1 August 2013

The Secret of Happiness

Turns out that Microcars are the answer

“If it’s not fun, it’s probably not worth doing.”

That wasn’t the motto of Bruce Weiner’s Microcar Museum in Madison, Georgia, but it should have been. And when you think about it, it’s probably not a bad philosophy for life. The government of Bhutan maintains an index of national happiness and, despite all of our advantages, the U.S. comes in 11th (Canada is 5th). I have a plan to take North America all the way to the top, to own the leaderboard, rule the ice, take home the trophy, storm the field and shut out the opposition.

We’re going to take a lesson from microcars. Microcars, or at least the most modern version of them, appeared after World War II in Europe and Japan. Think of them as the logical step between a scooter and a “real car.” Microcars, even in the very short history of the automobile, served a purpose for a small (get it?) period of time and then retired into obscurity. But the microcar didn’t go away; it became collectible. The lesson to learn and the secret of the microcar is this: They make us laugh. Not in a slap-your-knee-guffaw kind of way, but rather a small chuckle kept to yourself. You can pretty much dare your friends not to smile when they see an Isetta 300, a Messerschmitt Kabinenroller or even a King Midget, but they won’t be able to help themselves.

Thus, the secret to happiness is microcars. I’m sure that if I took the time to reference an impeccable resource like Wikipedia seeking something useful like “the type of cars the Bhutanese drive,” we’d find they own an incredibly high percentage of microcars. So it was with bubblecar bliss and microcar merriment on my mind that I made the long drive to Madison in February to see RM Auctions dispatch the contents of Bruce Weiner’s Microcar Museum.

Full disclosure: It's highly unlikely that there exists anywhere in the world a microcar in which I could comfortably fit. So the stage was set for me to meet up with RM’s Ian Kelleher, who, not coincidentally, is every bit of 6-feet 8-inches. As captains of the toy box, Ian and I decided to take a serious look at some decidedly lighthearted means of travel. We had free reign to discover what we probably already knew: That, try as we might, the laws of physics can’t be broken. Together we constituted a perfect demographic of the very people for whom microcars were never intended.

Perhaps our greatest accomplishment of the day was the perfectly timed ballet that allowed us both to fit inside the Peel Trident, a red bubblecar from 1966. In placing the Get Smart cone of silence-like bubble lid into a position resembling closed, we soon realized that not only were we out of space, we were quickly running out of air. Getting out of the Peel was a kind of escape, but I’m sure it was less graceful than getting in. After we had our fun, the Trident sold for the anything-but-small price of $103,500.

When dealing with cars that make a Lamborghini Miura seem tall, you should have aspirin and a chiropractor on hand. Ian and I found ourselves quite at home, however, in the 1956 Eshelman “Deluxe Adult Sport Car,” which looks a lot like a scaled-up pedal car. With no top and no doors to worry about, we got in and out with great ease. A relative bargain at $15,525, the Eshelman might not be quite as up to date as a 2013 Ford Fiesta, but it is just as affordable.

It’s pretty much human origami getting inside an Isetta 300; certain folds, bends and twists are involved in placing yourself comfortably behind the wheel. Okay, forget the comfort part. The 300 is a car best suited for someone who has never shopped in the “executive fit” section of a men’s store. My favorite of the Isettas was the 1961 Isetta 300 pickup. RM says it is the only one known to exist, and it sold for $63,250, or about $672.88 per inch for the tiny hauler.

Owning a collector car should be all about fun, whether it’s a 1965 Mustang, a 1932 Bugatti or a 1957 BMW Isetta. You should enjoy it, whether you’re driving it, working on it, cleaning it or showing it. However, few cars are smile-makers quite like microcars, and it’s unlikely that any others hold the key to raising our gross national happiness index.

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