Who’s a Mister Softee, Then?

At first glance I’d have to say very well sold indeed, but what price can you put on fun? Maybe it’s a bargain

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This month’s “American Profile” is going to take a tiptoe amongst the automotive daisies, the puff and fluff of the market.

Along with the heavy hitters at RM’s February 15-17 Fort Lauderdale, Florida, auction-like the 1958 Mercedes-Benz 300SL for $495,000, the 1938 Brunn-bodied Packard for $187,000, and even the 1966 Batmobile for $134,000-there was a positive flurry of microcars.

And for a change, it was American microcars that held center stage, rather than the usual Fiat Jolly, Messerschmitt KR200, and Isetta 300, which were there as well.

1951 Cushman Ice Cream Cart

The daffiest microcar to be seen was a (literally) tastefully constructed 1951 Cushman Ice Cream Cart, daringly offered without reserve after a full mechanical restoration and complete with a candy stripe umbrella.

Powered by a 9-horsepower, single-cylinder, Cushman Eagle scooter engine, the tricycle cart sported six stools for diners around a centrally mounted stainless steel freezer-cum-countertop, more or less under the umbrella (which mostly protects the driver).

Donnie Gould of Ft. Lauderdale built the cart. It’s his second and he’s planning to make more. “This one’s better than the first, and I’ll take it up another notch for the next one,” he said. “I sold the first one at another RM auction and I gave away 1,300 popsicles.”

Capable of 15 mph, the cart was also advertised as being able to double as “The Margaritaville Express”-presumably once the sun is over the yard arm.

The SCM Analysis

This Cushman Ice Cream Cart sold for $30,800 at RM’s sale, surely a record for an ice cream truck.

Cushman scooters and their utilitarian three- and four-wheeled companions were built in Lincoln, Nebraska, from 1935 to 1977. They have a dedicated fan base, and Cushman scooters routinely trade in the $4,500-$6,500 range, even with sidecars. Even the Trucksters and Servi-cars driven by meter maids, the Post Office Mailsters, or golf cars seldom bring much more.

The only concern I’d have is being on one of those bar stools when the Cushman cart is in motion. I’d say very well sold indeed, but what price can you put on fun? Maybe it’s a bargain.

Ice cream has a worldwide appeal anyway. My old friend John Clements drove a 1971 Bedford “Creamy Treats” ice cream truck on a rally from Plymouth in England to Banjul, Gambia, in West Africa in 2005. It was raffled for $3,000 for charity on its arrival and “it was at work on the beach the next day,” he recalled.

1932 Custer 3-Wheel Cart

Levitt Custer was a Dayton, Ohio, inventor whose ideas ranged from a statoscope (to measure rise and fall of aircraft) to the floating Custer paddlewheel cycle familiar in fairgrounds. This Custer cart also evolved from a fairground ride and was recently rebuilt with a modern Honda engine and electric start. It also has a headlight, taillights, and horn.

The SCM Analysis

This Custer Cart sold for $5,775, at RM’s sale. These cars were developed from a 1925 amusement park ride and available with electric power or gasoline engines.

If there’s such a thing as a microcar hot rod, this would be it, and with modern Honda power you should be able to smoke the other residents of Sun City-on or off the golf course. No harm at this price and a good conversation piece. It looks as though the controls might not be intuitive, but the turning circle must be better than a London taxi’s.

1967 King Midget Roadster

From 1946 to 1970, Midget Motors produced “The World’s Most Exciting Small Car,” essentially without change for a quarter century. Powered by a 12-horsepower Kohler engine, this roadster runs and drives like new, thanks to a complete mechanical restoration. The upholstery, cardboard dashboard, and weather equipment are all original, and with just 10,300 miles from new, this King Midget remains in remarkable condition.

The SCM Analysis

This King Midget sold for $6,600 at RM’s sale. That’s top money, from recent auction reports.

This car benefits from the upgraded 12-horsepower Kohler engine introduced in 1966, so it’s good for about 50 mph. The engine drives one rear wheel, obviating the need for a differential. The King Midget cost about $500 in the mid-’50s and was intended to be the cheapest car you could buy in the U.S. It certainly succeeded, being quite as crude as its European equivalents.

What is curious is that it survived so long in the U.S., while microcars elsewhere were buried by the Mini, the Citroën 2CV, Renault 4L, and other relatively sophisticated offerings. The mileage may be low, but it would certainly SEEM like you’d traveled a long way.. I’d say very well sold.

1947 Crosley 90 CN

One-of-a-kind, custom-built parade car styled to resemble a 1920s roadster. Fully restored and fitted with rumble seat, trunk, and rear-mounted spare.

The SCM Analysis

This car sold for $4,180 at RM’s sale.

I don’t know exactly how much of a real Crosley lurked underneath this fakey-doo body beyond the motor, but Powell Crosley must be rotating in his grave. As a creative, original thinker, what would he think of this cross between a Tupperware Shay Model A and a Rolls-Royce golf cart? The puffy quilted interior appears to have been ripped from the back of some poor homeless person. Perfect for Shriners’ parades and probably where it’s headed. Either that or somebody with a blown-up Hot Shot can’t believe his luck.

Meanwhile from Europe

At this event, the American microcars were a bargain. A 1961 Fiat Jolly made $70,400, a 1958 Isetta $39,600, a 1957 Messerschmitt KR200 $28,050, a 1928 Austin Chummy $24,750, and a 1951 Fiat Topolino $15,750. Only a 1954 Reliant Regal 3-wheeler seemed like a buy at $7,700, and you’d be driving all available spares, at that.

So at least on this day, in this place, if you had to have a microcar, “buying American” seemed the shrewd way to go.

Paul Duchene

Paul Duchene - SCM Contributor

Paul grew up in England and has been riding, driving (and mostly writing about) cars and motorcycles since 1958, when he bought a 1939 James Autocycle for $5. He’s written for daily newspapers and magazines for 40 years, including the Chicago Tribune and New York Times, and has owned upwards of 200 cars and 30 motorcycles, most of which survived to be sold. His daily driver is a 1984 Cadillac Seville in Palomino Firemist, but on sunny days you’ll find him grinning over the windshield of a 1968 Siata Spring.

Posted in American