A good friend of mine sent me a simple one line email after I'd featured the Horlacher GL-88: "That is not a car."
You know what? It isn't.
It isn't a car for picking up people at the airport, carrying home lumber from Home Depot, or using for a road trip across Route 66. But it is a car from getting to and from; an errand-mobile that so much of the world can take advantage of. Here in North America, you'd get blown off the road—but just about everywhere else, a small, efficient vehicle is probably the way to go.
Today's car, the Velorex, was initially launched as the Oskar and eventually just reverted to being called "the Velorex", on account of there being nothing quite like it in Czechoslovakia or anywhere else. I was reminded of the car just yesterday when I saw photos of the new—fabric-skinned—EDAG Engineering Light Cocoon concept car, which marries a 3D printed chassis with Texapore Softshell fabric from outdoor specialists Jack Wolfskin.
You may also recall the BMW Geometry and functions In 'N' Adaptations…or 'GINA' for short, which merged moveable aerodynamics and a fabric-covered outer shell. I hope we see more of this sort of thing—the metal skin on a modern car does little other than look pretty, but the strength is underneath. So why not reduce weight and do a fabric skin? It'd save on fender benders, that's for sure…
Forgive me for stating the obvious, but back in the day Velorex designers didn't have special fabric created by outdoor specialists. They didn't have large steel presses to make a "real" car, and they certainly didn't have styling talent like Harley Earl or Battista Farina to help with how it all looked.
But they did recognize a need for the country's largely low-income population: getting people from A to B. While the communist elites had their pick of a number of real cars, life for the average Iosif on that part of the world was decidedly less decadent. Early on, disabled war vets and keen punters could buy an Oskar, first available in 1945, at about the quarter of the cost of a normal car.
We're talking about a region of the world where it was difficult to get a car, let alone a conventional one. After production was moved to a different town, the two brothers responsible for the design, František and Mojmír Stránský, geared up and began to improve their fabric car. There are many different quirks and differing details for Velorex models, but the basics are the same: a tube-frame chassis, small motorcycle engine powering the rear wheel, and a vinyl-like synthetic fabric stretched over the structure.
The most powerful Velorex was also the most popular and most common today: the 16/350, introduced in 1963, gave a full 350cc from its Jawa motorcycle engine. Sixteen horsepower to push a 310 kg (685 lb) car gave a top speed of 85 km/h (53 mph).
What could best be described as a regional curiosity is still going strong today: many examples still exist, with clubs that schedule regular meet ups and offer technical help. Based on one of the most popular motorcycles of that era has its perks, namely that parts are still available and the overall design is simple to work on.
I think it'd be fun to get a Velorex, even though it stretches the definition of the word "car".
Note: I usually only link to official videos of cars, but check the one out below—there's a modern Honda motor and upgraded mechanicals hiding under all that power rock. There are many historic photos and details available at the first source, velorex.org