All images courtesy of The International King Midget Car club: kingmidgetcarclub.org
I know the sight of this vehicle causes about a third of you to say “that’s a lawnmower!” while still another third of you are ogling that panther police car. The remainder of you for whom that does not apply can read on.
King Midget was started in 1946 by Claud Dry and Dale Orcutt in Athens, Ohio. Their dream, like many of the time, was to build a car that anyone could afford to buy. Their first attempt, the Model One, was offered only as a kit car, which contained the frame, axles, and steering mechanism, along with plans for bending your own sheet metal. The resulting vehicle was as simple as it was small, having beam axles and no differential with only one wheel being driven. The partners also published a bi-monthly catalog with government surplus wheels, engines, bearings, and other things that purchasers of the kits would need to complete their cars, in addition to their main business at the time, motor scooters. Eventually, they began to offer complete cars with a six horsepower Wisconsin engine.
After nine prototypes were built, the Model Two was released in 1951. It grew to resemble more of a “normal” car in form, if not in size. Powered by a seven and half horsepower Wisconsin engine, it still lacked a reverse gear and a starter motor, although it did offer an automatic transmission, and like the Model T was only available in a single color purchased from Ford’s suppliers. $500 got you a 500 pound car, either as a kit or fully assembled. Options included such luxury items as the previously mentioned starter, reverse gear, a choice of Philippine mahogany or steel doors, and other options designed to make it seem like a more typical American automobile. In the era where safety equated to bigger being better, it seemed most of the excitement that the slogan promised consisted of avoiding accidents (“Hey lady, get a real car!”). Its 102 inch body rode on a seventy-two inch wheelbase, compared to an eighty-inch wheelbase and 145 inch body for a Crosley or the 115 inch wheelbase of a chassis supporting a Chevrolet’s 197.5 inch body.
Perhaps sensing this, the owners began to diversify. A golf model was offered, as well as the ‘junior’ models to help indoctrinate youngsters into the wonderful world of motoring.
In 1957, the third and final King Midget was offered. This generation gained unit body construction, four-wheel hydraulic brakes, and a nine and half horsepower Wisconsin engine. Like most cars of the time, it grew with a 76.5 inch wheelbase and a 117 inch body that retailed for $900. This body style remained in production until the end in 1970, albeit with improvements such as metal doors, a twelve horsepower Kohler engine, and a vinyl folding top.
Things pretty much kept on as is until 1966, when Mr. Orcutt and Mr. Dry wanted to retire and sold the business to group of investors, who promptly turned the production line to full tilt, heedless of the fact that they had purchased a niche business. The red ink flowed and the investors headed to the door to collect their golden parachutes. The plant’s manager, Vernon Eads, tired to revive the business with a trendy fiberglass dune buggy-style body and a new plant in Florida, but a fire destroyed the mold, bringing production to a halt after twenty-five years. One wonders how much longer they could have continued with the increasing emphasis on safety that the 1970s brought.
The spare-parts business has survived to the present day with several changes in ownership. That, and an enthusiastic owners’ club guarantee that the King Midget will be a part of the American automotive landscape for years to come.
links : The International King Midget Car Club Midget Motors Supply
I really wanted a King Miget after I saw one riding around the area of Pittsburgh where we lived. I even sent for the Brochure, for a small charge, which I still have some where areound in the attic.
Safety issues aside, given the growth of the physical size of the population, could many even fit inside one of these today?
Although King Midget was legendary for their cheap ads in the back of Popular Science magazine, I cannot say I remember ever seeing one, live. Thanks for the look back!
The 1957 and up model is pretty cool. Like something Tex Avery would have drawn.
Saw two of these at a meet at the Gilmore a few weeks ago.
One had the original engine, the other had been upgraded.
I recognized them, but couldn’t remember from where, until the owner started listing the magazines there were advertised in: Popular Mechanics, Mechanix Illustrated, and the brain cell fired…I had had a subscription to MI in 62
He described the drivetrain, which, to me, sounded like a lawn tractor.
They don’t even have shocks. He bounced one corner to demostrate the lack of damping.
All in all, those two Midgets were the most interesting things at the show.
So far I have only seen pictures of the King Midget 1 in coffee table books. I would rank it lower than a Cabin Scooter. The Messerschmitt had room for two. But models 2 and 3 appear to be quite respectable. Their choice of engines might make it lesser cars compared to the bubble cars and the Goggomobile. They have rag tops which may be more fun than a Goggo.
King midgets would be great vehicles for golf cart communities today.
Thanks for this article.
Thanks to CC, now after almost 30 years I finally know that the strange little car that I had as a kid back in the 80s was one of this or something mighty close. A friend of my dad back in the mid 80s, had this strange little car very similar to the one in picture number 5 but in red. He had have it for a long time but at the time it was gathering dust and taking space in his garage so he give it to my dad. It had a Kohler one cylinder engine in the rear, that was the same as the one used in some of the small portable cement mixers.
It had a centrifugal clutch and a chain drive to the right rear wheel. It also had a lever under the seat to select between forward, neutral and reverse. I also remember that it also had a starter/generator . It started the engine and once started it functioned as a generator. My dad later took the car to a mechanic that installed an alternator but keep the starter/generator to be used only as a starter. I helped my dad replace the rusted steel floor with one made from zinc.
After my dad died in 89, my step dad took the from my grandparents house to the yard of his business with the intention of me having a place to restore it in the weekends. Sadly my interest in the car died after my dad died, so after a time my step-dad gave the car away to some friend of his and I never saw it again.
These look more like kiddie cars than adult cars. Anyone between the age of 10 and 15 yrs old could drive something like this, possibly learning how to safely drive until they’re old enough to learn to drive the family car. 🙂
I guess you could still make the legal for the street a lot of places. I built an electric trike that would have qualified here in Texas but don’t know if you could take them on the freeways. Who would want to.
Have seen them in the metal but mostly in parades of days gone by. Sort of like the shriners minibikes. Personally never wanted one of the little one wheel drive wonders. Still don’t. Very interesting though. Thanks Jana.
Thanks for this very unique feature, Jana.
You’re welcome. I knew it was not everyone’s cup of tea.
While I would run screaming at the thought of having to own or drive one of these, I certainly don’t mind at all spending a few minutes reading about them. I too remember seeing ads for them in Popular Science etc., but seldom seeing an actual example.
saw the picture of a model1 (with the guy in the crown). brings back memories of oneI had from 1949 till1960. Learned to drive in that thing. I remember Dad and I at about age 6 driving public roads with it.Wanted a street car and let it get away. Wish I still had it, don’t even have a picture.
7hp is not much, but remember the first 2CV’s had like 9-10hp, and they were intended for 4 passengers!
I was following an Austin 7 in traffic the other day 4 on board, it was actually moving not quickly though.
I would like to see what a loaded up early VW bus moves like with 6 or 7 passengers on board.
I saw a BMW Isetta 300 being driven in traffic yesterday. Pretty sure I’d never seen that before. I think King Midgets were pretty popular with Shriners. I don’t think I’ve seen them in use for any other reason.
I assume the platitude “worlds most exciting small car” was sourced internally?
a million dollar engine in a 50 cent car ..love that ,there great want one
I’ll have 2,one for each foot!
You don’t get in it, you wear it.
Saw one at a show a few years back. I get the midget part, they’re tiny. King…not so much. Pretty cool to see though!
A cousin of mine had one of these. I remember riding in it once when I was very young. He was disabled and I think he found it easier to transfer from his wheelchair to the King Midget than to a regular car. Don’t ask me how or where he got the chair into the Midget.
I wanted one like the blue one when I was about 9 years old, but my father said wait another 8 years and buy a real car.Looks like fun though.