Friday, April 18, 2014

Wow! What a Collection! (Part I)

When we went down to visit Dawn Marie and take a winter break in southeast Florida, I thought that I’d found and researched just about every attraction that we might be interested in… Wrong!  Dawn had another venue in mind for us…a major attraction that my research hadn’t picked up on…

This is the entrance to the Miami Auto Museum and Events Center at the Dezer Collection… (I’ll shorten the name to the Dezer Collection in this posting) This museum consists of 2 large adjoining buildings that are packed with inexpensive and expensive automobiles, big and small, domestic and foreign, movie and TV autos, motorcycles, bicycles, military vehicles, a couple of airplanes and many miscellaneous period displays…

I’ll start our tour with the curious and odd…at least by US standards…

This big showroom is packed with micro cars… Neither Laurie nor I had any idea that so many of these vehicles existed or that these little cars and trucks dated back as far as they do… This collection is full of early precursors to the Smart Car of today.

Real estate developer and collector Michael Dezer fulfilled a longtime dream when he opened his huge automobile and memorabilia collection to the public.  The museum encompasses over 250,000-square-feet.  The museum features more than 1,000 of the most unique and eclectic vehicles than in any other private collection in the world.  The Museum’s nine exhibitions are positioned within lifelike dioramas that depict the historical period or commonality and origin of the automobiles on display.

Remember, I did say micro cars!  Laurie is standing next to a 1958 Solyto.  A French company, New Map, based in Lyon was the builder of this little truck.  It’s a 3-wheeled utility truck that you start with a kick lever.  No driver’s license was required to drive this vehicle.  Its single cylinder engine developed 4.5 horsepower and its top speed, without cargo, was about 31 mph.  About 4,000 of these vehicles were built between 1952 and 1974.

Note: If I ever managed to squeeze my own bulky overweight 6’ frame into one of these mini cars, they have to bring the ‘jaws of life’ to pry me out!

The Autobianchi Bianchina is a minicar produced by the Italian automaker Autobianchi.  It was based on the Fiat 500.  This is a 1960 model.  Initially, the car was equipped with the smallest Fiat air-cooled engine that produced 15 horsepower.  Later, the engine power was increased…all the way to 17 horsepower!

I think that this is one of the ‘cuter’ micro cars… The name is cute too!  This is a 1962  Goggomobil TS250 coupe.  It is one of a series of micro cars produced in the Bavarian town of Dingolfing after World War II by Glas.  The engine was an air-cooled, two-stroke, two-cylinder unit that produced 13.6 horsepower.  This little car could reach speeds of up to 47 mph. 

If you ever visited Europe from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s, you probably saw a few Goggomobils.  The company built over 284,000 units between 1955 and 1969! 

This little beauty is a 1949 Renault 4CV.  This economy car was produced by the French manufacturer Renault from August 1947 until July 1961.  It’s the first French car that sold over a million units…although obviously this convertible version was just a small part of the total run. 

When this car was originally introduced, the first 4CV's were nicknamed "La motte de beurre" (the lump of butter).  This was due to the combination of its shape and the fact that early deliveries all used surplus paint used for the German Army vehicles of Rommel's Afrika Korps, which was a sand-yellow color.

This is a 1951 Fiat Topolino… The Fiat 500, commonly known as "Topolino", is an Italian automobile model that was manufactured by Fiat from 1936 to 1955.  The name "Topolino" translates literally as "little mouse" in Italian, but is also the Italian name for Mickey Mouse.

The Topolino was one of the smallest cars in the world at the time of its initial production.  With 13 horsepower available, its top speed was about 53 mph.  Note that this micro car could achieve about 39.2 miles per US gallon!  Nearly 520,000 Topolinos were sold.

How about a micro sports car?  This is a 1956 Berkeley.  Berkeley Cars Ltd of Biggleswade, Bedfordshire England produced economical sporting micro cars with motorcycle-derived engines between 1956 and 1960.  This car was launched at the 1956 London Motor Show. 

It was usually configured as a 2-seater with a simple bench seat but there is a hatch that could be removed from behind the front seat which revealed a compartment normally containing the spare wheel and some luggage space.  It could double as a basic seat for a small child.  Equipment was basic…even the fuel gauge was an optional extra.  This micro sports car is 10 feet 3 inches long and it only weighs 605 lbs.!  Only 163 of this model were built between October 1956 and January 1957 when another version was introduced…

OK… Now we’ll begin exploring a few of the stranger looking micro cars that we saw in the Dezer Collection.  This is a 1959 Messerschmitt KR200… Yes, this bug like micro car was built by the same company that made top notch fighter planes for the German Luftwaffe during WWII!  Don’t you love the mom and child manikins in the car?!

The Messerschmitt KR200, or Kabinenroller (Cabin Scooter), was a three-wheeled bubble car designed produced in the factory of the German aircraft manufacturer Messerschmitt from 1955 to 1964.  Messerschmitt was temporarily not allowed to manufacture aircraft so it turned its resources to producing other commodities.  The KR200 was considered an instant success with almost 12,000 built during its first year.  It had a 9.9 horsepower engine but it could reach a top speed of 56 mph.  In 1956, once Messerschmitt could build airplanes again, the company sold the factory and its micro car operations to the car’s original designer.

This is a Nobel 200.  From what I understand, the Nobel was built under license in the United Kingdom and Chile.  Fuldamobil is the name of a series of small cars produced by Elektromaschinenbau Fulda GmbH of Fulda, Germany, and Nordwestdeutscher Fahrzeugbau (NWF) of Wilhelmshaven between 1950 and 1969.  The design concept was for a very simple three-wheeled car with room for two people inside, with 2 wheels in the front for stability, and with a small engine at the rear. 

The Fuldamobil was licensed for manufacture to various countries where it was known by varying names.  In addition to the Nobel, it was known as the Bambi in Argentina, the Bambino in the Netherlands, Fram King Fulda in Sweden, Attica and also Alta in Greece, and Hans Vahaar in India.  It was also manufactured in South Africa under the original German name.  A pickup version called "Sporty" based on the coupé was also available in Argentina.

This is not just another ‘pretty' face!  It’s a 1971 Veloto Model BL, a French micro car.  Initially a manufacturer of batteries, the manufacturer, Societe BEL-Motors,  built their first vehicle in 1968, a small 3-wheeler intended for children’s road safety training.  At the time this 2-seater was introduced, it was the only one in France that could be driven without a license.  It was primarily targeted for retirees who’d given up driving. 

The colors offered were sky blue, orange, mustard yellow, white and prairie green, all with that tent-like black top.  Its single cylinder engine can propel this micro car at speeds almost up to 25 mph!

I couldn’t locate much information on this 1968 BMA Amica 250 Piaggo.  The good news is that this 'classy looking' orange 3-wheel box is available for purchase!  It’s one of the cars that the Dezer Collection has up for sale.  This beauty only has 43,428 miles on it and you can pick it up for only $17,995!

The BMA was an Italian automobile manufactured by a company named Alfonsine from 1971 until 1994.  The Amica was the company’s first production model.  It was basically a motorized tricycle/motorbike with a square body made of plastic with hinged doors.

This strange looking little car is a 1968 Tippen Delta Invacar.  Just like the preceding micro car, this auto is also for sale.  It has been completely restored and only 2000 miles have been put on it since restoration was completed in 2002.  This is a National 1st Place Show Winner!! (Antique Automobile Club of America) It was completely disassembled to its bare shell and restored from the frame up.  

The Invacar was designed and built to enhance the mobility of the handicapped.  With its sliding doors, it was easy to get in and out of.  It’s operated by a hand lever…and it’s braked and steered the same way.  There even is a place for wheel chair storage.  You can pick this collector’s car up for only $29,995!

This is a 1958 ISO Isetta.  This 3-wheel micro auto has an interesting history.  “The Isetta was incubated in the post-war economy of Europe. After the World War II, many people did not have the money to afford large automobiles and instead moved about on scooters and motorcycles. An Italian company that made refrigerators in Milan, Italy, entered the market at this time with a line of scooters, motorcycles, and three wheeled trucks. After some success the company decided to move into the automobile business.”

The first Isetta was introduced at the 1953 Turin Motor Show.  “Looking like the result of a high speed collision between a refrigerator, a scooter, and an ovulating chicken…” …”The car had a single door at the front, rear wheels that were only 19 inches apart, and gas mileage of over 50 miles per gallon.”  The two-cylinder engine allowed a top speed of 45 mph and could propel the Isetta to 30 mph in a ‘blistering’ 36 seconds!
In the post-war economy BMW was on the lookout for an inexpensive economy car, and the Isetta fit the bill.  The company was licensed to build the car in the fall of 1954.  BMW made the Isetta its own.  BMW totally redesigned and re-engineered the car…making it their own.  The first BMW Isetta appeared in April 1955.  Over 100,000 of these little cars sold in Germany.  Legend has it that BMW would not be here today if not for the success of the little Isetta.

This is an early 3-wheel sports car… It’s a 1928 Framo Shomer Sport.  Note the driver in the car… Did I mention that many of the Dezer Collection autos and related vignettes are staged using manikins dressed to fit the part?  We thought that it was a bit weird and a little unnerving… They were everywhere!

Framo was a minivan, motor tricycle and car manufacturer in Saxony, Germany.  It was established by Danish engineer Jørgen Skafte Rasmussen, the founder of DKW, in 1923.   Rasmussen had earlier founded DKW, and the Framo factory was created to produce components for DKW motorcycles. Rasmussen played an important role in the establishment of the Auto Union group, and DKW is represented by one ring of the four rings of the Audi brand today.

I couldn’t learn too much about this little sports car…but I did find a story by an early owner that showed just how basic and stripped down these cars were!   Check it out  FYI…The Dezer Collection will sell you this early sports car for only $50,000.  Check out the photos at

Finally…American Micro Autos!!  Actually, my mother owned one of these for a while in the early to mid-50s.  Industrialist Powel Crosley, Jr. owned the Crosley Broadcasting Corporation and the Cincinnati Reds baseball team, but he also had ambitious plans to build a subcompact car.   His first car was shown in May of 1939 at the Indianapolis Speedway.  It was a 2-door convertible that weighed less than 1,000 lbs. and sold for $250.00.  It was not a sales success! 
However, during World War II, the Crosley became attractive because of gasoline rationing and the fact that it could get 50 miles per gallon.  After the war, Crosley introduced several "firsts" in the American automobile industry: the first use of the term 'Sport Utility' in 1948, and; the first US “Sports Car”, the Crosley Hotshot.  Check out the Hotshot the right above and at  Crosley’s best year was in 1948 with 24,871 cars sold.  The company ceased production in 1952. 

This is one of several models from Lawil/Lambretta.  This is a 1989 Lambretta William C4 Break.  I ‘love’ the color, don’t you?  Note the prisoner manikin the yellow Lambretta facing this pink creation.  Just a little strange…

What!?  It’s actually another American built micro auto!  This is a 1981 HMV Freeway.  It was built in Burnsville Minnesota from 1979 to 1982.  These small commuter cars had a single seat and were powered by a 12 or 16 horsepower gasoline engine or a 4 horsepower electric motor.

The 12 horsepower version was guaranteed to get 100 miles per gallon when driven at a steady 40 mph!  The motor was mounted behind the driver and was coupled to a snowmobile-style belt drive transmission. Final drive to the rear wheel was by chain.  The Freeway did not have a reverse gear…  The Free-Way had a single headlight and per federal standards it was intended to be licensed as a motorcycle, but in some states they were titled as cars.  Only about 700 Free-Ways were sold before the company closed in June 1982.

Well, I don’t know about you but I counted 10 of those freaky manikins in the photos for this posting!  My next posting about the Dezer Collection with feature an entirely different genre of automobiles…or motorcycles…or bicycles…

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by and taking a look at these micro autos!  They were fun to look at but they seemed a bit strange to us…

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave  


  1. You could go car crazy here. I've never seen such an assortment of small cars. With the traffic in south Florida, I'm not sure you would be very safe in any of these, but you sure would draw a lot of cool attention.

    Happy Easter to you and Laurie.

  2. Cars galore, some great ones here! Happy Easter!

  3. I'll bet you were in 'hog heaven' at that museum.. There's always something ELSE to do--no matter where we are.. How Special!

    Happy Easter to you. Hope you have a blessed day. We are enjoying the day with family on this gorgeous Easter day!

  4. What an interesting post – so many little cars! I would have loved to see them all. Actually it gave me a trip down memory lane. The little Renault 4 CV that you show – well, that’s the car I use to learn how to drive! My father tried to teach me in his car but when changing speeds (of course all cars were manual speed then in France) I just could not get it right. One of his friends had a driving school in Paris, so he sent me over there and his friend took me several times in this little black Renault 4 CV in the streets of Paris to teach me how to drive. When I took my test I did everything right, looked back, placed on the turn signal but I forgot to turn the key to start the car! Well, I did get my licence anyway and even did a parallel park on a busy Paris street. That certainly was a neat little car.

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