I’m not really a car nut, but I’ll admit that I find car shows really cool — even if I know nothing about the workings of the vehicles that I’m staring googly eyed at. That was the case again this weekend, when I got the chance to head over to the Larz Anderson Car Museum in Brookline for their annual Micro Mini Car Day — a gathering of some of the tiniest vehicles you’ve ever seen. Mini cars are enjoying something of a Renaissance, what with the popularity of the Toyota Prius (the third generation of which are just hitting the streets in the US) as well as the stylish Mini Cooper — which look great (hey, BMW owns the company) but apparently s**k in the snow. There were a few late model Coopers at this show with some nifty chrome enhancements, but the vast majority of the cars on display were 60s and 70s vintage cars from…well…Fiat, for one. That car maker was very well represented. BMW was there, and there were some VWs and Hondas and a Subaru mini-wagon (calling it a mini van would be an overstatement) And then a whole bunch of makers who you’ve probably never heard of (or at least not in the context of car manufacturing): Goggomobile, Zundapp, Isetta, Messerschmitt, Vespa. Really cool stuff. I took a bunch of photos and have posted them below. I’ve posted a bunch more to a Flickr Photostream that you can check out by clicking here.
Now these suckers are small…but are they “green”? Certainly, in terms of tailpipe admissions, they’ve got nothing on the Prius or even a late model gas powered car. But these are no 8 cylinder monstrosities. As the Larz Anderson Museum Web site notes “Most are powered by 1 or 2 cylinder, 2 stroke motorscooter engines.” Think of them like lawnmowers with style. The owner of the Messerschmitt (the cherry red car above that looks like an airplane without wings, including the handlebar/prop style steering wheel), said the car could do 40mph on the highway but that it had direct steering — just like a go-cart — that got very “touchy” at high speed. He said at 40mph, just thinking about lanes was usually enough to get the car to move over, forget about touching the wheel.
The coolest entries were probably the BMW Isettas – tiny, three wheeled bubble shaped cars with hoods that double as front doors. And just to prove that all that’s old is new again, looks like BMW is planning to reintroduce the Isettas with a new design and (presumably) new guts, too.
Detroit, alas, was nowhere to be seen at this show. But judging from the crowds and the enthusiasm for the minis, it wouldn’t hurt GM, Chrysler and Ford to send a few scouts to these shows to get an idea of new directions that might sustain them after the govt. money runs out!