Micro car collectors to descend on Chicago-area museum

Micro car collectors to descend on Chicago-area museum

The more you talk to car collectors, the more you realize the hobby is as much about people as it is about cars.

Gary Bosselman of Roscoe, Ill., for instance, has a Corvette collection and a Nash Metropolitan subcompact car collection — and different friends that go with each. “An entirely different group of people own them,” he says.

The Metropolitan owners tend to be more “grassroots” car people, he says, maybe a little less affluent than the Corvette group but quirky and fun, just like the diminutive Metropolitan of the 1950s.

“Over the years we’ve met a lot of really good people and made a lot of good friends,” Bosselman says. “You go to some of the meets and it’s like a family reunion.”

The Metropolitan — roughly the size of a modern MINI — is on the large end of a category known as mini cars. Their even smaller cousins — some with only three wheels and lawnmower-type engines —  are known as micro cars. Owners of cars in both categories will gather Aug. 21 and 22 in Crystal Lake, Ill., for what is being billed as the first-ever Micro/Mini Car World Meet.

Many of the cars have engines “smaller than the weed wacker you have at home,” says Ken Weger, one of the event hosts and founder of the Small Wonders Micro Car Museum in Crystal Lake, which is open to groups that schedule a tour. “Some cars have a set of pedals for the passenger so they could pedal to help you uphill.”

His collection includes 100 micro cars, which were popular in post-World War II Europe up to the early 1960s. Classic examples include the three-wheeled, hawk-nosed Messerschmitt KR200 and the egg-shaped Isetta — an Italian design with one door: the entire front of the car.

“The premise of the cars being built was there wasn’t a lot of money,” Weger says. “People were tired of getting wet riding a bicycle or a scooter.”

Today, one of the draws for collectors is the low cost of entry. “You can get into a micro car, if you watch yourself, for $2,500,” Weger says. “You can restore it and have a pretty sweet car for a minimal amount of money.”

But Weger says people should be careful whom they hire to work on them. One mechanic he hired broke what would be a minor part in most other cars, but in a micro car it can mean months or years of searching for a replacement.

“You can’t go to the local NAPA store and buy a muffler for an Isetta,” he says. He recommends consulting local micro car clubs to find good mechanics.

Highly rated The Werk Shop in Lake Bluff, Ill., is no stranger to micro cars. Owner Mike Marijanovic has restored several BMW Isettas.

“For a car as unique as the Isetta, we really have to hunt all over the globe for those parts,” Marijanovic says.

But that, too, is part of the thrill, Weger says. He spent nine years searching for front wing lamps for one of his Messerschmitts. He finally found them at the Beaulieu International Autojumble in the south of England, a popular swap meet for European car buffs.

The attention the little cars draw around town and at car shows makes it all worthwhile.

“The motto of our museum is ‘more smiles per mile,’” Weger says. “People can’t help but smile when they see the cars.”