It’s time for a little balance to all these big Amerkaner Strassenkreuzer. And what could be a better antidote than a Messerschmitt? Along with the BMW Isetta, they have become icons of the micro-car era in Europe, when the post-war yen to hit the road in anything that had wheels and an engine – no matter how small – was so powerful. The result was a raft of tiny cars, but the Messerschmitt stands out for both its unique tandem seating (1+1), its airplane-style bubble canopy (not leftover ww2 Messerschmitt fighter units, as some have suggested), and for the (relatively) high-performance Tg 500 version.
R0b0tr10t shot these, obviously at a car show in Germany. The Messerschmitt Kabinenroller has an interesting story (like so many new postwar cars in Europe).
It started out as the Fend Flitzer, an invalid carriage initially powered by “rowing” the handlebars back and forth. Soon, a 38cc two-stroke was added. Fend then designed a larger, enclosed car (above), with a larger 98 cc F&S two stroke. About 250 were made, and he sought out a larger manufacturer to increase volume.
That led him to Messerschmitt, which was banned from building airplanes in the immediate postwar era. The vehicle was drastically redesigned, and went into production in 1953 as the Messerschmitt KR 175. The “KR” stands for Kabinenroller, which means scooter with cabin.
In 1956, the substantially improved KR 200 arrived. Its 200cc Fichtel & Sachs two stroke now made 10hp, which gave the KR 200 an alleged top speed of 90 km/h (56 mph). It was a success, and about 12,000 were sold in the first year. In addition to the bubble-top, there was also a Kabrio, with folding top, which both of these examples represent.
In the same year (1956), Messerschmitt was allowed to go back into airplane production, so the Kabinenroller was taken over by FMR, but the Messerschmitt name was continued to be used. The KR’s low center of gravity gave it very good handling. The engine was designed to run forwards and backwards, which meant that it needed no separate reverse gear, as it could use all four of the gears in the sequentially shifted transmission running backwards!
The ultimate evolution of the design was the four-wheeled FMR Tg500. It sported a 500cc F&S two-cylinder two-stroke, which gave it much improved performance.
Top speed was now 78 mph, and the Tg (commonly called “Tiger”) even found itself on the racetrack. But its high price – about the same as an Austin Healey Sprite – doomed it to a small production run; less than 1000 were built between 1958 and 1961). The KR 200 soldiered along until 1964, by which time rising incomes in Germany made it irrelevant.