Messerschmitt KR200 – 1955

The ‘KR’ stands for Kabinenroller (Cabin Scooter). After World War II, the German Messerschmitt company was forbidden to manufacture aircraft. Instead, it sought to stay in business by making auto parts for others, and its own economy vehicles for a mass market.

It had already produced the KR175, a primitive but quite effective two-seat (in tandem), an all-weather, three-wheel version of a scooter with handlebar steering. It was deficient in so many different ways that Messerschmitt felt it was betraying the company’s reputation for excellent aircraft and precision technology in general; pride and a faut-de-mieux curiosity prompted a genuine desire to do the job well, if at all and if it could.

The KR200 is called a ‘microcar’ but nobody who appreciates it thinks of it as anything but an airplane cockpit somehow given independent motion. The plexiglas bubble canopy tilts over for access. With the pilot/driver and navigator/passenger seated in line, the cabin tapers towards the back; and with the (single) rear-wheel drive, the arrangement makes for good handling.

There is no wheel to turn. You push the steering bar: it’s connected directly to the track rods on the front wheels, which means, just like a fighter aircraft, the response is so direct that anything but little, directional twitches magnifies the intended effect dramatically.

Having thought seriously about the KR200’s design, Messerschmitt abandoned it to make aircraft at the first opportunity in 1956. The vehicle’s designer, Fritz Fend, continued to develop `sport’, ‘roadster’, and even `luxury’ versions for a few years under the FMR company, but its (resolutely democratizing) time had passed. Even the KR200’s biggest export customer, the UK, where the economy was not nearly so buoyant as in Germany in 1962, could afford the new Mini instead.

If you ever, ever get the chance: it really is disturbingly like flying to drive the KR200.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:

Germany

FIRST MANUFACTURED:

1955 (until 1964)

ENGINE:

191 cc air-cooled Fichtel & Sachs 2-stroke

PERFORMANCE:

Top speed of 62 mph (100 km/h)

YOU SHOULD KNOW:

To reverse the KR200, you stop the engine, push the ignition key in further than usual, then re-start, going backwards. This means you get 4 gears in reverse as well as forward – a clever wheeze.

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