Microcars, a German automotive specialty

Germany, year zero. In 1945, the Third Reich, eliminated, left a country in ruins on a disaster-stricken continent. Everything must be rebuilt, starting with the automotive industry. When the purchasing power is reduced to zero or almost, there is no doubt that the manufacturers thrive in the rebuilding period by offering luxury models. Rather, in the shadow of the VW Beetle stand the very small machines that are popular, the so-called “microcars”, of which here is an overview.

Surprisingly, these have sometimes benefited from quite astonishing sophistication. Especially when they were created by aircraft manufacturers such as Messerschmitt who launched the Kabinenroller (KR) in 1953. Much has been said that this KR175 recovered the canopy from the sinister Me 109 fighter, in fact it is only inspired by it. With its 1-cylinder Sachs, this fun machine, a mixture of airplane and motorcycle, but equipped with three wheels, flirted with 80 km/h, even 100 km/h with its KR200 evolution. We also saw it in the movie Brazil.

A Messerschmitt KR200 from 1955, a sort of mixture of airplane and motorcycle. She is worth a fortune right now!

Heinkel, another manufacturer of military aircraft, has also produced its microcar, very much inspired by the Italian Isetta, which BMW has made its cabbage. The cab was only produced between 1956 and 1958, in three versions, some of which reached almost 100 km/h thanks to a single-cylinder four-stroke. Had to dare!

Isetta?  No, Heinkel Kabine, a pale imitation of 1956.
Isetta? No, Heinkel Kabine, a pale imitation of 1956.

Always inspired by aeronautics, there is Gutbrod Superior. There you can get access to a real car (3.50 m) whose sharp lines certainly inspired the Nissan Figaros. Under the hood of this dragster is a 600cc two-stroke twin. Appearing in 1950, it was initially not very successful, but from 1952 its engine benefited from direct injection signed Bosch. This also corresponds in principle to what is fitted to the Me109. This makes Superior the first production petrol car with direct injection. Unfortunately, production stops in 1954.

Quite handsome, Gutbrod Superior will benefit from direct injection from 1952!
Quite handsome, Gutbrod Superior will benefit from direct injection from 1952!

Goliath fights with Gutbrod over the initiation of direct injection. Because this manufacturer of microcars, as the name does not indicate, also marketed this technology in 1952 on its GP700. Developed in the GP900 from 1955, it was more successful than the Gutbrod. In 1957 the 1100 had a 4-cylinder 4-stroke before becoming the Hansa 1100.

Simultaneously, or almost, with the Gutbrod Superior, the Goliath GP700 would be outfitted with direct injection in 1952.
Simultaneously, or almost, with the Gutbrod Superior, the Goliath GP700 would be outfitted with direct injection in 1952.

Goliath and Hansa belonged to the Borgward group, as did Lloyd. You know ? Contrary to what the name suggests, it was a German brand that produced very low-end products for the group from 1950, embodied by the very small 300. Its engineering is clearly reminiscent of the Goliath’s: two-cylinder pull transverse 2 -stroke. 13 hp for 300 cm3, that’s enough for him to point at 100 km/h. It was replaced by the 400 in 1953, itself supplanted by the 600 in 1957. The marque disappeared in 1961 with the Borgward Group, which nevertheless managed to compete with Opel and VW in the 1950s.

A Lloyd LP600 in 1957. This little minimalist dragster will have some success.
A Lloyd LP600 in 1957. This little minimalist dragster will have some success.

Still in the West, Glas produced the small Goggomobil T250 from 1954, which had considerable success. Again, this is a two-stroke two-cylinder car, but rear-mounted. It is coupled to a 4-box combined with an optional electromagnetic control. More than 200,000 units would be produced until 1969, after Glas (which created the small Isard) came under the control of BMW (itself saved by the small Isetta, 600 and 700).

Its original but unfinished design and its high price will doom the Zündapp Janus to failure.  Here in 1956.
Its original but unfinished design and its high price will doom the Zündapp Janus to failure. Here in 1956.

Motorcycle specialists have also produced microcars such as Zündapp. This was marketed by the Janus in 1956, which was in fact a car designed by the aircraft manufacturer Dornier. Original, it implants its engine in the middle and places the passengers on both sides. Above all, it is totally symmetrical! Unfortunately, expensive and not very reassuring to drive, it will sell little.

The DKW F89 recreates the technology of the pre-war models (2-stroke, traction) and will be copied.  Here in 1950.
The DKW F89 recreates the technology of the pre-war models (2-stroke, traction) and will be copied. Here in 1950.

You can’t talk about motorcycle specialists without going through DKW. This major manufacturer distinguished itself before the war by producing some of the first traction engines in history, with a 2-stroke engine. In 1950 he released the F89, powered by a twin-cylinder 684 cc (23 hp) which took him to 100 km/h. Unfortunately for DKW, part of the installation is on the RDA side where we will be manufacturing the IFA F9 very close. This will see its little success and will be replaced by the Wartburg 311, much more impressive.

IFA F9, almost an East German copy of DWK F89.  It will also sell well before generating Wartburg.
IFA F9, almost an East German copy of DWK F89. It will also sell well before generating Wartburg.

Also among DKW’s heirs we find the brand Zwickau, named after the town where the factory is located. After producing the pre-war DKW F8 under the IFA marque, he released the small and unlikely P70 in 1955 on the same basis (two-stroke two-cylinder traction) but with a strange Duroplast body. Does this remind you of anything? Of course the Trabant. Moreover, she is the one to replace the P70 from 1958!

Do you recognize her?  It is the Trabant, here a P50 from 1958, before the famous 601.
Do you recognize her? It is the Trabant, here a P50 from 1958, before the famous 601.

Today, nothing remains of these sometimes improbable, sometimes sophisticated machines because they have disappeared with the rise in living standards across the Rhine. The same goes for Rovin in France or Vespa cars in Italy (the famous 400 that we saw here). But those without permission are currently enjoying a famous resurgence of interest, fueled by the little Citroën Ami. What if they embodied a kind of path to salvation like their predecessors in the 1950s and 1960s, in a context of decline? Let’s hope… not!

Leave a Comment