MICROCAR'S HISTORY

These vehicles were born as a consequence of the demands of transportation from the post-war European population. The fact is, however, that there were always small cars being manufactured along the whole automobile history, but conditions given in 50's and 60's in Europe were suitable, for both small and great manufacturers, to develop alternatives in view of the delicate economic situation coming from the Second World War.

 

Microcar concept grew up, more than ever, as the alternative for who could reach more than a plain scooter or motorcycle, but couldn't afford purchasing and mainteinance costs of the big luxurious cars of that age, which resulted gas and tire-eaters, and which mechanics was also much more complex than their "small brothers".

Then Fiat, with their 500 and 600, Renault with their 4 CV, Citroën with their 2 CV, NSU with their Prinz and Sportprinz, and BMW with their Isetta 250 and 300, 600 and 700, found on microcars a solution towards popular transportation and sometimes also a way to escape from bankruptcy.

 

Many other smaller manufacturers appeared elsewhere,  such as Glas, Messerschmitt (after FMR), Maico, Meyra, Brütsch, Champion, Fuldamobil, Zündapp, Heinkel, etc. Some of them used knowledge coming from the War experience, specially from aircraft industry, many others produced very intelligent designs or manfactured "suspiciously similar" alternatives to already existing models.

Every model has a different story. Some of them resulted on extremely brief attempts meanwhile others were produced during a long time, such as the Fiat 500 from Italy and the Trabant from East Germany (even after the Wall of Berlin fell down). Some of them got a very conservative design, becoming a reduced version of their "big brothers", meanwhile others resulted absolutely bizarre and original. But most of them introduced the concept of transportability with economy and efficience in a reduced space, being this concept applied  on the "city cars" nowadays.

The “Ratones Alemanes” (German Mice)

(Microcars in Argentina)

At the time these vehicles resulted a real success in Europe, our country was still in a prosperity age. This Argentina was called "The World's grain loft", "The wheat country", great exporter of non-industrialized goods and a receiver of inmigrants from everywhere.

 

 At that time, Customs clearance of automobiles was not possible in our country, or at least it was subject to great restrictions. But during Presidence of Arturo Frondizi (1957 – 59) the seed of the former National Automotive Industry was sowed. A Car Manufacturers' Register was established and Customs were opened to bring both ready - manufactured cars and spares.

With the basis of these new rules, the first series of microcars entered our country. Microcars immediately became a hit on the daily transit of our cities, sneaking between the heavy "American Transatlantics", "Monsters-like" Leyland buses and tramways, and using the most amazing places for parking...

These curious vehicles were soon renamed by our local population, so they were given the nickname of “ratones alemanes” (German Mice) due to their shape and size.

 

During a first stage, there were only imported ready-made cars, such as the BMW Isetta 300 which was brought in 1958 through J. R. Chediek & Co. (that's the reason why most of the argentine Isettas are 1958) and  Heinkel Kabine through Los Cedros s.a., among other models which afterwards included a local version.

The second stage after direct importation of ready - made cars was starred by local producers, who began manufacturing (or just ensambling) these little cars locally. Then, Salvador De Carlo took the fabrication of BMW 600 and 700 at Metalmecánica, Autoar  produced the NSU Prinz II and III, Isard made Hans Glas microcars, Los Cedros s.a. took the challenge of ensambling 1400 units of the Heinkel Kabine, and others such as Alcre (local version of the European Maico) and Dinarg (Dinámica Automotor Argentina) were also adventured inside the phenomenon of popular transportation.

 

The history of “German mice” and other contemporary microcars weaknesses itself in the mid 60's in both our country and abroad, mainly due to the improvement of economical conditions of the general population, being in that way allowed to reach and maintain more comfortable cars such as the Fiat 600, Citroën 2 CV, or the Auto Union - DKW among others. 

Most of the small (and not so small) European microcar manufacturers, which were owners of the original licenses, were absorbed by greater ones (some kind of "Globalization" in 60's version) or abandoned the adventure and returned to the great luxury cars after using microcars as a powerful tool to avoid bankruptcy (such as BMW). Japan, for cultural reasons, and the Soviet Union countries, for their popular economy, remained as microcar sources, being mainly models produced under license. Meanwhile, in Italy, Fiat took the flag of the small car and exported vehicles to the rest of Europe. 
 

Our local microcar producers lost support from headquarters, and were also victims of the local bureaucracy, such as Metalmecánica, which suffered a lot of problems with Customs clearance process of the spare parts for "De Carlo" vehicles. Unauthorized versions also say that both national and multinational manufacturers of greater cars made lobby against these small competitors.

Microcars, or Microcoupés, are a nice memories for any person exceeding 50 years old, as they surely made their first driving experience with a "german mouse". Everybody's curiosity is great anywhere one of these cars stop, and still nowadays are more and more being proudly showed as a treasure.

More than ever, in our daily transit, we can see the descendants from this race of small, maneouvrable and economic cars, as an alternative for fighting against the lack of space in our streets and avenues, usually overcrowded of automobiles.

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