Provided you can acclimate yourself to the leisurely pace of this type of very small, very old car, the motoring can be delightful

Frankfurt-based Adler was a bicycle manufacturer in the nineteenth century, turning later to the production of motorcycles, cars and the typewriters with which the Adler name is most commonly associated today. A highly respected firm in its native Germany, Adler was already manufacturing automobile components for others when it introduced its first motor car—a Renault-influenced, De Dion Bouton-powered voiturette—in 1900. Within a few years, the company was making its own single- and twin-cylinder engines. By 1910, the Adler range was powered exclusively by 4-cylinder units.

The Edwardian Adler was conventional in all major respects although generally featured only a hand-operated throttle which is surprisingly easy to use. The Kleinwagen (little car), introduced in 1911, was a successful attempt to bridge the gap between the rather fragile contemporary cyclecars and Adler’s own 1.8-liter, 12-horsepower model. The Kleinwagen was powered with a 4-cylinder, side-valve engine with bore and stroke of 65 mm x 98 mm, displacing 1,292 cc. Spark was by magneto, a Zenith carburetor was adopted and a water pump fitted, while other chassis features included a 3-speed gearbox with right-hand gate change, shaft and bevel final drive, transmission foot brake, rear wheel hand-brake and semi-elliptic suspension front and rear. Contemporary road test figures spoke of 50 mph and 38 mpg. The British importers were Morgan & Co. of Leighton Buzzard, whose main business was coachbuilding. It is said that the Kleinwagen was generally re-bodied by Morgan for sale in the U.K., as the original German coachwork fell short in the styling department. This may well be one such car re-bodied by Morgan prior to sale in the U.K.

A supplier’s plaque advises that this car was supplied by Chilvers Motor Garage Co. of Lockwood Road, Huddersfield, and the car was first registered in that town. In the 1950s, this car was owned by VCC North-Eastern Section member G.H. Taylor, a former Brooklands driver, and then passed into the ownership of Herman Horsfield of Halifax—well known for executing replica Barker barrel-sided coachwork on vintage Rolls-Royce chassis. During the 1950s, 60s and 70s, this car was actively rallied, as witnessed by the plethora of rally plaques displayed on the dashboard and within the car. Notably it took part in the VCC Silver Jubilee Event in 1955, the Austin Golden Jubilee Rally that year, the very first VCC Scottish Rally in 1959 and rallied also on the Isle of Man and in the Norwegian Fjords.

The car is equipped with acetylene headlamps with running board generator, oil side lamps and a double twist bulb horn. Fans of the film “Genevieve” will understand why the car carries a brass plaque identifying itself as “Larry.” Prospective buyers of this car should note the quality of Adler engineering throughout.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1913 Adler 1.3-Liter Kleinwagen
Years Produced:1911-1920
Number Produced:unknown
Original List Price:unknown
SCM Valuation:$35,000-$50,000
Tune Up Cost:$250
Chassis Number Location:Right side of firewall
Club Info:Adler Motor Veteranen Club, Hoisdorfer Landstrasse 113, 22927 Grosshandorf, DE

?This car sold for $46,806 (£29,325) including buyer’s premium at the Bonhams Harrogate, U.K., sale on November 17, 2010.

If you have ever heard of Adler cars at all, chances are you visualize the superbly wacky streamlined race cars which ran at Le Mans in the 1930s. Based on Adler’s front-wheel- drive Trumpf model, the Rennlimousine Competition was a pioneering 1.5-liter aerodynamic racer which finished 7th overall and won its class in the 1938 running of the 24 Hours. Adler cars had been raced since the 1920s and had built up a considerable reputation for reliability as a result.

By the time Adler had introduced its last new model car in 1937, the company had come a fair way from the rudimentary vehicles with which it had begun. The front- wheel-drive cars were highly regarded and successful in the marketplace, as were Adler’s motorcycles.

Adler was one of the pioneer manufacturers of motor vehicles, adding cars alongside bicycles in their lineup during the first decade of the 20th century. These early cars were not very different from other small-displacement offerings from Citroën to Morris to Le Zèbre to Peugeot. Peugeot’s Bébé, of course, had the considerable advantage of an Ettore Bugatti-designed engine and chassis, which lifted it a measure above most of its competition. The Adler Kleinwagen appears to be a totally ordinary car, with no hint of the sophistication the company would bring to the small car market in the decade and a half to come.

Can you drive it with friends?

In my observation, usability remains a key market motivator, which can be very dependent on geographic location. Indeed, if you look at the cars in various segments which have a truly international market, such as the Mercedes-Benz 300SL and all manner of Ferrari 250s, you’ll find that it’s largely because they can be used in some sociable fashion.

High on the list are vintage rallies, racing and tours; most in the U.S. are best tackled in cars with some performance. Even if you are on an Antique Automobile Club of America tour, it’s not a lot of fun to have to drive all day while everyone else stops for lunch and snacks—and still find yourself the last to arrive. In the U.K., a thriving “trials” scene accommodates a vast number of very small, very old and very slow cars. However, this particular passion for slogging up muddy hills on cart tracks has proven difficult to export, much like a taste for Marmite. As mentioned in the catalog copy, the dashboard and passenger kick panel are indeed covered with elaborate event plaques, testament to the active use this car had in the past.

Reported to have been laid up for many years, this example was stated to require recommissioning before use. Such work is not likely to be very expensive on such a simple car, so the price paid doesn’t seem to be outrageous—if the new owner lives in a place where it can actually see the kind of use it saw back in the 1970s.

One particularly cute touch is the “Larry” name badge on the dash cowling. This is a nod to the great English vintage motoring movie “Genevieve,” whose musical score was written by composer Larry Adler. Get it?

It appeared to be in very sound cosmetic condition, with simple but attractive bodywork, brass trim and folding top.

A thriving club scene

A very active supporter of the marque is the Adler-Motor-Veteranen-Club of Germany. The club counts over 450 members, most in Germany, but others in 20 other nations including the U.S. Aimed at collectors and enthusiasts of both Adler cars and motorcycles, it organizes tours around Germany for two- and four-wheeled vehicles. The club also offers assistance on restoration questions and is a clearinghouse for spare parts exchange. Photos of many of their gatherings in various countries can be seen on their website.

The appeal of these often-charming small cars from 1910 through the 1920s has been growing, and they even have begun to appear at auction in the U.S. They can be an inexpensive way for enthusiasts to get a vintage car, and, provided you can acclimate to the leisurely pace they provide, the motoring can be delightful. That the market for Model T Fords has gone from completely flat to simmering is an example of this trend. This Adler was previously sold by Bonhams in December 2008 at London for £24,150 ($37,118 at December 2008 exchange rates), so it certainly has held its value, as it was in need of recommissioning at that time as well.

While this Kleinwagen is not a particularly important model in the history of Adler, it is nevertheless an attractive and appealing example of the genre and certainly more unusual than a Citroën, Morris or Peugeot. If its new owner can find a way to use it as it was driven 30 years ago, it will have been well bought.

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