At the other end of the spectrum from the Western Suburbs Wank Wagon is the kleinwagen. The Kei. The tiny car that nimbly dodges from side to side – avoiding road taxes, petrol pumps, and occasionally potholes. They have been a feature of motoring in many crowded countries for a long time.
Australia has had a few in its time – we saw the baby Austins, tiny Subarus, Lightburn Zetas and the Goggomobile. There have been Renaults, Citroens, Minis, and Hillman Minxes too but these are just a little bit bigger than the ones to which I refer. Set your mind on the Old Fiat Bambino as the top of the size and work way down.
In their countries of origin they were the stopgap measure that many industries undertook to get something moving after the RAF and USAAF stopped it – generally by flattening the factories. They needed transport and export and they couldn’t wait until their countries were forgiven – also probably didn’t want to start up the heavy machinery until the trembler switches on the unexploded ordnance had rusted over. The governments of the countries assisted by allowing tax rebates for tiny cars, hiking the taxes on petrol and lubricants ( until the switches rusted over…) and losing some of the incriminating papers for the owners of the factories.
They got basic transport. We got basic amusement. Who could be so heartless as to view a BMW Isetta, an NSU Prinz, or the dear little non-machine gun Messerschmitt without a tear of sentiment. Of course sometimes the lump in the throat was bile as the driver tried to navigate normal Australian traffic from a point of view roughly at the exhaust pipe of all the other cars but that could happen anywhere.
The prime interior characteristic of the Tinycar was the feeling that you were in a telephone booth. And not a particularly sturdy one at that. The wheels were thin, the seats were thin, and the barrier between you and the traffic whizzing by was thin. The only large thing about the Tinycar was, surprisingly, the driver. Quite a few people who bought them were people who also buy large dinners. Sometimes it was fun to see what actually got out of the car, though that sense of fun could pale when they invited you to go for a ride somewhere and you realised that it was going to be inside a pale blue Tupperware container at 30 miles an hour.
The other thing that was common was the noise. All the little motors – none of them ever over 660cc – were valiant workers but never silent about it. They were the mechanical equivalent of Don Knotts in a nervous mood. Sometimes they got you going reasonably fast but your ears rang for a week.
Will we see them again, now that the Smartcar from Mercedes has been taken of the market? Yes we will, but probably not in Australia on anything other than a club license or a mantlepiece. There are too many build laws here and too many bureaucrats to allow the sort of freedom to experiment that the Tinycar provided. I wish had one – I would take it out driving at 2:30 AM when no-one was on the roads. I’d rack it up to 60 Km/h and scare myself to death.