
      that these collectors do
      not need a big bank
      account or a three-car
      garage to have several
      microcars.

      Mark Hyman, a classic car
      dealer in St. Louis, has
      sold many examples of the
      breed. He explains the
      psyche of the microcar
      buyer this way: "The guy
      who buys a microcar is
      looking for something
      different — pound for
      pound, a microcar is the
      greatest bargain in crowd-
      attracting fun in the
      collector-car universe,"
      he said.

      But safety may be an
      issue: although Mr. Hyman
      walked away unscathed, he
      has experienced a triple
      rollover in a
      Messerschmitt KR 200. The
      accident happened while
      backing the car up a
      driveway at less than 15
      miles an hour —
      in front of horrified
      guests at his wife's
      birthday party.
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