In a blog last month, I took a 'serious' look at America's Car Museum in Tacoma, a treasure house of hundreds of cars that are serious, elegant, powerful, innovative, and a whole lot of other adjectives. This time I want to focus on a select group that speak 'fun' and maybe a little 'adventure.' At the very least, a fond smile.
Like the 1958 BMW Isetta 300, above and at the top. Some of you may remember it as Urkel's car from Family Matters, but my connection is much more personal. I was 14 when it arrived in the U.S. and was quickly christened 'the bubble car.' I had just gotten my first driver's license, and I wanted that car. It was the cheapest new car on the market, and it was incredibly cute. Of course, my parents had different ideas. And, as you can imagine, it would never meet today's safety standards: the driver is sitting right on the front bumper!
But the mini-Beemer was not Germany's only attempt at a 'people's car' even more basic than the Beetle. Here's one from Messerschmitt that some unkind souls nicknamed 'Snow White's Coffin.' Two seats, one behind the other, and a
hinged lid to climb into the car. Two wheels in front, one at the back and a rear-
wheel drive 200cc engine. A later version, made until 1964, had two small rear wheels.
And congrats to George G, who recognized this beauty from just a cropped image and was able to find its home!
This 1958 Fiat Multipla seats six normal passengers in a 12-foot mini-minivan. Imagine how many it could hold if it were used as a circus clown car!
Not as funny, but just as beloved: the Citroen 2CV, France's answer to the Beetle. This modified 1953 model finished 2nd in Class in the 1997 race that covered 9,317 miles. Not bad for a car whose 1948 specs were that it could "carry two farmers wearing clogs, plus 110 pounds of potatoes or a small cask of wine, at a maximum speed of 30 mph."
The museum also has a number of cars from Crosley, a company better-known for refrigerators and washers, and now only a nostalgic memory. But Powel Crosley, believed in small simple cars and pushed the company into that field. Here's his 'Car of Tomorrow,' introduced at the 1939 New York World's Fair. Under 1,000 pounds, 12 hp and very fuel-efficient, but dealers were uninterested, and Crosley ended up selling it through department stores that sold his appliances.
Here's another Crosley, a 1947 model that someone had fun with, turning into a miniature but working fire truck. And, the Scorpion, a sporty kit-car body designed by a former Chrysler designer, made to fit on a Crosley chassis.
Names from the past pop up a lot here, and Nash is one of them, with its tiniest car on double display: the Metropolitan. Built in England for the U.S. market, it was a sub-compact before the category was invented. It started as a Nash, and was later also marketed as a Hudson, and eventually as a Rambler.
Speaking of Rambler, here's an odd one: the Ferrambo. It started out as a 1960 Rambler station wagon modified with a Ferrari drive train and with its front end restyled to resemble an early Lusso Ferrari. It's won custom hot rod awards.
Another modified car; this one started out as an American Bantam coupe, a brand that in the 1930s set records for fuel efficiency. In 1939, the custom body for this 'Hollywood Roadster' was designed by Alex Tremulis, who had been a principal designer for Auburn, Cord and Dusenberg.
And, best for last, or at least most fun: Fred Flintstone's car, actually a golf cart powered by six car batteries and dressed up in a fiberglass shell. It was built by Hollywood customizer George Barris, who also built such vehicles as the Munster Coach, Dracula's coffin car and the original Batmobile.