Every old car has a story, says Manuel Garcia in explanation of why the diminutive 1957 NSU Prinz he has owned for a decade and a half and laboured long and hard to restore now sits looking rather unloved and forlorn.
Garcia has been enamoured of cars since seeing another tiny car of the 1950s, an Isetta, as a teenager living near Madrid in the 1960s.
"I wasn't even 17 when I saw a little car I liked and asked if it was for sale," he says in a still strongly Spanish-flavoured accent.
The asking price for the Isetta - of indeterminate age, condition and provenance - proved to be 1,850 pesetas, only the equivalent of about $18.50 Canadian, but a fiscal height he couldn't then scale. "I was so poor, I couldn't afford it. But I would dream about the little car, driving it here, driving it there, having so much fun with it you wouldn't believe it."
When he returned to claim it as an 18-year-old with a few more pesetas in his pocket "the car was sold and on the scrap heap."
Over the next few years, while acquiring the skills at a technical institute to become a machinist, Garcia owned a number of motorcycles and cars before leaving Spain for "adventure" in Canada in 1972. But he never forgot the little car he had loved and lost.
Many years later - after establishing himself as a machinist who has "never missed a day of work," marrying and raising a son and daughter - he told the story of the Isetta to his son Carlos. The pair then began what proved to be a long hunt to track one down.
"We looked hard but we couldn't find one," says Garcia. "But one day we were talking to an old man and he said, 'A friend of mine has a car parked under a tree that might be what you're looking for.' "
It wasn't, turning out to be the 1957 NSU Prinz, not an Isetta, but it was small and from the same era and "close enough" and the pair took it home, spending the next few years and $13,000 restoring this example of minimalist motoring 1950s style.
The postwar years were tough on motorists and motorcar-makers alike in Europe and anything with an engine and at least two wheels was eagerly sought after. NSU Motorenwerk AG - a pioneer bicycle, then motorcycle and car maker - initially got back in the game building pedal- and motor-powered bikes, becoming the world's largest motorcycle producer by 1955.
It got back into the car business - which it had abandoned in the late 1920s - in 1957 with the arrival of the Prinz, a very humble and simple little machine sold under the advertising banner: Fahre Prinz und du bist Koenig (Drive a Prince and you're a King).
Coincidentally, 1957 was also the year NSU first fired up Felix Wankel's rotary engine, which a decade later would power the revolutionary RO80 sedan.
Being a motorcycle maker, NSU had originally planned a three-wheeler, along the lines of the minuscule Messerschmitts and Heinkels buzzing along German bi-ways. But the Prinz was a proper four-wheeled device with two doors, seats for four (or maybe more) and an overall length of 3,150 mm, or 675 mm (27 inches) shorter than a modern Toyota Yaris.
It was powered by a 20-hp, rear-mounted, air-cooled, twin-cylinder, 583-cc engine with four-speed gearbox that could propel it up to 105 km/h.
It was followed by a rather pretty little coupe in 1959 and in 1961 by the Prinz 4 with a somewhat Corvair-like look and a four-cylinder engine. In 1969, NSU became part of the Volkswagen group, eventually being incorporated in Audi and its little Prinzs were finally dethroned in 1973.
Shortly after getting the NSU Prinz back on the road, Garcia finally found his Isetta, an already nicely restored 1957 example of this popular - they were originally Italian but later built in Germany (by BMW), England, France and Spain - but odd-looking creation with its front opening door and rear engine driving two closely spaced rear wheels.
And, perhaps in part to provide contrast to these Lilliputian legacies of long-ago hard times, a 1948 Daimler saloon and a bright-yellow 1976 Corvette Stingray were added to complete the collection.
Garcia says the family - including the dog - enjoyed outings in the cars, and the Isetta was often parked in the bicycle spot outside the local Chinese restaurant for a laugh. But a decade ago, his wife passed away and with her much of Garcia's enthusiasm for his cars evaporated. "I haven't driven any of them for the past seven or eight years," he says. "I just don't have the spirit any more."
The Daimler is now gone and the NSU is for sale and maybe the Corvette. But not the Isetta. "My boy won't let me sell it," Garcia says.
With room for Corgis or groupies, this top-of-the-line luxury car has it all, says Peter Cheney