Let's just say I'm in awe of those who can make things using their hands—assembling a Lego Unimog is just about the limit of my building skills, to say nothing of actually making the individual pieces.
That's something Montana machinist Arlis Sluder was able to do with the Arbet, recognized by Guinness as the "World's Smallest Car" in the mid-1990s…even though he had started building the micro machine in 1945.
Let me explain.
Arbet, the melding of both Arlis' name and his wife's, Beth, was built to be a two passenger micro car–with an emphasis on "car".
A convertible complete with removable hard top, it stands a few inches shorter than the original Ford GT40 (so named for its 40 inch height). With more than 5,000 bespoke parts, I feel as though Sluder can be considered a manufacturer…if he did only get around to making a single example.
With luxuries beyond most micro cars, the car features windshield wipers, washers, a horn, high and low-beam headlights, cigarette lighter, and heater.
Powered by a horizontally-opposed Onan 13-horsepower engine usually reserved for industrial equipment, top speed is said to be 72 km/h (45 mph)—which sounds just fast enough to crunch it into a form-fitting metal coffin should the mood strike.
This relative complexity—and that Sluder probably built it in his spare time—meant that the car was completed in 1956.
The way the story goes, a man by the name of Jeff Gibson saw Sluder driving it around, fell in love, and made him an offer. Gibson is who you'll see in most of the photos of the car…which tells me that Sluder built the car because he could, not for fame or fortune.
That's noteworthy, that's cool, and that's worth remembering.
Guinness was made aware of the car by Gibson, its second owner. After doing some digging, I noticed that the website linked to by the New York Times profile of the car points toward a pro-man ("men's rights") page that I absolutely refuse to link to.
I respect the viewpoint of readers who have sent me notes mentioning my very occasional use of profanity (If you're one of them, stop reading now!), but let me be clear: the "men's rights" movement is one of the most insanely fucking stupid things humanity, er, men have come up with, along with Creationism, Scientology, and climate change skepticism.
I can't in good conscience link to the current home of information on the car, as it sits on a website filled with assholes all butthurt over our "increasingly emasculating world"—so if you want to learn more, you're on your own.
Just don't let the sins of its current caretaker overshadow the achievements of its builder.