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From Fighter Planes to Micro Cars, Messerschmitt in the Post War Era

“Improvise, adapt, overcome” was the unofficial slogan of the US Army Marines, but this could virtually be applied in any sort of situation. So when Germany’s Messerschmitt, the leading aircraft manufacturer during World War II, was banned from producing planes for ten years, they overcame the business circumstances by creating a new product. That’s how they survived the post-war years.

Messerschmitt

Messerschmitt AG was a German share-ownership limited corporation named after its chief designer Willy Messerschmitt. The company was particularly known for producing a number of excellent and well-known fighter aircraft during World War II, like the Bf 110, Bf 109, and the world’s first operational jet fighter plane, Me 262. Bf 109 is the second-most-produced military aircraft in history. It was also Messerschmitt that formed the backbone of the Luftwaffe.

When the war finally ended in 1945, the company was banned from manufacturing its aircraft for the next ten years. This, of course, was a very long time for a company to wait. Because of this, they instead decided to look at what they could produce instead to survive the post-war years.

Birth of Microcar

The war left Germany in shambles. The country was trying to rebuild its economy, industries, infrastructures, and the morale of the people. The prices of raw materials and fuel meant large and grand vehicles were not an option in order to fill the transport needs of the people. As a solution, small cars became the next big thing, as they were cheap to build and run.

On the other side, the United States’ economy and automotive industries were booming, which would lead to the 1950s golden era of sports cars, land yachts, and V8 engines.

Back in Europe, microcars were built with proportions similar to motorcycles, but they offered more practicality and protection from the outside elements. Many manufacturers ventured into the trend, including the German engineer named Fritz Fend. He was an aeronautical engineer who, during the war, served as a technical officer in the Luftwaffe. In the late 1940s, he created the “invalid carriages,” small cars for disabled people. After he found out that non-disabled people were also buying them because of their small size and good fuel efficiency, he realized it was an opportunity he couldn’t miss.

This was when Messerschmitt got in the picture, as Fend approached the company to mass-produce his new design. Messerschmitt, at the same time, saw the opportunity to get back in the business and keep their factories running by manufacturing cheap transport for the Germans who desperately needed them.

KR175 and KR200

The first microcar produced by Messerschmitt was the KR175. It was a two-seater vehicle with 9 feet in length and 485 pounds in weight. It was powered by a 170cc 9-horsepower single-cylinder two-stroke engine that could be started either by a rope pull or an optional starter motor. Its top speed was 50 mph, and the steering bar was directly connected to the track rod ends so it had ultra-direct steering.

The entrance to the vehicle was through a side-opening Plexiglass canopy, which was pretty similar to WWII fighters, but they were not from them. 15,000 of the KR175 were produced from 1953 to 1955 before iKR200 replaced it

Messerschmitt KR175. (Mytho88CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The KR200 was the upgraded and more powerful version of it, with a new 190 cc 10 horsepower single-cylinder two-stroke engine that gave a top speed of around 65 mph. Hydraulic shock absorbers were also fitted on all the wheels to improve the handling and ride quality of the microcar. Its very small frontal cross-section was to reduce drag.

The KR200 was also complete with a clock, a heater, and a trimmed interior. Because of the added features, 30,000 of these were built.

Messerschmitt KR200. (allen watkin from London, UKCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

After waiting for ten years, Messerschmitt was finally allowed to return to aircraft production. They sold off their microcar division to Fend, to whom they gave permission to continue using their brand. Fend continued building the KR200 until 1964 when the economy of the country stabilized and microcars were no longer in demand.

Would you want to test-drive these bad boys?

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