Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Electric past

The Electro Master from Nepa Manufacturing Co. of Pasadena, CA was powered by 6 six volt batteries. It had a range of 40 miles at a leisurely 20 miles per hour before hooking it up to the charger. This little electric weighed in at 680 pounds, fiberglass body and all.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Wheelie in Vespa 400 Microcar

We can only guess what this Vespa has under its hood (or in its trunk), but it's probably something a little bigger than the 2-cylinder, 393cc that was originally installed at the factory in Fourchambault, France.
If you know any details about this "Hotrod Vespa," let us know.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Micro-Racers: H-Mod Racing in the 50's and 60's

The under 750cc class (H-Class) was the entry point for many racers back in the 50's and 60's. And for backyard mechanics, the H-Mod class was the place to be. Homebuilt and heavily-modified cars were powered by souped up Crosley engines, Fiat powerplants, and even Panhard mills. A variety of companies contributed their efforts, with Jabro bodies and frames, Devin bodies, and Braje performance parts.

With the growth of vintage racing, H-Mod has experienced a resurgence in recent years. Old cars are coming out of the woodwork and participating in events. (Such as the Reno event held in early 2007.) And information on the cars and the class is becoming more available on the internet. (Tam's Old Race Car Site has a series of pages on H-Mods, there is a Yahoo Group on H-Mods and Sports Racer Net has extensive listings of H-Mod chassis.)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Newest issue of MINUTIA is in the mail

The newest issue of MINUTIA, the Newsletter of the Microcar & Minicar Club, is printed and at the mailhouse -- so it should be on your doorstep very soon.

The issue has several Isetta articles, plus information on Messerschmitts, Crosleys, and even an early MG that qualifies as a minicar. (The MG M-Type sported an 847cc engine.) And there is another Mystery Minicar to test your knowledge, and even a caption contest.

Don't miss this issue.

If you aren't already a member of the Microcar & Minicar Club, you can join on the website.

Keep on Truckin' - Underground

While we spend a lot of time talking about microcars and minicars, there are an awful lot of mini-trucks out there, working hard and earning their keep.

Grand Central Terminal in New York City is a huge complex. Although it no longer services long-distance passenger trains, GCT is the New York terminus of Metro-North Railroad, a commuter system that services Westchester, Putnam and Duchess counties in New York State, and Fairfield and New Haven counties in Connecticut. If measured in terms of train platforms, GCT is the largest train station in the world (44 platforms).

With a place this big, it's not surprising that GCT has a fleet of trucks to get workers from one place to another. And since the workers need to travel indoors, and on train platforms, the trucks are electric minitrucks. Some are Cushman trucks, some are Taylor-Dunn trucks, and others are E-Z-GO. Some of the trucks are virtually indistinguishable from one-another -- and that may be because Cushman and E-Z-GO are both owned by Textron.

Grand Central also has its own Transit Authority Police Office, and MTA Police officers patrol the station in two GEM electric cars.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Other Trident: 1960 Taylor-Dunn Trident

Founded by R. D. Taylor, a Los Angeles area farmer, Taylor-Dunn began as a producer/distributor of farm supplies, including electric carts for hauling chicken feed and other supplies. Their first passenger vehicle, the Three-wheel model PG, was introduced in 1955. Their second model, the Trident, was built from 1959 through 1963 and could be ordered with either tiller or wheel steering, and was also available with either hand or foot controls for the brake and accelerator. Snap-in side curtains were provided for use in bad weather. Called a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV) today, the Trident was one of a considerable number of vehicles built in Greater Los Angeles, most of which were favored by residents of mobile home parks and other small communities where their severely limited performance was not an issue.

(Vehicle on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles, California. Article originally appeared in MINUTIA Volume 15, Number 3.)

Another Tricar

There have been a number of cars called the Tricar over the years and it still seems to be a popular name. A few days ago we posted a modern one here are some classics.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

1939 Crosley Weddingmobile

by Lori Consalvo, Staff Writer

On his daughter's wedding day, Greg Hahs watched as two of the most precious things in his life came together - his daughter Andrea and his 1939 Crosley microcar convertible.
From his garage in Upland, the proud father reconstructed the novelty car and painted it pink and green to match the wedding colors.
He also added a color-coordinated interior, a personalized back-seat cover with the couple's name, and a "Just Married" tire slip in the rear.
Because the car was so small, the front passenger seat was removed to fit Andrea's dress.
The gift was not a surprise to the young couple, though.
"We had to get her approval," said Andrea's stepmother, Kiki Hahs. "You know how women get about their wedding day."
The groom, Brian Underwood, was included in the project as well. He helped disassemble the wedding car while Greg Hahs put it back together and painted it. The project took about six months.
The "adorable" car was a hit at the March 22 wedding when it took the bride and groom about 20 feet from the ceremony to the reception, which were both at the Upland Hills Country Club, Kiki said.
"I was afraid it might overwhelm everything, but it was just a nice touch because the girls grew up with the cars," Kiki Hahs said.
When Andrea and Brian Underwood headed off to their honeymoon, the car went back to its original residence - the Hahs' garage.
Added to his collection of antique microcars, Greg has already stripped it of the feminine colors and replaced them with red and black.
It was only on loan to the couple, Kiki Hahs said.

See it on YouTube.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Little Cars at Big Prices: Berkeley B-95

While we occasionally encounter expensive mini and microcars, the prices of the little cars we love are usually at the low end of the spectrum. (Just check out the May 2008 issue of Keith Martin's Sports Car Market, where sales at a recent Florida auction were labeled, "Microcars at Microprices.")
That's why we were surprised to see the $38,000 price tag on this 1959 Berkeley B-95 (listed on While a B-95 is harder to find than the more common SE 328 or SE 492 versions -- and this car appears to have received a full race prep -- $38K is the height of sticker shock in the Berkeley community. Perhaps that's why this "pocket rocket" has been listed for sale for the past couple of years.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Look - It's the new Trident Tricar

The Trident Tricar is a new offering from the Asian Dragon Corp. This little front wheel drive vehicle comes in 2 door, 4 door and delivery van models. They offer several different engine choices and a variety of fuel delivery systems. Check out all the specs at the Asian Dragon site -

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Latest Trend in Microcars Positions the Engine as Backseat Driver

by John Voelcker

Half a century ago, the BMC Mini defined the modern econobox: a small front-mounted engine in a front-wheel-drive car that was easy to handle and compact yet spacious. This vehicle design has since become a mainstay of the auto industry, the preferred way to propel more than 2,000 pounds of commuting fury forward. But now the smallest cars — the Smart Fortwo, Mitsubishi's Japanese-market i, and India's forthcoming Tata Nano — are all shifting gears. Their engines are migrating to the back.
But these engines aren't cantilevered behind the rear wheels as in the original Beetle — with its consequent unpredictable handling. The new configuration, called rear-mid-engine, places the motor under the rear seat and over the rear axle. The result: spacious interiors, improved safety, and better road manners.
Because the power plant sits under the rear passenger, more of the car's volume can be used for people and stuff. The 11-foot-long Mitsubishi i boasts the longest wheelbase in its class — 8 feet, 4 inches — making for an especially roomy cabin. And there's the reason Formula One race cars — along with most Ferraris and Lamborghinis — mount their high-revving monsters in the middle. It puts all that weight between the axles and closer to the car's center of gravity, so there's less danger of spinning out of control if the tires lose their grip. Plus, in very small cars, a front-mounted engine can end up in your lap after a crash; it doesn't deform to absorb impact. Move it to the back, though, and the front crumple zone can be deeper and crush more gradually.
The rear-mid layout also reduces production costs: If the rear wheels do the driving, you eliminate the complexity and expense of transferring the engine's power to axles that are spinning and steering. It takes the philosophy of front-wheel drive and simplifies it to its essence.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Not Just "Whistling Dixi"

The "Dixi" was BMW's first automobile -- a car built under license from the Austin Motor Company. (That's probably why this little car looks so much like an A7.) Dixi's were manufactured in the Eisenach factory where the Wartburgs of the GDR were later made.

The dapper young driver seems very proud of his little roadster -- and with wire wheels, a two-tone body, and a windscreen that looks like it can be folded down or flat, he appears to have "sprung" for the sporty model.
This photo appeared in MINUTIA Issue 15, Number 3 as the Mystery Minicar.

Out for a short ride

Sometimes we run across a picture we just find amusing.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Messerschmitt Commercial - UK

I'm not sure if this is a commercial, or a newsreel. (The audio certainly sounds like the old newsreel footage we've all heard.)
This describes the advantages of the Messerschmitt, prior to its availability in the UK.
It's great to see footage of these cars when they were new.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Grassroots Berzerkeley

Anyone who's ever looked at a Berkeley and thought, "'s such a cool little car. I only wish it had more power," needs to take a look at the car that's being "whipped up" in the offices of Grassroots Motorsports.

Like all good projects, this one seems to be taking longer than originally anticipated -- but, because the finished car is expected to participate in the Kumho Tires Grassroots Motorsports Challenge, the budget is holding tight. (Entries in the 2008 challenge must be documented to have spent less than $2008 on the purchase and construction of the car -- labor is counted as free.) Originally slated to run in the 2007 Challenge, the Berzerkeley is now planning a visit to the Challenge in October 2008. (The added year gives them an additiona $1 to spend on the project -- good luck!)

The Berkeley, which was originally fitted with a 30hp, 492cc Excelsior three cylinder engine now sports a 140hp, 750cc Suzuki GSX-R drivetrain. Watch out!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

And How Would You Like That King Midget?

If you are an eBay addict (c'mon, admit it), you've probably noticed the King Midgets that occasionally show up in the "Other Makes" listings. The construction of the King Midget is simple, and the accomodations are probably best described as spartan. (We've been told that the King Midget is a good choice for an amateur or "first time" project -- because its body has no compound curves and simple hand tools can manage most of the project's needs.)

Four interesting King Midgets have appeared on eBay this week -- in varying stages of finish. Two describe themselves as mechanically complete, but lacking the body, the third is listed as completely restored (to show car condition), and the fourth is a "factory woody version." (That's news to us.)

The set (as of April 15th)

Restored 1966 King Midget

1955 King Midget Project

1956 King Midget Project

Monday, April 14, 2008

Isetta: BMW’s smaller, cleaner future

As reported on BMW is looking at a number of measures to improve the fuel economy and eco-friendliness of its fleet, from a new urban runabout to dropping a cylinder or two in the name of green motoring.
By Kelly Lodewyks

CARtoday recently reported that BMW has plans for a possible revival of its 1950’s Isetta “bubble car”. A project surrounding such plans has just been confirmed by the German manufacturer… well, in a way at least.

News has surfaced that work on a top-secret new eco-friendly urban runabout has been taking place at BMW. The new eco-mini has not officially been given the “Isetta” badging, and is for now known as Project i – “i” for innovation and not “Isetta” says BMW company chairman, Norbert Reithofer.

As for where it fits into the BMW stable, Reithofer says that it will complement the existing BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce ranges. “We will look at all these things before we decide whether this might be a sub-brand for BMW or Mini, or whether it is a standalone marque,” said Reithofer.

Keeping it clean and green, Project i will possibly make use of advanced electric systems and fuel-efficient petrol and diesel powerplants. Hybrid powerplants are already in the pipeline for BMW’s X6 crossover SUV, and Mini and BMW road cars are available with the option of Efficient Dynamics technologies.

Staying with BMW’s environmental consciousness, Reithofer has revealed that the company is also looking at shoving downscaled turbocharged units under the bonnets of it M-division cars. There has already been confirmation that the company’sV8 diesel units are being phased out and Reithofer says that BMW will now “ be focusing on its six-cylinder engines as it attempts to improve its emissions and fuel consumption levels in light of stricter regulations set to roll in over the next decade.”

Over at camp Mercedes, it seems that the same trend is sweeping through there. According to a recent article on CARtoday, Mercedes development chief, Thomas Weber, said that Mercedes “will strongly force the trend in downsizing” – for both diesel and petrol models. Weber claims that the recent trend of using larger engines to power vehicles would be “sharply reversed,” and its V8 units are also under investigation for downsizing.

As for the other manufacturer in the “Teutonic trio”, who knows! What we do know is that Audi is still going full steam ahead with its plans to shoehorn V8s and V10s under the bonnet of its latest and “greatest” performance models. But with all the new laws being implemented over the next few years, it seems only a matter of time before news surfaces that Audi will also downsize in a bid to “clean” up its act.

Win $10,000,000

The Moonbeam pictured here is a microcar made at home. 100 miles per gallon sounds good with gas prices up up up. A 10 million dollar prize is up for grabs for someone that comes up with a viable, super efficient, clean car that people would buy. Get out your sketchpad and tools and brainstorm your way to a fortune.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

It's a Privilege

Micro Cars Pvt Ltd is a company in Sri Lanka that is producing the first cars built in that country. The Micro Privilege has a 1000cc 4 cylinder EFI gasoline engine with a 5 speed manual transmission. A steel space frame and roll cage protect the 5 adult passengers it can carry. Put on the air and pop in a CD and you'll be riding in style. The people you pass riding in a Tuk-Tuk will think you are a person of "Privilege".

Friday, April 11, 2008

Honda S600/S600Coupe Commercial

I don't know what I like best about this commercial -- the images of the cars (S600 and S600 Coupe), or the expressions of the actors reacting to the cars.
They just don't make commercials like this anymore.
Check an earlier posting, describing Jay Leno's restoration of a Honda S600.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

This Friday (April 11th) is "Drive Your Classic to Work Day"

OK...maybe it's not an officially-designated holiday, but the folks at Classic Motorsports have designated the second Friday of each month as "Drive Your Classic to Work Day." And since the weather seems to be looking good (at least here in the East), this Friday is a good time to kick it off. Our twist on the event is to extend it to all minicars and microcars -- since not all of them are old enough for designation as a classic. (Just because that new Smart ForTwo is a cool looking ride, don't expect to be able to put classic plates on it.)

Push it out of the garage, dust it off, check the tires, and drive to work.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Zap Xebra Electric Sedan

The Zap Xebra is another alternative type of transportation for those of you looking to get into a modern three wheeler. Park your Bond Bug, Reliant or Freeway and hop into this environmentally friendly car. Wave to your neighbors filling up at the sevice station as you glide silently by. Made for around town, the Xebra can hit 40 mph and make a 25 mile trip before a recharge. This 10 foot long, 4 passenger vehicle, is classified as a zero emmision motorcycle. It comes in a variety of colors, even fashionably wild zebra stripe paint. Available at Zap dealers across the U.S. - MSRP $11,200

More Fiats in the News - Jerry Seinfeld Rolls a Fiat 500

Although we have no intention to make this an "all Fiat" website, there are times when you just can't resist.

It was reported that Jerry Seinfeld "flipped" one of his vintage cars this past Saturday evening (March 29th), while driving in the Hamptons (Long Island, NY). Since Seinfeld is well known as a "Porsche Guy," it seemed likely that his accident was in one of them. (Before we go any farther -- we should probably state that the actor/comedian wasn't injured in the accident.)

As the story unfolded, it was determined that he was driving a 1967 Fiat BTM. The brakes failed and the car flipped when he swerved to avoid oncoming traffic.

It makes sense...until you start trying to figure out what a Fiat BTM is. It turns out there is no such vehicle. (Don't bother looking it up -- multitudes of car guys have beaten you to it -- burning up countless Google search hours.) Then it was speculated that the car was a Fiat Dino, maybe a modified Bertone model from Torino -- BTM. Sounds logical, but it still isn't the truth.

It seems that the Times got it wrong, AP reported it incorrectly, and...surprise...even the Post got it wrong.

So, who got it right? Newsday and Automobile both reported that Seinfeld had his mishap in a 1967 Fiat 500. Imagine that -- a billionaire, with a fleet of Porsches, drives around in a Fiat 500.

And when interviewed about the accident, Seinfeld's response was:

“Because I know there are kids out there, I want to make sure they all know that driving without braking is not something I recommend, unless you have professional clown training or a comedy background, as I do,” he told The Associated Press. “It is not something I plan to make a habit of.”

Maybe we can get to like Jerry after all.

Liège-Brescia-Liège Rally Update

Fiat's sponsorship of the Liège-Brescia-Liège 2008 Rally (July 11-20, 2008) was announced in the April Rally update.
As sponsor, Fiat will provide a transporter full of new 500s as replacement transportation for any rally cars that break down in-transit and can't be repaired. (Disabled cars will be transported to the finish in Liège.) Fiat will also be providing a fleet of support vehicles -- 500s for marshals and photographer, a Boblo for a mechanic and a Ducato van for luggage.

It is fitting that Fiat act as the rally sponsor, since the original rally was won by a Fiat 500 Sport, a 500 Abarth was second and all seven 500s that entered, finished.

Deadlines for participation are coming up. Check for details on the Classic Rally Press website.

Monday, April 7, 2008

New FIAT 500 Abarth

The highly anticipated Fiat 500 Abarth is being introduced with this official image. The initial details report that the new Abarth is powered by Fiat's 1.4 liter 16v petrol Turbo engine. 135 bhp at 5,500 rpm is the first power offering from Fiat. This new engine is environmentaly friendly respecting the future Euro 5 legislation. Also the 500 Abarth uses the TTC (Torque Transfer Control) system for safer driving conditions while negotiating hard turns and bends. The return of the Abarth brandis exciting to any car enthusiast.

Mitsuoka K-4: 50cc limited-production speedster

In November, 2006, Japanese carmaker Mitsuoka began taking orders for its K-4, a new 50cc engine microcar with a limited production of just 220 vehicles. Weighing less than 400lbs, the $9,100 K-4 measures eight feet long and four feet wide and has a top speed of just under 30 mph. While the limited production quickly sold out, Mitsuoka has stated that they have no plans to make more. (Low profit margins and tighter emissions regulations have made sales of the 50cc car more challenging.)

While Mitsuoka has been associated with a number of larger and higher-performance cars, the K-4 represents a return to the automaker's roots. (Susumu Mitsuoka founded the company in the 1960s in Toyama, 250 miles west of Tokyo, as a car repair center. In 1982, it started making its first cars -- 50cc microcars. )

Friday, April 4, 2008

Goggomobil (Not the Dart) - Yellow Pages® Australia

The unique qualities of our microcars is often leveraged by companies in their commercials. This commercial uses a Goggomobil to promote the Yellow pages in Australia.

Award Winning Advertisement for Australia's Yellow Pages® directory, which aired between 1992-1999 featuring Tommy Dysart making a series of telephone calls using his Yellow Pages® directory to find a repairer for his Goggomobil vehicle.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

2008 Smart Fortwo Crash Test Concerns

SAFETY CONCERN: During the side impact test, the driver door unlatched and opened. A door opening during a side impact crash increases the likelihood of occupant ejection.

The Associated Press reports that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's crash tests of the Smart Fortwo revealed safety issues.

"During the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration side test on the Smart two-door, the driver door unlatched and opened. The government said that could increase the likelihood of a driver or passenger being ejected from the 8-foot, 8-inch vehicle.

NHTSA, however, still gave the car its top score of five stars in side testing because of the ability of the car to protect the driver and passenger from injuries in a crash.

Rae Tyson, a NHTSA spokesman, said the rating is based on the level of protection that the vehicle provides to occupants, but it wanted to note a potential safety implication.

"Given the amount of attention on smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles in general and this vehicle specifically, we wanted to try to get the vehicle tested and the results out there as quickly as possible," Tyson said.

Ken Kettenbeil, a Smart spokesman, said the vehicle was designed to receive a four-star crash rating from U.S. regulators and the results were consistent with their expectations and similar tests in Europe. He called the safety concern in the side crash an "anomaly."

In other NHTSA tests, the Fortwo received four out of five stars in the front-end crash on the driver's side. On the passenger side, it received three out of five stars, meaning the passenger would face a 21 percent to 35 percent chance of serious injury.

In rollovers, the Fortwo received 3 out of 5 stars and had a 21 percent risk of rollover."

H-Mod Racecars at Reno Historics 5/5/2007

HMSA Historic Races at Reno-Fernley Raceway.
It's great to see these little cars in action -- and to hear the snarling, 750cc and under engines, in last year's H-Mod meeting.
Featured race group, H Modified sports racers rolling off the grid to enter the track for the Saturday qualifying race. Video taken by Tom Clayton of the Sports Racer Network, .

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

More Dreams per Car - More Dreams per Car Company

Tata, the Indian conglomerate that recently announced plans to launch a new minicar (Tata Nano), has created new news with its purchase of Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford.

The Nano is scheduled to hit the market in the second half of 2008. It is considered by some to be the least expensive production car in the world: the price is about $2,500. Tata's advertising tagline is 'More Dreams Per Car'.

Tata's purchase of Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford Motor Co. (reported to be a $2.3 billion deal) is the most recent of a string of acquisitions by the Indian company. (Tata recently acquired Britain's Tetley Tea and Boston's Ritz Carlton Hotel, and its steel division bought Britain-based Corus Group last year for $13 billion. )

Tata will have to sell an awful lot of Nano's to pay off the debt it has taken on.

Manufacturers: Micro equals electric or hybrid

If the recent NY Auto Show is any example, auto manufacturers seem to equate microcars and minicars with electric or hybrid power.
Most of the minicars on display (largely concept cars) were electrics or hybrids, with power cords openly displayed.
Mitsubishi's iMiEV Sport -- originally shown at last year's Tokyo Motor Show -- was prominantly displayed in the manufacturer's booth, and is described by Mitsubishi as:
"...the pinnacle of Mitsubishi Motors's environmental technology, the i MiEV SPORT maximizes the sporty possibilities of the zero-emissions electric vehicle. The high power and environmental performance of its electric motors make it an exhilarating drive that delivers superior environmental performance."

Mazda Carol 600 - Vintage Commercial

The millionth Mazda car to be produced was the Carol 600, launched in November 1962. Based on the prototype Mazda 700, the Carol 600, came with a 586 cc all-aluminum water-cooled inline-four cylinder four-stroke engine.
The Carol had enough cabin space to accommodate four adults comfortably, and differed in a variety of other ways from the conventional minicar. Of particular note was the styling of the rear roof; the roofline contained a steep drop-off known as the "cliff cut."
The audio is in Japanese, but the features that made the Carol 360 and Carol 600 successes are apparent.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Top Gear: Peel P50 microcar

Other than some invalid carriages, the Peel P50 holds the position as the smallest "roadable" microcar. It has a 49cc engine and tops out at about 35 miles per hour. But it is reported to get up to 100 miles per gallon.

If you can get over the lack of a reverse gear (actually, we kind of like the handle that facilitates turning the little car around), it is a great little car.

You may want to get permission before you drive yours in the office.