Welcome to Forgotten Cars, where we highlight fascinating cars and engines that are obscure, unrecognized and lost to the passage of time.
On today's episode of Forgotten Cars, we're jumping in the DeLorean and traveling back to Europe in the late 1940s, where the contient was still reeling from the after-effects of World War II. Factories and roads were in shambles, commodities like steel and rubber and fuel were extremely scarce, and most countries' economies were in the toilet.
But people still needed a way to get from point A to point B, and now they needed to do it more efficiently and cheaply than ever before. Thus began the age of the microcar in Europe — an era that brought us tiny, bubble-like gems like the Isetta and the Goggomobil. Many of them are fondly remembered or even considered classics today.
However, few people outside of Spain remember the Biscúter, and that's a shame, because it's nearly impossible to describe the 1950s in that country without mentioning it. The car was so popular there that it could almost be considered the Spanish Volkswagen Beetle or Mini Cooper or Chevy Bel Air.
Before we talk about the Biscúter and Spain, we have to go back to France and talk about a man named Gabriel Voisin — a name that you're probably familiar with. Voisin was a master aircraft designer, one of the 20th century's greatest, and after World War I ended he launched a luxury brand of automobiles. According to RM Auctions, Voisin lost control of his company thanks to the tough economic conditions of the 1920s and 1930s, but he stayed in the design game.
In the late 1940s he developed a microcar that incorporated everything he knew about aircraft and automotive design. He called it the "Biscooter," meaning that it was about the size of two scooters placed side by side. His prototype is pictured at right.
The problem was that for whatever reason, no one was interested in Voisin's design. France's nationalized aircraft engine corporation believed it had no future, and it found little favor among private automakers as well. In 1952, Voisin ultimately sold it to a Spanish corporation called Autonacional S.A. of Barcelona, who at last began to mass produce the microcar under the name "Biscúter."
The Biscúter certainly wasn't attractive in a traditional sense, but it was a technical marvel. According to Hemmings, it was powered by a 197 cc two stroke single cylinder engine that drove power to the front right wheel. Yes, it was both front-wheel-drive and one-wheel-drive; crazy, right?
The Biscúter also had an all-aluminum monocoque chassis with a four-wheel independent suspension. All that raw, furious power was managed by a three-speed manual gearbox. The seats are made from vinyl and the top could be rolled away. Other body styles were later produced, including trucks and wagons. All in all, it made for a utilitarian, innovative, fuel efficient and affordable car for people in Spain (still recovering from a nasty civil war of their own) to cruise around in. Consumers there nicknamed it the "Zapatilla," or "little shoe."
Biscúter actually had a pretty decent run in Spain. About 12,000 Biscúters of them were made until the early 1960s. They lost popularity for the same reason a lot of microcars did: as the economies of Europe improved, people graduated into bigger and more expensive cars.
In Spain, that meant SEATs, which began to leave Biscúter in the dust. Many of the original cars were scrapped, making it one of the most extremely rare microcars in existence, according to Mecum Auctions. They do pop up at auctions from time to time, but they usually aren't worth a ton of money.
Has anyone out there seen a Biscúter? Has anyone driven one?