Alles Beginnt Klein (Everything Begins Small) — Microcars

© pantheon basel

Pantheon Basel
Until October 15

The new exhibition at the Pantheon Basel focuses on microcars—a type of vehicles whose history is tightly connected with the post-World War II history of Germany, from the end of the war to the beginning of the “economic miracle” era.

Directly after the end of World War II, the production of automobiles was strictly forbidden in German. Fuel was only available to the occupying powers. Only the 1.7 million war invalids enjoyed certain relief. Simple ambulance chairs or wheelchairs were allowed to be built in bombed-out factory halls or intact sheds with the sparse materials available. When the construction of 60 cm3 motorcycles was permitted again in 1947, the engines soon found their way into the primitive vehicles for the disabled.

After the currency reform in 1948, better materials suddenly became available to buy. Hardly anyone could afford real cars, and the assembly lines of the pre-war era were useless or dismantled. However, the dream of a motorcycle in disguise (Kroboth even called his vehicle an “all-weather scooter”) became affordable. The light three-wheeled vehicles, which tended to tip over, were made safer from 1955 with two closely spaced rear wheels (Heinkel or BMW).

As prosperity increased, so did the demand for small but proper cars with four seats and a luggage compartment. The Goggomobil by Glas, the Zündapp Janus, the extended Isetta by BMW, and the Lloyd were in vogue. The time of the hobbyists and their niche products was over. The large factories of VW, BMW, Opel, and Ford began to conquer the market with inexpensive, but almost fully grown vehicles and ousted the scooter mobiles at the beginning of the 60’s completely.

In France and England, three- and four-wheeled microcars already existed before World War II and were very popular because they could be driven without a driver’s license. Production was quickly resumed after the war for the home market. Microcars were also built in small numbers in Austria, Italy, and Spain as an inexpensive alternative to larger cars.

Several microcars also found their way to Switzerland or were even built here in modest numbers, albeit without success. Few examples have survived. The more common BMW Isetta, Messerschmitt, and Goggomobile disappeared from the streets in the 1960s or served as cheap vehicles for students.