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.