Good things in small packages
For smart car owners, Mecca is the Microcar Museum in Madison, Georgia. Thanks to Joe Dew, a smart car collector in Atlanta, my pilgrimage to meet and get a tour of the collection by its owner Bruce Weiner occurred on my return drive from Orlando in my 2005 smart cabrio. After I took a drive in Joe’s 1999 original smart gas cabrio, we drove in our smarts to Dubble Bubble Acres, 50 miles east of Atlanta in Morgan County. Weiner grew up in the Toronto area and with two partners created Concord Confections, which bought Dubble Bubble in 1998.
Weiner began collecting microcars while growing up in Canada, but after selling one collection, he moved to Georgia to do it again. Of interest to trivia buffs, it takes two days to dust and clean all 280 museum cars. Upon entering the facility, the first car you see is the 2005 Isetta Whatta Drag. Inspired by the Mattel Hot Wheel “Whatta Drag” toy, Weiner commissioned Bayerische Motoren Werke of Munich, Germany, to build the body, and he enlisted a local racecar builder to create a real microcar version. This three-wheeled dragster features a 730 hp Chevy 502 cubic inch supercharged V8 and was unveiled at the 2005 bi-annual microcar museum festival. A few days later, they shipped it to the Hot Wheels Collectors Nationals convention to be displayed for the public and the creator of the original toy.
The only other modern cars in Weiner’s collection are a 2002 smart crossblade and a first edition smart Brabus. Next to several 1959 Goggomobil trucks, the smarts were the largest vehicles there.
Microcars were created in Europe post WWII as a solution to a lack of fuel and raw materials. Microcars played an important role in the reconstruction of Europe. Some manufacturers were former war machine companies, such as Messershmidt, who had expertise but were forbidden to produce their products. The era of microcars, or “bubble cars” as they were known, lasted only 10 years. As “real cars” reemerged and economies recovered, the public abandoned micros.
Restoring “working-man’s” transportation has its challenges. The cars were built for economy and as interest waned, they were often discarded or relegated to the sand box as a child’s toy. Production was often limited with replacement parts non-existent.
The Microcar Club defines a microcar as a vehicle with less than 850cc engine displacement, fewer than four cylinders or fewer than four road wheels. Many we saw where 250cc or even 50cc. The highlight of my day was when a few of us got to drive around in old cars, mine a 1958 Zundapp Janus. Janus was the Roman two-faced god. The Janus has an Isetta-style door on both the front and back, with the rear passengers facing backward. This four-passenger vehicle has a 14 horsepower single cylinder 248cc Bella scooter motor in the middle with four-speed sequential transmission with reverse. It even featured rack & pinion steering as well as MacPherson strut suspension. Only a few remain of the 6,900 made. We gassed up with a gas/oil mix, I pulled the choke, turned the key and we were off. Now, I’m used to small cars – but this is tiny. After a drive around the estate and a visit to the restoration building, I left in my smart micro for Knoxville.
And what does Weiner drive when he want something bigger? How about his McLaren F1 (one of only 107 made) or his Ferrari Enzo (399 produced). Now, that’s my idea of collecting.
May 7, 2006 – Toronto Sun Autonet Drive