Messerschmitt KR200, the stylish bubble car of 1950s

The Messerschmitt KR200 microcar was, and remains, the most inspiring example of the bubble car genre; A small, instantly recognizable, three-wheeled tandem-two-seater, bearing aviation's most powerful brand names.

Targeting solid German citizens too wealthy for a scooter, but not wealthy enough for a car, the Messerschmitt Bubble Car eventually achieved coveted status.

At the end of World War II, survivors of ruined Germany were picking around the rubble. Among the human casualties were significant numbers of disabled soldiers.

Fritz Fend, a former Luftwaffe technical officer, had acquired a small workshop, where he began to experiment with ultra-simple personal transport – a 'flitzer' (meaning to dash together): the crank and lever. A human-powered tricycle employed by the handicapped is used by the disabled.

It was first semi-enclosed and then fully enclosed and operated in 1948. Later Flitzers had a 98cc, 4.5hp Riedel two-stroke engine (a Me 262 starter motor), and wheelbarrow wheels replaced earlier bicycle wheels (a really grim day).

Fend wanted to expand and develop the concept further, producing 10 cars a week. In 1952 he approached Messerschmitt for financial help to develop a two-seat, streamlined, enclosed, three-wheeled scooter.

Messerschmitt was banned from aircraft production, and its Regensburg factory was reduced to repair of railway wagons. Prof Willi Messerschmitt recalled Fend's previous aircraft work and convinced the board to help him.

The KR175 was the first of Fend's vehicles to enter production at the Regensburg factory in Messerschmitt. The title Cabinroller means "scooter with cabin".

While the Messerschmitt name and insignia were used on the car, a separate company, incorporated as Regensburger Stall- und Metallbau GmbH, was formed to manufacture and market the vehicle.

The KR200 replaced the KR175 in 1955. Using the same basic frame as the KR175 with changes to the bodywork (notably including wheel cutouts in the front fenders) and an improved canopy design, the KR200 was otherwise a nearly total redesign.

The engine and suspension were maintained by a steel tube frame enclosed from the rear bulkhead (pure aircraft technology), while the rear wheel was positioned by a cast trailing arm, which also enclosed the drive chain in an oil bath. The hinged trunk contained the fuel tank, spare wheel and a small compartment.

Fixed nose pressings were fitted with two headlamps, and the bolt-on front wings had wheel cut-outs, allowing for maximum track and lock. Unlike the KR175, all controls were car-type, as steering was previously direct via new, ergonomically shaped handlebars.

The gear change was gradual, with the trigger for neutral selection. A dynastart (starter and generator) allowed the engine to run backwards for reverse.

In 1956, about a year after West Germany joined NATO, Messerschmitt was allowed to build aircraft again and lost interest in Fend's microcars. Messerschmitt sold the Regensburg works to Fend, who continued to produce the KR 200 and their other vehicles.

Production of the KR200 was drastically curtailed in 1962 and was discontinued in 1964 as sales were falling for some years. Demand for basic transport in Germany was reduced as the German economy boomed.

A similar situation developed in other parts of Europe such as the manufacturer's largest export destination, the United Kingdom, where sales were particularly affected by the increasing popularity of the Mini. A total of 30,286 units of the KR200 were manufactured.

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