Along with 1950s/60s contemporaries like the Isetta, the three-wheeled Messerschmitt KR200 was one of the original microcars. The car continues to have a following half a century later, so much so that a pair of designers have developed a unique tribute. The Veloschmitt is styled like the original bubble car, but relies on a pedelec bicycle platform in place of the two-stroke engine build.
With the growth in number of tiny, efficient city cars over recent years, it's easy to forget that the tiny commuter car's history is much longer and richer than today's mini-electric. The likes of the BMW Isetta, Peel P50 and Messerschmitt KR200 flooded the market during the original microcar boom back in the 1950s and 60s.
A preeminent authority on microcars, the Georgia-based Bruce Weiner Microcar Museum once boasted the largest collection in the world. Last February, Weiner auctioned off his collection, which included a number of KR200 models. The RM Auctions event included around 200 microcars in total and brought in more than US$9 million, and setting a $332,000 world record for a microcar auction price with the F.M.R. Tg 500 "Tiger," a KR200 sibling. The museum describes the climate that led to the post-WWII microcar boom on its website:
"The population collectively rolled up its sleeves and went to work. The astonishing rebuilding of an entire continent over a period of ten years was accomplished through a unity of spirit and purpose unimaginable today. Bright, talented engineers, many out of the former aircraft industry, put their minds to the problems of mobilizing the population under adverse conditions.
It's said that the true master reveals himself within limitations and so this focusing of energy and talent resulted in an enormous variety of small vehicles; some successful, others less so – but all of them interesting! The microcar or "bubble car" came to symbolize this period of renewed energy and pulling together."
German engineer Fritz Fend was one of those former aircraft industry workers that was left scrambling for projects to apply his skills to in an environment of post-war manufacturing restrictions. He spent the years following the war designing small, rough three-wheelers built for use by disabled veterans. His initial one-seat, 2.5/4.5-hp Fend Flitzer design gave way to the two-seat Messerschmitt KR175 when he teamed with his former employer Professor Willy Messerschmitt in 1952 and began developing cars under the Messerschmitt name.
The original 1953 Kabinenroller 175 led to the KR200 (pictured above) in 1955. The model number designations represented the engine displacement in cubic centimeters. In the case of the 200, it was a ~10-hp, single-cylinder Fichtel & Sachs two-stroke engine. That same year, a specially prepared KR200 set a 24-hour speed record at Hockenheim, among nearly two dozen records for its class. During the model's lifecycle, Messerschmitt offered a number of body styles, including cabriolet and sport varieties, before ending production in 1964.
With the 50-year anniversary of that end date in mind, a new duo of German designers got together to revive the spirit of the KR200. Achim Adlfinger, co-owner of Jetbuster International, and Fred Zimmermann re-imagined the microcar as a two-seat, three-wheeled velomobile they've named the Veloschmitt KR E-250.
The Veloschmitt uses a pedelec drive to add electric assistance to the pedal power of the eight-speed Shimano Nexus cycle drivetrain. Like the original Messerschmitt, the Veloschmitt's model number comes from the size of its motor – a 250-watt unit powered by a 36 volt 10Ah lithium-iron-phosphate (LiFePO4) battery pack. Veloschmitt designers also mention the possibility of adding larger motors up to 1,500 watts.
Resurrecting a 50-year-old microcar as a velomobile might seem like a strange project, but when you consider that the original Fend designs were essentially scooters with cabins and initially even built on bicycle wheels, it's not that far off-base. When used in place of a larger, more expensive vehicle, the modern e-bike shares the original microcar's spirit of simple, affordable commuting.
The Veloschmitt measures 112 x 47 x 43 in (285 x 120 x 110 cm), with a carbon fiber chassis connected to its three wheels by an air spring suspension system. A fiberglass body and a small windshield wrap the two seats inside. The build materials were selected to limit weight, keeping it down to approximately 132 lb (60 kg), with all electrical components hooked up and ready to fire. The car was structured to replicate the 1955 KR200 24-hour speed-record edition's 0.3 drag coefficient. It's capable of speeds up to 18.6 mph (30 km/h).
Other hardware includes a frontal steering system with driver handles, available dynamic curve tilting, hydraulic disc brakes, a Busch & Müller Lumotec headlight system, LED tail lighting, and Schwalbe Big Ben tires. The velo includes a glove box and rear storage, helping it to carry up to 441 lb (200 kg) worth of persons and gear.
Adlfinger and Zimmermann introduced the Veloschmitt at last month's Spezialradmesse in Germersheim, Germany. They claim it is the world's first two-seat velomobile built in series production and plan to build 200 models beginning later this year. Prices start at €5,200 (US$7,200) for single-seater and €6,250 for the two-seater. The options list can quickly send that price soaring ever higher.
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