Tiny Pioneers: German Museum Celebrates Vintage Microcars

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A German collector has opened a museum to exhibit his treasured vintage microcars. For a while, they were a popular and affordable alternative to motorbikes during Germany's postwar economic miracle. Though long-forgotten, the little wonders of innovation and engineering may soon be reborn.

Photo Gallery: Collector Shows Off His Vintage Dwarf Cars Photos
Tom Grünweg

There's a key advantage to setting up a museum for microcars -- "they take up much less space than big cars," says Stefan Voit, standing in a hall lined with tiny vintage vehicles neatly arranged on shelves and waiting to be restored or polished before being exhibited next door in his museum, located in St. Ingbert, Saarland.

Voit has always appreciated modesty. Here's how the engineer, 68, spent his first vacation: "We went to the Black Forest with camping gear and supplies for more than a week. In an NSU Prinz."

So it's no surprise that his heart beats for microcars like that West German model rather than luxury limousines. Voit has collected a fleet of more than 50 of them over the last two decades. It all began when he bought a Messerschmitt Cabin Scooter. After that, he couldn't stop.

"I read more and more about the subject and kept meeting more people and suddenly there were opportunities all over the place," recalls Voit.

Another advantage of small cars is that they're relatively cheap. "For the money I pay for a complete car, a Porsche or Mercedes collector won't even get fenders," he says.

Models from Around the World

Voit was initially only interested in German specimens but he soon broadened his horizon. "Anyone who had a Renault 4CV as his first car can't igore French models," he says. A 4CV adorns corner of his museum even though it's a little bigger than the rest of his collection.

He went on to purchase a Bond made in Britain, several Fiats from Itay, a DAF from the Netherlands, a Meister from Austria, and recently acquired an Alvis from the US. The latter already had an electric engine.

Most of the brands are long-gone and forgotten by most people apart from avid fans like Voit. He admires the inventiveness shown by the producers of microcars all those decades ago.

The Spatz, for example, consists of a plastic chassis made of only two parts. And the first wholly aluminum chassis was used on a mini-roadster from Kleinschnittger. Then there was the world's first car with an engine in the center of the vehicle, built in the 1950s. The Zündapp Janus looks identical from the front and the back, and its 14-horsepower single-cylinder engine is placed precisely in the center of the car between the arm rests of the front and rear seats, which are placed back to back.

Microcars Heralded Germany's Economic Miracle

"A new industry was created from scratch in the postwar era," says Voit. The small cars produced in the 1950s and 1960s were technically excellent pieces of work made by individualists who passionately pursued their dreams. These men and their models got the German economic miracle going, says Voit.

"Driven by the desire to arrive at work in a crisp white shirt and clean trousers, these little cars pushed aside the motorbike and spearheaded the growth of the car industry," says Voit. But when sales of bigger cars began to flourish, the microcar industry died.

The museum is a cemetery of car brands. Makers like Goggo, Meyra, Kleinschnittger, Gutbrod, Maico, Lloyd or Fuldamobile have long since ceased to exist. But the idea of the microcar is enjoying a renaissance. The International Motor Show in Frankfurt last September displayed a range of vehicles that continue the tradition: the VW Nils, Opel RAK-e or Audi Urban Concept. But so, far, they're all just studies.

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