Bruce Weiner's Microcar Museum (Closed)
If we lived in a future of itty-bitty atomic engines, and pea-sized people -- we might be driving microcars.
"I saw my first one in 1991, fell in love with it, and bought it that night," said Bruce Weiner, a businessman who has amassed the world's largest collection of the world's smallest cars. "I thought it had fallen out of the sky from outer space."
Microcars aren't alien. They aren't clown cars, though most Americans still chortle when they spot one in normal traffic.
Microcars are real, street-legal vehicles that filled the motorways of post-World War II Europe. They were cheap to own, small enough to navigate narrow medieval streets, and they gave shattered European industries something to build after the war.
If you look at a Messerschmitt microcar and see a Nazi fighter cockpit with wheels, it's not just your imagination.
LaShawn Hagler, who runs the Microcar Museum when Bruce is away (which is most of the time), showed us around. "I'm forever cleaning faces off that front door glass," she said, pointing to the smudges of visitors who arrived when the museum was closed. People, she said, are always asking to touch the cars, to sit in them, to buy them. How much does a microcar cost?
"I choose not to know," said LaShawn. "Because if I did I'd probably be too scared to let anyone in here."
Bruce currently owns almost 300 microcars, and displays them with his collections of vintage neon signs, advertising art, kiddy rides, and vending machines. "I also probably have the world's largest collection of gum," he said. "It's serious. Maddening serious."
A museum filled with microcars is a candy-colored funhouse of shapes and styles. The Velorex Oskar looks like a tent with wheels, the pebble-grained Fuldamobil resembles a piece of luggage. The Zundapp Janus has doors on both ends; the Frisky Family Three seems to have been inspired by an inquisitive guppy.
The Pixar movie Cars features two tire-changing Isetta microcars (they're so doggone cute), and Bruce has over a dozen of them. Bubble-top cars like the Avolette Record De Luxe look cool, but LaShawn said that they weren't always fun to drive. "In the summertime it's like sitting in a greenhouse."
LaShawn called the coral-colored Fiat Jolly "my Fantasy Island car" and said that women love its wicker seats and fringed surrey top. The Trabant from East Germany is made of something called Duroplast, a substance so toxic that it can never be recycled, according to LaShawn. "I tried to FeBreze it, but it still has that awful smell."
Tiniest of all is the Peel 50, "probably the most unsafe car I own," said Bruce. It has less horsepower than a lawn tractor. If you want to go in reverse, you get out, grab a handle on the back of the car, pick it up and turn it around.
Microcars sound great in theory: inexpensive, fuel-efficient, easy to park. But sitting in one is like wedging yourself into a space capsule -- or a clammy tin can -- with knuckle-busting steering and your knees up against your ears. Bruce said that most microcars have no heat, no radio, no soundproofing. And if anything crashes into you, you're dead.
Bruce keeps a dozen old microcars available for trips into town, but he won't drive a new Mini Cooper or a Smart Car. "I don't believe in modern microcars," he said. "They're too dangerous."
The size of America's other vehicles, and the size of most Americans, will probably always limit microcars to war-ravaged dystopias with underfed populations. "All I can say," LaShawn concluded, "is that they had to be real tiny people over there."