Keith’s Blog: Microcar Madness in Oregon

The Martin family on Father's Day

The logistics of major car shows can resemble a military operation. Restorations take years to get accomplished, and hundreds of car transporters converge at one spot to disgorge the finished products.

Tens of thousands of spectators come from all over the world, dress nattily, and spend hundreds of dollars on admission tickets, trinkets and refreshments. The winning cars are treated to confetti cannons and international acclaim.

The Great Pacific Northwest Mini Microcar Extravaganza is different.

Now in its 12th year, this annual event celebrates irrelevant and ridiculous cars. Goggomobiles, Vespas, Messerschmitts and more are displayed on a lawn outside of McMenamins Grand Lodge Hotel in Forest Grove, Oregon.

The founder and sponsor of the event is microcar expert and enthusiast Mark Hatten, who also owns MPH Specialties. Mark has serviced a couple of our Isettas, and he is the go-to guy in the Pacific Northwest for diminutive cars.

There is no entry fee for cars or spectators. The 50 or so cars are arrayed next to the McMenamins restaurant, so you can feast on mushroom burgers and crispy fries and sip Black Rabbit red wine while looking at the field.

While I’ve been aware of the event for many years, this was the first time that I had an eligible car — and happened to be in town.

Our 1971 Citroen Mehari has become our summer runaround car of choice. Citroen expert Bill Lonseth has got nearly all the deferred maintenance dealt with, and the little beach buggy fires right up and cruises easily enough at 55 mph. However, 65 mph can be a challenge without a downhill slope.

It’s a three-day event, with a meet-and-greet on Friday, a 75-mile vineyard tour on Saturday, and the car show on Sunday. While I didn’t go on the tour, I can say that 75-miles in a 60-year-old, 300-cc car would be more challenging than 7,500 miles in a modern car.

Last Sunday being Father’s Day, I coerced my daughter Alex and son Bradley to pile into the Mehari for the 27-mile drive from downtown Portland to Forest Grove. While Google said it should take 33 minutes, that’s an estimate for a real car. I was happy with arriving in just under an hour from door to lawn.

To someone in a regular car, passing the Mehari on the freeway is like encountering a clown-car that has escaped from the circus. The Mehari has no doors or windows — but it does have a cute little pug nose with obligatory yellow French Cibie headlights. In our era of streamlined, high-tech automobiles, the Mehari is clearly something out of the ordinary.

The car is plastered with Aloha and Hawaii stickers, reminders of its time as a part of the Budget Rent a Car rental fleet in Maui. Legend has it that the Hawaiian Meharis were retired from duty when tourists who had one-too-many coconut-shell-served Mai Tais kept falling out of the doorless French dune buggies.

Bradley is a Mehari veteran. We keep a blanket in the back to put over his legs, and he pulls his hoodie up to protect the back of his neck from the wind. We made a quick stop at Safeway for a new “Archie” book, and he was settled in for the trip.

Alex, after so many years of riding around in strange Martin Family cars, simply buckled her seatbelt (after asking, reasonably, “Do I really want to be held IN this thing if it starts to have issues?”) and we chatted about the relationship between the 29-horsepower, 602-cc Citroen and our 415-hp, 3,600-cc Porsche Turbo that she recently drove.

The one category where the Mehari was clearly superior was in the “smiles per miles” category.

Although the show began at 9 a.m., we arrived fashionably late — at noon — in the Mehari. Try showing up late with your car at Pebble.

In the world of weird microcars, the Mehari seemed almost normal. While we didn’t win any awards, we did go home happy. Once again, little French car had delivered.

 

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market and bi-monthly American Car Collector magazines, has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and has his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity.

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  1. I can’t believe there is another that looks just like the one I saw a couple of weeks back here in the Charleston area. It was in for a checkup at our local LBC shop. Robert, our resident LBC guru, corrected my friend and I when we mistook the Mehari for a Moke. He went on to explain the many differences between the two models and even tried to help with the correct pronunciation which is difficult if you don’t speak the language!
    Does look like a wonderful car for a Father’s Day outing……