Friday, August 18, 2006
A lot of people think this is a new technology, but it is in fact nothing new at all. Sure, it is being applied in a more high-tech manner (namely, a computer is actively determining how much power each engine should supply), but the concept of have dual power source working together or in concert is old hat. One example of an early automotive hybrid is the Rauch-Lang. Primarily known for their electric cars (another unoriginal idea), which they began building in 1905, Rauch-Lang eventually branched into gas/electric cars when the company was purchased by a gentleman with one leg. Unable to operate a clutch pedal, engineers at R-L created a special electro-magnetic transmission that was powered by the motor. Requiring no clutch, the car could be operated with only one leg. Also, with no direct mechanical connection between the engine and the rear wheels, but rather a magnetic generator, the car was really an early hybrid. Pictured are shots of a 1912 Rauch-Lang Towncar (shown at left) and a 1930 Rauch-Lang formal sedan (shown at right) which was formerly owned by R-L one-legged owner.
Both cars were featured at the 2006 Amelia Island Concours in the 'Alternative Power' section. The 1930 sedan won its class.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
All Messerschmitts were three-wheeled cars except for one, the TG-500 'Tiger,' which had a similar body style and the same canopy design, but four wheels, reverse gear, and a more powerful, two-cylinder engine. Tigers are the most valuable microcars today and the rarest of Messerschmitts. Only 320 were produced from 1957 to 1961, of which around 150 still exist. They have been known to change hands for up to and over $60,000.
I had the good fortune to drive a Messerschmitt in April of 2006 thanks to my friend Bruce Weiner (more on him and his cars later). Driving the car was a great experience. It is very fast, for what it is, and feels even faster since your butt is basically dragging along the roadway. The tandem seating position puts you and your passenger in constant 'spooning' position, so it is best that you are friendly with each other. The sequential gearbox was very easy to operate and provided ample power in all four gears. Quite frankly, it was one of the most fun cars I have ever driven. And yes, that is me sitting in the car in the two pictures, canopy up and canopy down.
As you might of noticed, many of the links regarding microcars have been to the site for this museum, the Bruce Weiner Microcar Museum. If you are ever in the Atlanta area, I suggest checking out this impressive collection of microcars, the largest in the world. If nothing else, check out the site and explore the index. No other car museum has a site as thorough as Mr. Weiner's, and it is a great source (one of the few sources, in fact) for information on these rare, and often neglected, microcars.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Pictured are a few chassis shots of an Isetta taken at the Microcar Club National Meet. I had never seen an Isetta chassis before, and looking at it is pretty interesting. The brutal simplicity of the thing is wonderful, just a ladder frame with an engine and differential mounted on the back. The rest of the car just bolts on top, as you can see from the other pictures. While I have never driven an Isetta, I have driven a 1958 Zundapp Janus before, which is similar to the Isetta in design and ride. If nothing else, it was heartening to think that the front crumple zone basically consisted of your knees.
Monday, August 14, 2006
Those collectors gathered this weekend in Crystal Lake, IL for the annual National Microcar Club meet. A weekend of activities was highlighted by a large get together of microcars from around the country...but mostly from the Midwest.
Many cars were in attendance, so I won't detail it all here. Rather, I'll focus on a few cars over the course of a few days. Thus, today's car will be a 1963 Crofton Bug. This little thing was created in the late 1950's as a rural farm minicar and was one of the rare microcars built in the US (specifically in San Diego, CA). Besides looking like a mini-Jeep, what really caught my eye was the speedometer. While many cars have a list of things that will void the warranty in the owner's manual, this car pretty plainly stated what would void the warranty right on the speedo...anything over 50 mph.
If you want to see a Crofton Bug yourself, the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, TN has a 1962 Bug that you can visit, along with an impressive collection of other unique European cars, both micro and otherwise.