How this 3-wheeled car saved an entire aerospace company
- The Messerschmitt KR200 is a popular collectible microcar from the '50s.
- It was manufactured by an aerospace company after World War II.
- The income from the KR200 kept the aerospace company in business during a post-war ban on airplane manufacturing.
The following is a transcript of the video.
Tiny car opens from the top.
Narrator: Microcars. You know, those tiny cars that look like they barely fit one person, typically powered by a motorcycle engine, and most importantly, affordable. In the '50s, they could be seen puttering down European streets. As silly as a lot of these cars looked, they were actually a big business. So big, in fact, that one actually saved an aerospace company from going out of business.
How this 3-wheeled car saved an entire aerospace company.
Narrator: This is the Messerschmitt KR200. KR stands for Kabinenroller, which translates to "cabin scooter." It's a pretty accurate description of the car since it has a motorcycle engine and handlebars for a steering wheel.
Jeff Lane: The Messerschmitt was also touted as a three-seater. So their claim was that one person, of course, sat in the front to drive, and then you could have two people in the back, one on each side, they put their legs up like this. They'd have to be smaller people, and, of course, you gotta remember that these cars were made to go 10, 20, 30 miles. They weren't made to drive across California or anything like that.
Narrator: Preceding the KR200 was the Fend Flitzer, a microcar conceived by German designer Fritz Fend. It was made to be an accessible car for people who use wheelchairs.
Jeff: It was very similar to this car. And he made the door open like this, so if you were in a wheelchair, you could wheel up to the car like this, and then you would transfer over, bring your legs over like that, get in, and then - down like that, and you could drive the car.
Narrator: The full potential of the Fend Flitzer wouldn't be realized until after World War II. When a postwar ban on aircraft production in Germany went in effect, airplane manufacturer Messerschmitt AG had to look for other ways to stay in business. Fortunately for them, Fritz Fend, you know, the guy behind the Fend Flitzer, lacked the resources to mass-produce his vehicle.
Jeff: So he proposed to Messerschmitt in 1952 that they make this a production car. They agreed that was a good idea, and so they hired him to basically take his design and improve upon it. The Messerschmitt was actually very successful in terms of a microcar, 'cause they made about 25,000 Messerschmitt microcars.
Narrator: Those 25,000 KR200s kept the Messerschmitt AG manufacturing plant busy and brought in enough income to keep the lights on for the duration of the ban on airplane production.
Jeff: In 1956, Messerschmitt was allowed to go back to making airplanes, and they really lost any interest they had in building the cars. So they sold the car to Fritz Fend, and he continued to build cars until 1964.
Narrator: Today, the KR200 finds its way into the collections of nostalgic car enthusiasts and people who find the microcar era fascinating, like Mark Hatten.
Mark Hatten: So, I came into possession of this car from an advertisement through the microcar club back in 2007. One of the things that fascinates me about this car is its shape, the bubble-dome top, and how you enter and exit the car. It's exhilarating, it's very fun, it's very nimble, it's very quick. It's nonstop reactions. People want to know about it, know what it is, they want to know how much it costs, they want to know if it's for sale, they want to know all about it. It's probably one of my most fun little project cars. I'm so glad that I got it and I'm able to share it with people.
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