Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Reviving the Lost Arts: Fuel-Sipping Microcars

Avolette Tourisme 1956

The classic expression, "Necessity is the mother of invention", was proven beyond doubt in post-WWII Europe where the severe fuel shortages inspired automakers to create a variety of microcars. Often capable of hitting 70mph and traveling 90 miles on a gallon of fuel, these fuel-efficient wonders were manufactured in volume--perhaps 250,000 were produced in the years following the war.

The auto in the photo, a 1956 Avolette Tourisme, is part of a microcar collection owned by Bruce Weiner (who owes his fortune to Dubble Bubble gum). An entertaining piece by Bo Emerson in the Atlanta Car News talks about Weiner's obsession with these vehicles and charts the history of microcars.

Microcars were created out of necessity. Not only was gasoline at a premium, but manufacturers were short of money and materials. Messerschmitt was banned from building fighter planes and turned out sewing machines and refrigerators.

Entrepreneurs such as Fritz Fend (builder of the F.M.R.), created small shops, then collaborated with larger manufacturers. (Fend built thousands of vehicles in the Messerschmitt factories.) Some microcars were little more than enclosed, three-wheeled motorcycles.

The microcar craze lasted through the mid-1960s; by then European fortunes had risen, and customers demanded cars that could seat a family comfortably.

We had practical electric cars in the early 1900's, as well, phased out as our oil addiction grew by leaps and bounds. Perhaps it's time to revive some of these lost arts and build a new generation of microcars and electric vehicles--the necessity is cleary at hand.