20 February 2013

Tiny cars, huge dollars

Microcars arose in post-war Europe as a way to get the impoverished masses back on the road. Better than a scooter or a bike (but not by much), they were cheap to operate and easy to fix. Europeans old enough to remember them when they were new don’t view them fondly; to that generation, they are a reminder of deprivation and hard times. To younger collectors, on the other hand, they’re impossibly cute and generally bigger attention-getters at shows than high-dollar exotics. The trouble is, some of them now cost more than high dollar exotics like Ferraris and Lamborghinis. RM Auctions’ recent sale of the Bruce Weiner microcar collection underscores that point. Here are some of the most expensive (on a cost-per-pound basis):

  1. 1958 F.M.R. Tg 500 Tiger; 580 pounds/$322,000/$555 per pound: The Tiger may well be the most desirable microcar on the planet, as evidenced by the stratospheric price achieved by the example at the much-publicized Weiner sale. Essentially a “hot-rodded” version of the Messerschmitt KR200, it could probably take on a Little Tikes car piloted by a kid hopped up on too many Pixie Stix on a relatively even basis. On a price per pound basis at $555/pound, it’s a bit more expensive than the finest Japanese Wagyu beef steak.
  2. 1956 BMW Isetta; 794 pounds/$89,700/$113 per pound: To the extent that anyone in America is familiar with a microcar, the Isetta is probably the one. Semi-famous for being the ride of nerdy Steve Urkel on the ’90s sitcom “Family Matters,” Isettas appear with reasonable frequency at car shows, where people are generally shocked to discover that the same company that now pushes ultra-expensive 7-Series sedans once sold this one-door joke punch line. The Isetta that sold at the Weiner sale was market priced at $113/pound.
  3. 1967 ASA 1000 GT; 1,800 pounds/$80,000/$45 per pound: The ASA was envisioned as a sort of mini-Ferrari. Many of the same engineers and stylists were employed in designing this pint-size one-liter screamer. ASAs were beautifully styled and built as you would expect. They also cost a not-so-small fortune — about as much as a 150 mph Jaguar E-Type —and didn’t go much faster than a simple MGB. They’re quite rare, and RM Auctions sold this example at an auction in Monterey, Calif., back in 2006. At just $45 per pound, it’s the bargain of the bunch. Heck, some fancy steakhouses are getting nearly that for a lobster. 
  4. Peel Trident; 198 pounds/$103,500/$520 per pound: The Peel Trident was the companion to the infamous Peel P50 (the impossibly tiny car that 6-foot, 5-inch Jeremy Clarkson drove through the offices of the BBC on an episode of the show “Top Gear”). The 6.5 hp contraption is a dead ringer for George Jetson’s car and although it won’t fold up into a briefcase, it is near the top of the heap in cost per pound at $520.
  5. 1960 Fiat 500 Jolly; 1,000 pounds/$82,500/$83 per pound: The Fiat Jolly is what you kept on your yacht in the 1960s to motor around Monte Carlo when you docked. They’re essentially customized Fiat 500s with no doors and side windows. Most have wicker seats and a rudimentary awning-like top, which is only there to keep the sun off the occupants. Anyone who has seen Brigitte Bardot lately can probably tell how well that worked. RM Auctions sold one at a Florida sale in 2011 for $82,500, which calculates to $83 per pound.

Video: Son surprises parents with '48 Plymouth as 60th anniversary gift.

2 Reader Comments

  • 1
    J California February 27, 2013 at 04:09
    "Europeans old enough to remember them when they were new don’t view them fondly"? Not true. As one of those Europeans, the "minicar" was an opportunity to get mobile and NOT get wet. I'd welcome the opportunity to have another Bond MkC in my garage, as I did many, many miles in the one I had when I was a teenager. The ability to get very high mpg, a critical factor for the "financially challenged" but not be exposed to the elements, was critical. My parents couldn't afford a car and the majority of my friends were in the same situation, so a group of us who had minicars (all Bonds, as they were inexpensive in their very "used" condition and also much more stable on the road then the taller and inevitably more "tippy" but also more expensive alternatives) more than appreciated what our cars could do for us. Given the option of a motorcycle or scooter or a minicar, it was a "no brainer" - no one ever "made out" on the back of a 'bike but out of the elements, on the wide bench seat of the Bond, things were very different.......... So I dispute your statement and have to concede that since my "minicar" days, I've always appreciated effective minimal transportation. However, I concede that I'm not a total luddite, as I do have an early E-Type in my garage, something which was beyond dreams when I started driving over half a century ago.
  • 2
    michael whiteside Asheville, NC 28814 March 4, 2013 at 13:36
    Neat article & info on tiny cars ! Thanks, Mike W.

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