The plastic dome permits excellent visibility, but hot, sunny weather turns it into a sauna
The roots of the Messerschmitt "Kabinenroller" (cab scooter) go back to post-WWII when Fritz Fend designed a car that wheelchair-bound vets returning from WWII could drive. Two major features made the design work for disabled people: The canopy swung open from the side, which allowed an individual to roll up next to the car and transfer out of the wheelchair; and the controls were located on the handlebars (or tiller), allowing the car to be driven without using one's feet. In appearance, it looked like a tiny fighter plane without wings.
Mr. Fend wasn't able to get the car into production because of lack of capital, until he partnered with former employer Willy Messerschmitt, whose idled aircraft factory needed work. The original Fend design was very much a prototype, and Messerschmitt spent a significant amount of time making 175 improvements to the car.
The KR 175 was introduced in 1953, powered by a 174-cc Fichtel & Sachs 2-stroke engine in the tail. It had a tube frame, and suspension was by compressed rubber. Although it received harsh criticism for a rough ride, cramped cockpit, and marginal handling, sales were very good, and approximately 15,000 cars were built from 1953 to '54.
The KR 200 Microcar was introduced in 1954 and was much improved, with better brakes, a 191-cc Sachs engine, and a smoother ride. The KR 200 had hand controls for the first couple of years, but by 1956, the cars came with foot pedals for the gas, clutch, and brake. Turning circle was improved by cutting away front fenders, and a curved windshield improved forward visibility.
The KR 200 Microcar also had a reverse gear, accomplished by starting the engine backwards and putting the car in gear. This led to the discovery that the car could be driven in reverse in all four gears, and it would go faster backwards, because it was more aerodynamic going in that direction.
The KR 200 came with a plastic dome and side sliding plastic windows; the windshield was glass. A roadster, called the KR 201, was also made, although in very low numbers. The Messerschmitt KR 200 Microcar remained in production until 1964, by which time sales had dwindled and Messerschmitt had returned to making airplanes.
|Vehicle:||1961 Messerschmitt KR 200 Microcar|
|Original List Price:||2,500 DM ($600 U.S.) in 1956|
|Tune Up Cost:||$150|
|Engine Number Location:||On gearbox housing|
|Club Info:||Messerschmitt Owners Club Ste. 13, Queensway Business Centre Dunlop Way, Scunthorpe DN16 3RN, UK|
This 1961 Messerschmitt KR 200 Microcar sold for $25,306, including buyer’s premium, at the Bonhams Goodwood Festival of Speed sale in Sussex, England, on July 3, 2009.
Messerschmitts are one of the more interesting microcars. They were made in fairly large numbers (61,308 total) through their eleven-year history. Production breaks down into 19,668 of the 1953-55 KR 175, 41,190 of the 1955-64 KR 200-including a small number of KR 201 convertibles-and around 450 of the hair-raising TG 500 Tiger four-wheelers.
The price for Messerschmitts has slowly increased over the years, but I would say this result is right in line with the current market. Well-restored KR 175 and KR 200 coupes sell between $20,000 and $25,000, while the rare convertible seems to bring almost double that. The four-wheeled TG 500s almost never come to market but would probably top $50,000 in “bubble-top”coupe configuration, with the mythical roadster perhaps 50% above that-if you could find one.
Early survivors sought for their rarity
The KR 175 was the first Messerschmitt, and the crudest, although survivors are now sought after for their rarity. The KR 200 was the most common model, and with ten years of production, English and German clubs are both large and active. Spare parts, both used and reproduction, are readily available.
The KR 200 is a fairly capable microcar; the fact that it was well-engineered made it very reliable. Early customers complained about the harsh ride, and with eight-inch wheels, potholes were best avoided. The Messerschmitt’s tiller is only 32 inches above the street (compared to a Smart car’s steering wheel at 46 inches), so the driver has a roadkill view of traffic, and a bicycle-style flag on a six-foot wand would probably be a good idea.
The Kabinenroller has an 85-inch wheelbase (longer than an MG Midget), so straightline stability is good. Since the top speed is around 60 mph, a confident driver can cruise at 50 mph all day long. And the brakes are okay, an important aspect of avoidance in something that doesn’t tend to win in a coming together. The plastic dome permits excellent visibility, but hot, sunny weather turns it into a sauna, and Messerschmitt actually made a small cover for the plastic dome to reduce the UV blast.
The TG 500 (Tiger) was the ultimate Messerschmitt, as its 2-cylinder 500-cc Sachs engine and independent suspension made it a good handler that could scoot. Top speed was a claimed 85 mph, while hydraulic brakes at last made an appearance to arrest the Tiger’s progress, before it dived under any obstacle in its way.
Messerschmitts are fun to drive, but most owners are unlikely to put 100 miles a year on their cars. Driving one makes you an instant celebrity, as most people have seen nothing like it. They point, wave, and smile, and give you plenty of room on the road, which is much appreciated.
The 1961 Messerschmitt KR 200 was restored more than ten years ago, and it appears to have been done correctly and to a good standard. As a financial investment, this was a fair deal for both buyer and seller. But as SCM has pointed out before, as an investment in automotive pleasure, in terms of smiles per miles per dollar spent, this KR 200 Microcar was surely a blue-chip acquisition.
(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)