Museum Classics: Jesada Technik Museum – Part 3: The Stranger Stuff

For our final foray through the copious collection at Jesada Technik Museum, let’s look at those exhibits that might be categorized under “Other” – two- and three wheelers, microcars, bubble cars, kei cars and other exotic vehicles. Because sometimes, it’s just too damn common to have four seats, four wheels and four cylinders. Time to change the paradigm and Lilliput a little originality in our lives.

As we saw in part one, this collection started off with a Messerschmitt KR200 (1955-64). So it was only natural for Khun Jesada, while assembling this outstanding array of vehicles, to buy a few more of these distinctive machines.

Even in the wild world of ‘50s microcars, the Messer trikes really stand out, with that cockpit-like canopy, tandem layout and crazy styling. No respectable microcar collection should be without one, so of course this museum had several. In fact, “the more the merrier” seems to be the overarching theme here.

Take the 1957-58 Zündapp Janus, for instance. These are not just extremely bizarre, they’re also very rare: only about 6900 were made. I had never seen one before I went to visit this museum. This innovative machine has a centrally-mounted 1-cyl. two-stroke 250cc, two bench seats back to back and a door on either end.

And of course, the Jesada Museum has two of the bloody things. What is more, they both seem to have twin steering wheels. I haven’t been able to find any similar period photos, so I assume this is either a prank, or (if the rear steering actually works) a later modification. Either way, it’s even harder to tell whether this thing is coming or going.

Next to one of the Zündapps was a British-made Trojan 200 (1960-66). Here’s the interior of that strange automobile. The Trojan had three wheels for tax reasons, but many Continental bubble-cars had four. However, this car is not to be confused with the BMW Isetta, which was also built under license in the UK (with three wheels). The Trojan’s original version is the Heinkel below.

So here’s the 1956-58 Heinkel Kabine – another German aircraft maker turned bubble-car manufacturer after 1945. This was not an Isetta, but a good imitation. One of the key differences is the steering column, which is hinged and attached to the door on the Isetta, while it’s just straight planted on the floor in the Heinkel. Other than the British Trojan, Heinkels were also made in Ireland and Argentina until 1961. Altogether, about 26,000 Heinkels were made in these four countries.

Our next bubble is a true Isetta – inasmuch as it was licensed directly by Iso and used the Italian company’s engine. This Isetta Velam was made from 1955 to 1958 at the Talbot-Lago factory near Paris. Iso had sold off the Isetta’s body dies to BMW, so Velam made their own design.

Finally, here’s the one that really outsold all the others: the BMW Isetta. Just compare the numbers: Iso sold about a thousand Isettas in Italy (1953-55); Velam made about 7000 in France. BMW built over 160,000 of these from 1955 to 1962. And that’s what kept the Munich factory busy while their precious V8 models were failing to garner any sales.

Well, there was also the BMW 600. Made from 1956 to 1959, this stretched Isetta had little to recommend it. Too big to be a microcar and too weird to be a proper car, it did not do very well and was unceremoniously axed when the BMW 700 arrived.

The undisputed champion of the microcar category was probably the Glas Goggomobil. It certainly had a strong following, both at home and abroad. Launched in 1955, this little wunderkind enabled its maker to step up its game and enter the big car market, famously pushing their luck from microcar to stylish V8 coupé in a decade. But Glas had bit off more than they could chew and were bought out by BMW in late 1966. The Goggo was the last one to go(go), leaving the Dingolfing factory in 1969.

Let’s stick with the ‘50s vibe with the 1958-61 Vespa 400. These were made in France, oddly enough, but had a Piaggio engine. With its two seats, the Vespa 400 was better than a scooter, but not as practical as a 2CV or a 4CV, particularly as the two-stroke engine required mixing in oil with gasoline. By this point in time, most French drivers didn’t care for these shenanigans, so the Vespa car faded pretty quickly. Pity, it was a rather neat little thing.

Over in England, as the Cold War began, a new three-wheeler was gaining popularity. The name was Bond. Bond Minicar. Licensed to thrill. I believe the white car to be a 1951-52 Minicar Mark B, while the grey one looks like a 1956-58 Mark D. Both of these used a two-stroke 197cc Villiers single.

Bond were captured by arch-rival SPECTRE Reliant in 1969. “Do you exshpect me to talk?” asked Bond. “No, Little Bond, I expect you to die!” replied Reliant. And so the Bond range was nixed in 1970 in favour of the Bond Bug, which was based on a chopped Reliant Regal chassis. But the peculiar fiberglass body was all-new, with a face only Dr No, an entomologist, could love. The idea was to create a trendy and sporty three-wheeler. Sheer madness, and an oxymoron for any company not named Morgan. But you only live twice – the Bug experiment, along with the Bond name, was terminated in 1974.

Another British competitor in the field was Peel. They called this one the Trident (Maserati probably didn’t give a fork) and made a grand total of 45 units in 1965-66. Characteristically, this museum has two. That’s borderline hoarding. Aside from their extreme scarcity, these were exceptional in many other ways: 190cm (73 in.) long for 150 kg (330 lbs), propelled by 4.2 hp provided by a 1-cyl. 49cc DKW moped engine. And that bubble top just looks amazing.

Meanwhile, in Japan, the kei car boom was happening thanks to such outstanding cars as the 1967-70 Honda N360. I caught one of these lovelies in France not too long ago, so if you want to know more (which of course you do), click right this way.

Ah, the infamous Subaru 360, for those folks who thought a VW Beetle was just too much car. It was deemed unsafe in the US when Malcolm Briklin tried selling it in the late ‘60s. Well, if you pit one of these against a 4-tonne Continental, of course. Still, Subaru made close to 400,000 of these from 1958 to 1971, so it wasn’t seen as a deathtrap by everyone.

How about something a bit more left-field? The Czechoslovak Velorex, for instance. This leather/canvas-clad contraption began production around 1945 and was reserved for handicapped drivers. These all seem to be the later Model 16 (1963-71) – by far the most common type, as over 20,000 were made. Powered by ČZ or Jawa engines, these are still extremely popular in their home country. And in this museum too, obviously.

For those who prefer metal on their microcars, the Mini Comtesse (1970-84) had you covered. However, since it could be driven without a license, these were limited to 50cc, but available with three or four wheels. These French Voiturettes sans permis (VSP, license-free microcars) became something of a national niche, with several marques (e.g. Aixam, Ligier, Châtenet, Duport) competing for dominance.

One of the earliest iterations of the modern VSP concept was the Willam, created in 1967 by the French distributor of Lambretta. These used 125-175cc engines though, so you needed a license. That did not prevent Willam from finding some measure of success with their models, which were also produced in Italy as “Lawil” (with a whopping 250cc) until the marque died out in 1988.

Here’s a row of Mardens – another French VSP. This marque, which was active in the ‘70s and ‘80s, was one of the first to put Diesel engines in microcars. Nowadays, nearly all combustion-engined VSPs use Diesels, which can go up to 500cc.

Not all microcars were French, of course. Launched in 1980, the Italian BMA Nuova Amica was also available with a 360cc Diesel or a 250cc petrol engine. This one seems to be a restyled model from the ‘90s, after BMA were taken over by Grecav. Next to the Amica, two red Tomcars, another ephemeral French effort.

When’s the last time you saw a Danish car? Ok, the term “car” has to be stretched a bit (unlike the car), but the City Mini EL was produced in Denmark from 1987 to around 1995, when it crossed over to Germany. This single-seater EV is still being made; the current ones have kept the same look.

We’re now entering the “miscellaneous” section of the museum. This area was such an incredible jumble of bikes and scooters that it was impossible to tell what was what. The only ones I have some first-hand experience with are the Solex, with their interesting front engine (the black bikes in the top pic). The Solex retains its bicycle pedals and chain, making it either a push bike, a FWD moped or a 2×2 hybrid if you cycle with the engine on (i.e. going uphill).

There were also a few rickshaws, which are less common in Thailand nowadays than in most neighbouring countries. The ones I’ve seen in places like Cambodia, Vietnam or Myanmar each have their own specificities. I haven’t been to Bangladesh, but it looks like they favour highly colourful tussles and elaborate paintwork throughout – seats included.

And if the bubble-cars are too grown up for you, there was a wall full of vintage pedal cars. Seems like the Jeep really made an impression on toy manufacturers, back in the day.

Finally, a couple of pickup trikes that deserve a quick mention. This one is a total mystery to me – it’s ancient, mostly wood. That engine placement is about as crude as it gets – as is the rest. It’s LHD, so probably German from the ‘20s or ‘30s. Any ideas?

A little bit of digging on the web gave me the low-down on this one, though. This is a Tempo A400, made in Hamburg from 1938 to 1948. These were even made during the darkest period of the war and amidst the devastation that followed, as they were the only trucks available domestically. This one seems to pre-date 1944, when the side louvres changed.

So there you have it – a full report on the Jesada Technik Museum, just to save you the trouble of going there yourself. If you ever come to Bangkok, I still recommend you give it a go, unless you’re really allergic to teeny tiny cars, dodgy restorations and rust-buckets.

It’s great to see all these familiar cars (as well as a few rarities, such as the Tatra T600) up close. There were only two other visitors while I was there, so baking alone inside that steaming hangar full of old metal was definitely a most contemplative experience. If the overall message of Buddhism is indeed to be “one with everything,” this place was the most Buddhist car museum ever. Except it’s “two of everything.”


Related posts:


Museum Classics: Stubble of the Dubble Bubble – The Bruce Weiner Microcar Museum, by Ed Stembridge

Car Show Classics: Some Major Microcars At Motorclassica, by JohnH875

The Ultimate CC Auction: The Ron Hackenberger Collection – Oddball Classic Cars Galore, by David Saunders