Curbside Classic: King Midget Model 3 (1957-1970)

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[All photos by the author, unless noted]

By the end of World War II, Americans were desperate for new cars. Production of civilian cars ceased early in 1942, so that factories could produce war materiel, and pre-war cars were getting worn out. Major manufacturers resumed production as quickly as possible, excited for the forthcoming post-war prosperity.

Not everyone believed the post-war period would be prosperous, however. It was commonly thought that all of the war debt would plunge America right back in to a new Depression. With that thinking in mind, business partners Dale Orcutt and Claud Dry began building (first in kit form, but soon followed by fully-assembled models) America’s first economy car, the King Midget.

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[King Midget Model I. Photo credit: Hemmings Motor News.]

The first model introduced by Midget Motor Corporation was a single-seater, resembling a miniature version of the “quarter midget” race cars of the day. Approximately 500 were sold by mail-order. The cars were advertised in the back of magazines like Popular Science and Mechanix Illustrated. A glowing review by “Uncle” Tom McCahill in the January 1950 issue of Mechanix Illustrated was a great boost to sales. However, potential buyers wrote to the company hoping for a two-seater car, and thus came…

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[The Model 2. Popular Science cover obtained via Google Books]

The Model 2 introduced such niceties (some optional, depending on year of manufacture) as reverse gear, electric starter, safety-glass windshield, top, heater, speedometer, and turn signals. Like the Model 1, the new car was powered by single-cylinder engines, usually a Wisconsin 7.5hp. It is estimated that 1500 of this model were built, during the period 1951-1956.

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1957 saw the introduction of the new Model 3. This model would take the company to the end of production in 1970. The all-new design featured unibody construction (sort of; the body and the frame were simply welded together at the factory), as well as 4-wheel hydraulic brakes.

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 Improvements over the course of the model run included replacing the 7.5hp Wisconsin engine with a 12hp Kohler, for a 50% power increase!  Other upgrades included 12 volt electrical system, electric windshield wiper, windshield washer, and even a radio.

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The interior was stark, at best. The stripes and two-tone upholstery are custom touches. The door pulls are used to both close and un-latch the doors. This is basic transportation at its finest.

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By 1965, sales were lagging, and there was no money for a fresh design. The company’s founders, Dale Orcutt and Claud Dry, were nearing retirement age, with no one to pass the company on to. They put the company up for sale, and it was purchased outright by a King Midget enthusiast. However, his financing wasn’t very solid, and sales were down, largely due to the aging design and increasing price. There is some conjecture that pending safety standards would have reduced sales to kit-only form, but in reality, the run was over for the King Midget.

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Sadly, the subject car doesn’t even appear to be a “real” King Midget at all, but a Model 3 body dropped on a golf cart chassis. The above under-body shots show features that were never available from the Midget Motors factory, such as rack-and-pinion steering, disc brakes, and 10″ wheels and tires. The shifter in the car appears to be of the standard golf cart “F-N-R” variety. Nonetheless, the odds of finding an all-original King Midget at the curbside are virtually nil, so one takes what one gets. And while it is indeed parked by the curb, the plates expired in 2012. This King Midget is intended to attract customers to the owner’s business, along with a 1941 Chevrolet COE pickup, a 1941 Chevrolet Suburban, and a “Vanette” van, Powered by Ford, of indeterminate year.

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[The badge is original. The hood ornament is decidedly not.]

Author’s note: Most of the historical information in this post comes from  the website of The International King Midget Car Club, Inc., with additional information from King Midgets West Publishing.