I love the Messerschmitt microcars, to the point where I can see myself spending more than $100,000 of my fantasy dollars on one (for a well-restored FMR Tg500) before I'd pick up a new Porsche 911. They're little jewels; tiny pieces of history that are one of our few links back to a more simple time. Even better, a set of events occurred that result in a car with three or four wheels, bubble canopy, and the wackiest steering arrangement I've ever experienced. (The "wheel" rotates and tilts. Fun.)
Through its entire life, from modified invalid car to full-bodied "Tiger" spec, about 40,000 were made—about how many Ram 1500s were sold in the U.S. alone…last month. For a microcar, though, the Messerschmitt models are practically commonplace.
What you really want (well, what I really want) is an aircraft-inspired microcar that's more rare than the Bugatti Veyron. With production believed to be around 300 examples, the Inter 175a Berline microcar was a French take on the Messerschmitt.
First shown at the 1953 Paris Motor Show, the Inter was a collaboration between A.E.M.S. (Ateliers Electromechaniques de la Seine) and S.N.C.A.N. (Société Nationale de Construction Aéronautique du Nord)—A.E.M.S. sent the cheques, and aircraft builders S.N.C.A.N. put them together.
With three wheels, it was positioned between a scooter and a car; frugal and easy to maneuver like a scooter, and capable of…speed and weather protection as a car. Sadly, the Inter wasn't very fast, somewhat disappointing as the open top version was named—officially—the Torpedo.
I can imagine the huge challenge it must be to get one of these restored. It's one thing to go down to your local car parts place and get small block parts, but asking staff to look up, say, gaskets for the Inter's Ydral 175cc two stroke motor…in either L49 bitube or AJ55 specification.
Yeah, I have no idea, apart from the engine's designer was named Lardy. Get it? Sure enough, there's a Ydral club(!)…
French microcars typically have a few novel features, and the Inter is no exception. On Berline models, it had a cloth sunroof opening that was small enough to be covered by a Band Aid. Inters also had a steering yoke attached to the wheels via a bicycle chain. Like the Messerschmitt, its bubble canopy opened to one side; but unlike its German rivals, the Inter could be folded up to fit in tight spaces.
Only a few Inters had the feature—and from what I've read, many Inters had one-off details and parts fitted to just one or two car. But pull a lever and the wheels would move forward and closer together, reducing its width.
A feature common with all Inters is a Westinghouse Gyrostarter. And it's not as cool as you'd think: raise the starter lever and an electrically-driven flywheel begins to spin faster and faster (making a distinct whirring noise); after 10 seconds the starter lever is dropped, which engages the motor by way of a heavy clutch—transferring the flywheel's rotational energy to the motor.
Sort of like push starting a car, except the small battery could take only a few attempts before, as one Inter expert says, it'd be, "as flat as a pancake."
With only around 30 believed to still exist, get this: there are more Porsche 917 race cars on earth than Inter 175a Berline microcars.
Pretty rad, eh?
If you're interested in the Inter, I highly recommend checking out this fantastic website done by an Inter owner; he has restored two cars, the latter being a unicorn-like Torpedo.