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Heinkel Kabine, Bj. 1957 (2016-07-02 Sp).JPG
1957 Heinkel Kabine bubble car
Twizy-IMG 6827.JPG
2012 Renault Twizy quadricycle
Suzuki Alto Turbo RS 801.JPG
2015 Suzuki Alto kei car

Microcar is a term often used for the smallest size of cars, [1] with three or four wheels and often an engine smaller than 700 cc (43 cu in). Specific types of microcars include bubble cars, cycle cars, invacar, quadricycles and voiturettes, and the Japanese equivalent is the kei car.


Microcars are often covered by separate regulations to normal cars, having relaxed requirements for registration and licensing.


Voiturette is a term used by some small cars and tricycles manufactured from 1895 to 1910.

Cyclecars are a type of small, lightweight and inexpensive car manufactured mainly between 1910 and the late 1920s.

Europe 1940-1970: Microcars

1952-1958 SMZ S-1L
BMW Isetta - Bad Worishofen (2015-08-29 3164 b).jpg
1959-1962 BMW Isetta
1965 Peel P50, The World's Smallest Car (Lane Motor Museum).jpg
1965 Peel P50

The first cars to be described as microcars (earlier equivalents were called voiturettes or cyclecars) were built in the United Kingdom and Germany following World War II, and remained popular until the 1960s. They were originally called minicars, but later became known as microcars.

France also produced large numbers of similar tiny vehicles called voiturettes, but they were rarely sold abroad.


Microcars have three or four wheels, although most were three-wheelers which, in many countries, meant that they qualified for lower taxes and were licensed as motorcycles. [2] Another common characteristic is an engine displacement of less than 700 cc (43 cu in), [3] [2] [4] although several cars with engines up to 1,000 cc (61 cu in) have also been classified as microcars. [5] [1] (p7) Often, the engine was originally designed for a motorcycle. [6]


Microcars originated in the years following World War II, when motorcycles transport was commonly used. [7] (p7) To provide better weather protection, three-wheeled microcars began increasing in popularity in the United Kingdom, where they could be driven using only a motorcycle licence. [2] [8] One of the first microcars was the 1949 Bond Minicar.

Microcars also became popular in Europe. A demand for cheap personal motorised transport emerged, and their greater fuel efficiency meant that microcars became even more significant when fuel prices rose, partly due to the 1956 Suez Crisis. [6] [9]

The microcar boom lasted until the late 1950s, when larger cars regained popularity. [9] [10] The 1959 introduction of the Mini, which provided greater size and performance at an affordable price, contributed to the decline in popularity of microcars. [2] Production of microcars had largely ceased by the end of the 1960s, due to competition from the Mini, Citroen 2CV, Fiat 500 and Renault 4.

Bubble cars

Several microcars of the 1950s and 1960s were nicknamed bubble cars. [11] [12] This was due to the aircraft-style bubble canopies of vehicles such as the Messerschmitt KR175, Messerschmitt KR200 and the FMR Tg500. Other microcars, such as the Isetta, also had a bubble-like appearance.

German manufacturers of bubble cars included former military aircraft manufacturers Messerschmitt and Heinkel. BMW manufactured the Italian Iso Rivolta Isetta under licence, using an engine from one of their own motorcycles.

The United Kingdom had licence-built right-hand-drive versions of the Heinkel Kabine and the Isetta. The British version of the Isetta was built with only one rear wheel, instead of the narrow-tracked pair of wheels in the normal Isetta design, in order to take advantage of the three-wheel vehicle laws in the United Kingdom. There were also indigenous British three-wheeled microcars, including the Peel Trident.

Examples include the Citroën Prototype C, FMR Tg500, Fuldamobil, Heinkel Kabine, Isetta, Messerschmitt KR175, Messerschmitt KR200, Peel P50, Peel Trident, SMZ S-1L and Trojan 200. Kleinschnittger F125.

Europe 1990-present

Recent microcars include the 2001 Aixam 5xx series. The Smart Fortwo is often called a microcar in the United States; [13] [14] however it requires a car licence to drive, unlike most microcars.

Electric-powered microcars which have reached production include the 1987 CityEl, the 1990 Automobiles ERAD Spacia, the 1999 Corbin Sparrow, the 2001 REVAi, the 2009 Tazzari Zero and the resurrected Peel P50 of 2011 (the original model of 1962 - 65 being petrol powered).

Quadricycle legislation

The European Union introduced the quadricycle category in 1992. In several European countries since then, microcars are classified by governments separately from normal cars, sometimes using the same regulations as motorcycles or mopeds. Therefore, compared with normal cars, microcars often have relaxed requirements for registration and licensing, and can be subject to lower taxes and insurance costs.

Japan: Kei cars

Kei car is the Japanese legal category for the smallest and most limited power highway-legal motor vehicles, including passenger cars (kei cars or kei-class cars), microvans, and Kei trucks (kei-class pickup trucks).

Microcar trucks

There are also a variety of microcar trucks, usually of the "forward control" or van style to provide more cargo room. These might be used for local deliveries on narrow streets that are unsuited to larger vehicles. The Piaggio Ape is a three-wheeled example. [15]

Microcars by country of origin

See also

Related Research Articles


Heinkel Flugzeugwerke was a German aircraft manufacturing company founded by and named after Ernst Heinkel. It is noted for producing bomber aircraft for the Luftwaffe in World War II and for important contributions to high-speed flight, with the pioneering examples of a successful liquid-fueled rocket and a turbojet-powered aircraft in aviation history, with both Heinkel designs' first flights occurring shortly before the outbreak of World War II in Europe.

Isetta Motor vehicle

The Isetta is an Italian-designed microcar built under license in a number of different countries, including Argentina, Spain, Belgium, France, Brazil, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Because of its egg shape and bubble-like windows, it became known as a bubble car, a name also given to other similar vehicles.

Quadricycle small motorized four wheeled vehicle

Quadricycle refers to vehicles with four wheels.

Cyclecar early microcar

A cyclecar was a type of small, lightweight and inexpensive car manufactured in Europe and the United States between 1910 and the early 1920s. The purpose of cyclecars was to fill a gap in the market between the motorcycle and the car. A key characteristic was that it could only accommodate two passengers sitting tandem style or passenger behind the driver.


A voiturette is a miniature automobile.

Three-wheeler Vehicle with three wheels

A three-wheeler is a vehicle with three wheels. Some are motorized tricycles, which may be legally classed as motorcycles, while others are tricycles without a motor, some of which are human-powered vehicles and animal-powered vehicles.

Messerschmitt KR200 Motor vehicle

The Messerschmitt KR200, or Kabinenroller, is a three-wheeled bubble car designed by the aircraft engineer Fritz Fend and produced in the factory of the German aircraft manufacturer Messerschmitt from 1955 to 1964.

Peel P50 Three-wheeled automobile

The Peel P50 is a three-wheeled microcar originally made from 1962 to 1965 by the Peel Engineering Company on the Isle of Man. It was listed in the 2010 Guinness World Records as the smallest production car ever made. The original model has no reverse gear, but a handle at the rear allows the very lightweight car to be maneuvered physically when required.

Messerschmitt Kabinenroller Motor vehicle platform

The Messerschmitt Kabinenroller was a series of microcars made by RSM Messerschmitt from 1953 to 1956 and by Fahrzeug- und Maschinenbau GmbH, Regensburg (FMR) from 1956 to 1964. All the Messerschmitt and FMR production cars used the Kabinenroller's monocoque structure, featuring tandem seating and usually a bubble canopy.

Heinkel Kabine Motor vehicle

The Heinkel Kabine was a microcar designed by Heinkel Flugzeugwerke and built by them from 1956 to 1958. Production was transferred under licence to Dundalk Engineering Company in Ireland in 1958. However, the licence was withdrawn shortly afterwards due to poor quality control. Production restarted in 1960, again under licence, under the Trojan 200 name by Trojan Cars Ltd. in the UK, and continued until 1966.

FMR Tg500 Motor vehicle

The FMR Tg500 was a sports car built by Fahrzeug- und Maschinenbau GmbH, Regensburg (FMR) from 1958 to 1961. Based on the Messerschmitt Kabinenroller monocoque, which otherwise was a platform for three-wheelers, the Tg500 was a four-wheeled car with a two-stroke straight-two engine. FMR had taken over production of the KR200 from Messerschmitt in 1956. While the KR200 still used the Messerschmitt name and logo, the Tg500 was badged as an FMR.

Messerschmitt KR175 Motor vehicle

The Messerschmitt KR175 microcar (1953–1955) was the first vehicle built by Messerschmitt under its 1952 agreement with Fritz Fend. In concept, although not in actual design, it was an extended version of the Fend Flitzer invalid carriage. Approximately 15,000 were built before it was replaced by the Messerschmitt KR200 in 1956.

Fritz Fend was an aeronautical engineer. He was noted for designing Messerschmitt's Kabinenroller (cabinscooter) KR175 and KR200 microcars, for co-founding FMR, the company that took over production of the Kabinenrollers in 1956, and for designing the FMR Tg500, a sports microcar based on the Kabinenroller. Fend continued his career as an inventor and designer after the KR200 ended production. Fend was working on another lightweight vehicle project shortly before his death.

Bike-engined car

A bike-engined car is a small or light weight car that is powered by an engine that was designed for use in a motorcycle.

Hoffmann was a bicycle manufacturer in Ratingen-Lintorf, Germany. Between 1948 and 1954 the company also manufactured motorcycles. It made a range of models using engines from 125cc to 250cc made by ILO, and the Gouverneur, which had a transversely-mounted 248 cc flat twin four-stroke engine designed by Richard Küchen, and shaft drive. The Gouverneur was developed into the MP 250-2 and finally, in 1953, the S 300 model.

Heinkel Tourist

The Heinkel Tourist is a motor scooter made by Heinkel Flugzeugwerke from 1953 to 1965. More than 100,000 were manufactured and sold.

The quadricycle is a European Union vehicle category for four-wheeled microcars, which allows these vehicles to be designed to less stringent requirements when compared to regular cars. Quadricycles are defined by limitations in terms of weight, engine power and speed.

This is a chronological index for the start year for motor vehicle brands. For manufacturers that went on to produce many models, it represents the start date of the whole brand; for the others, it usually represents the date of appearance of the main model that was produced.


  1. 1 2 3 4 Quellin, Adam (2015). Microcars at Large!. Veloce. ISBN   9781845848873 . Retrieved 21 December 2018.
  2. "About RUM (Register of Unusual Microcars)". www.rumcars.org. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  3. "The Bubblecar Museum and it's collection". www.bubblecarmuseum.co.uk. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  4. "The Vintage Microcar Club Membership Page". www.microcar.org. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
  5. 1 2 "Experience Microcar History In Mazomanie, WI". www.rideapart.com. Retrieved 16 December 2018.
  6. Cameron, Duncan (2018-06-28). British Microcars, 1947-2002. Bloomsbury. ISBN   1784422797.
  7. "Legal & MOT's". www.micromaniacsclub.co.uk. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  8. 1 2 "Museum Information". www.microcarmuseum.com. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
  9. "The History of the Microcar at Petersen Automotive Museum". Motor Trend. 15 June 2007. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
  10. "Babies on Wheels". The Times: 13. October 14, 1957. In sunny weather too, bubble cars are inclined, like greenhouses, to become uncomfortably hot.
  11. "65 MPH and 80 MPG-That's the Messerschmitt". Motorcycle Mechanics: 34–35. April 1963. This bubble-car has a beetle-like outline
  12. "Smart's tiny Fortwo microcar gets redesign for 2016". www.latimes.com. Retrieved 21 December 2018.
  13. "Smart Vehicles". Autoweek. Retrieved 21 December 2018.
  14. "Piaggio Ape Commercial Vehicle". Greencarsite.co.uk. Retrieved 2018-05-08.