The definition of a “Bubble Car” is quite a difficult one because it is really about what makes a car a bubble car (did you understand that? I certainly didn’t). Realistically it is about a small car that was cheap to run, cheap to buy and small in size, often with three wheels. The most prevalent bubble cars were made in Germany, and strangely enough by companies more associated with building aircraft. They certainly turn heads when the pass, although they are becoming increasingly rare.
This essay will feature a few groupings of bubble cars and small cars (micro cars). The first being the James Hall Museum of Transport in Johannesburg. The images I took at the museum are not great because it is not an easy place to photograph and at times my camera’s were not exactly state of the art.
Messerschmitt (exploded view)
I often wonder whether BMW ever regret producing the BMW Isetta? Available as a 3 wheel and a 4 wheeled version it is probably the best known of the bubble cars and its shape really defines what a bubble car is.
They also have two other micro cars on display:
Still trying to identify this one., It is not however a BMW with personalised plates. Odds are it is a variation of the Vespa 400 but I cannot be sure.
When I visited the museum in March 2017 I was hoping to get new images of the two vehicles above, but both were no longer there.
One afternoon, on my way home with friends we drew level with two cars with trailers on which there was a Messerschmitt and an Isetta. I was a passenger in our car which is why I was able to take pics.
From these images you can gauge how big (or small) these vehicles are in relation to the tow cars. It was a really odd thing to see on our roads and I never did work out where they are going to or coming from.
At the Tewkesbury Classic Vehicle Festival I encountered two example of the Heinkel Trojan which gave me a opportunity to photograph this oddity.
BMW Isetta (1959)
Of course there is another “honorable mention” that I need to make which is also at James Hall, and it is more of an “orangemobile”. I believe these were built from a Mini chassis and were used to promote the Outspan citrus board. Six of these were originally commissioned by Outspan from a company Brian Waite Enterprise Ltd. based at Bodium in East Sussex, and they were built between 1972 and 1974, and were used on advertising campaigns both in the UK and Europe. (http://www.thisbrighton.co.uk/culture-hcvs-outspan.htm)
There is one really unique vehicle to the UK that I want to include here because they are really very quirky. South Africans probably saw their first one in the “Mr Bean” TV series, and I saw my first one in Southampton in 2013. To be frank: I was amused. I am only familiar with the Reliant Regal, Reliant Robin and the Reliant Rialto, and I have not quite figured out how to identify them apart unless I can read a name off the back. I could not do that with the red one I am afraid although I believe it too is a Rialto.
Reliant Rialto SE
The Italians were responsible for a number of interesting small cars, Fiat in particular had a very iconic vehicle in the Fiat 500. My red example is in a casino in Fourways in South Africa and has a lot of parking tickets!
Fiat 500 at Montecasino
and the white vehicle I spotted in Lymington.
And I spotted this blue one at the Tewkesbury Classic Vehicle Festival in 2017
Another odd micro car caught my attention at the Tewkesbury Classic Vehicle Festival in 2017, and frankly the first thing I thought of when I saw it was “Postman Pat”
1976 William Fourgonette
You see what I mean? The info sheet on the widdscreen stated that the car was a 1976 William Fourgonette, and they were powered by a 125cc or 175cc Lambretta scooter motor. It had a 4 speed manual gearbox and a top speed of 45 mph. More information on the vehicle may be found at https://www.lanemotormuseum.org/
I somehow do not think I am finished with bubble cars and micro cars yet, the attraction of a small car for town and short distance driving is strong, and an effective small electric car would really change the face of our overcrowded cities.
I saw this little one in London and given how hard it is to find parking in London I am surprised I never saw more.
And of course James Hall Transport Museum has this small Enfield electric vehicle on display that never seemed to enter production.
Unfortunately there will always be the big ego types who really like their oversized 4×4’s and they just never get the fact that fossil fuels are bad news in the long run, and scaling down really does make sense. But then I have never understood the whole big car thing myself; after all you are talking about somebody who fell in love with the Mini when he was a boy and that was what he wanted when he grew up, although I kind of like the bubble cars, they have a charm all of their own.
Probably one of my dream cars is the Morgan 3 Wheelers. I have seen quite a few of them in the UK and I find them fascinating. The first one I saw was in the movie “The Party” starring Peter Sellers. They are very quirky vehicles, and some of the earlier ones were very minimalistic.
1927 Morgan Aero
The Morgan Aero above had 1000 cc side valve engine, a two speed chain drive, reverse, no front wheel brakes, the starting handle was inserted into the gearbox at the rear and it cost £100 when new. These cars are still in production, albeit upgraded for modern motoring, and they are very collectable.
Other 3 Wheelers that I saw at the Tewkesbury Classic Vehicle Festival in 2017 and 2016 are below
Morgan 3 Wheeler (2017)
DRK 3 Wheeler (2016)
Lomax 3 Wheeler (2016)
Polaris Slingshot 3 wheel motorcycle
3 x 3 wheelers (2016)
Berkeley 3 Wheeler (2016)
Lomax 3 wheeler (2017)
That concludes my brief photo essay. Hopefully one day I will be able to expand it just a bit more, after all, you never know what may come driving down the road.
© DRW 2016-2018 Created 27/08/2016. Some images taken at the James Hall Museum of Transport. Two new images added 29/03/2017