After market demand suddenly dried up for ME 109 and ME 262 fighters in 1945, German aircraft maker Messerschmitt began a new battle for survival, building among other things sewing machines and pre-fab houses, and then getting into the car business - well sort of - with a unique little machine that looked like a cockpit on wheels.
The tiny bubbled-topped Kabinenroller, or "cabin scooter" it began building in the early 1950s, didn't deliver much power or performance but did generate enough momentum and financial "luft" under the company's wings to keep it airborne until it could eventually find its way back into the aircraft business.
The mini-Messerschmitt was an example of a breed of miniaturized motorized devices that reappeared after the Second World War in a recovering Europe desperate for any form of transportation that didn't involve muscle power and became known as micro-cars or bubble-cars.
They reprised ultra-light and simple contraptions called cycle-cars that had appeared in the automobile's early years in Europe, when they provided a similarly cheap and cheerful, if sometimes lethal, counterpoint to the more expensive models of the time. Cycle-cars faded from the scene when "proper" small and inexpensive models began to appear in the 1920s, just as micro-cars were fated to do in the latter part of the 1950s.
Messerschmitt wasn't the only aircraft-oriented German company to produce a micro-car. Heinkel Flugzeugwerke created and built its front-doored Kabine and BMW the similar Isetta. And there were plenty of other little buzz-bombs droning around Europe's streets and auto routes.
The micro-car that Messerschmitt built was the brainchild of an aeronautical engineer named Fritz Fend, who first developed a machine for war wounded to get around in, a tricycle propelled by hauling the handlebars back and forward.
Of course it wasn't long before the notion of fitting a motor occurred and this resulted in the Fend Flitzer of 1948, which had two wheels up front and one at the rear plus a 98-cc two-stroke for propulsion.
Further development saw an improved version with enclosed bodywork and fitted with a more powerful engine that had been designed as a self-starter for the ME 262 fighter-bomber's jet engine. By 1951, some 250 Flitzers had been built, but noting that not only invalids were buying them. Fend ended production and began developing a larger two-seater version he felt would have more mainstream appeal.
He approached Messerschmitt with his new design and in 1952 the KR175 went into production at a newly created company called Regensberger Stahl-und Metalbau but carrying the Messerschmitt badge.
The KR175's "fuselage" was 2,820 mm long and it could hold two seated in tandem under the canopy, which was hinged on the right. It had lights, but a manually operated wiper and little else.
Propulsion came from a nine-horsepower, 175-cc Fichtel & Sachs single-cylinder two-stroke started by a pull rope or optional electric starter and fitted with a four-speed gearbox. There was no reverse gear, but the engine could be restarted running backward - a neat two-stroke trait - giving you four speed in that direction too. If you were brave or foolhardy enough.
A clutch lever was fitted to the gearshift and a twist-grip to the tiller-type steering apparatus, which was startlingly direct. Weight was 220 kg and top speed about 90 km/h.
With a price of 2,100 marks - half what a VW Beetle cost - it was an immediate success and the plant was soon knocking out about 90 a day.
An improved version, the KR200, arrived in 1955 with bodywork and mechanical changes that included a 191-cc engine making 10.2 hp, upping top speed to 105 km/h. Fuel economy was claimed to be 3.2 litres/100 km.
To prove and promote it, Fend and the boys set out for the Hockenheimring with a special streamlined single-seater with record breaking in mind. And what was likely a long-for-all-involved 24 hours later, had a set a new speed record of 103 km/h in the three-wheel vehicle under 250-cc class, along with 22 other records.
But a year later, Messerschmitt was back in the aircraft business and sold the company to Fend who continued to produce the KR200 until 1964, by which time 60,000 had been sold. A 500-cc-engined, four-wheeled sports version was also produced for a few years.
The example pictured here is a 1963 KR200 (sold by RM Auctions for $55,000 last year) and similar to one owned by Andy Woolley, a veteran member of the Messerschmitt owners club in Britain. In a newsletter piece, he claims he gets 55-65 mpg flat-out at 65 mph in his, but has seen 80 mph while being more moderate. Wind is a major driving issue - head, side or gusts - with the latter requiring constant and tiring correction and the "bow-wave" from trucks can be scary when passing. Passing?
Mostly it sounds like he has fun with it though. Noting he can hang the tail out to a fare-thee-well in the wet, easily collected with the quick steering, and get it up on two wheels and drive in circles in parking lots when he's feeling frisky.
Back in 1963
The push-button telephone, invented by Bell Telephone in the early 1940s, is introduced to the public with electronic Touch-Tone dialling first enjoyed by residents in a pair of Pennsylvania towns.
It's a busy year for The Beatles who, among other things, record Please Please Me, Ask Me Why, From Me To You and Thank You Girl. And the Brit press invents the term Beatlemania to describe the scene following their performance at the London Palladium.
America's iconic sports car the Corvette undergoes a mechanical and styling transformation and emerges as the second-generation Sting Ray.
The long-running TV soap General Hospital debuts on CBC and Marvel Comics introduces the X-Men.
U.S. test pilot Chuck Yeager experiences what is likely the most intense and engaging 21-mile flight ever after losing control of a "rocket augmented" space trainer at 108,700 feet. He finally bails out at 8,500 feet.