Rolling across the auction block at Mecum in Chicago later this month is a collector car of minimal proportions. This 1957 Heinkel Kabine is a rare car that looks like something straight out of the Jetsons and weighs as little as a motorcycle.
The story of the little Kabine starts just after World War II. Much of Europe was destroyed in the war, and there was a shortage of just about everything, including fuel and steel. But people still needed to get around. Aircraft manufacturers like Messerschmitt and Heinkel, banned from building planes, decided to build vehicles for the masses. Some of these vehicles were motorcycles while others were tiny cars, many with domed cabins. This era produced everything from Fuldamobil microcars to the Peel P50.
You’ll probably notice its front-opening door and think Iso/BMW Isetta.
Amazingly, as our friends at the Lane Motor Museum note, it’s not only 220 pounds lighter than an Isetta but has more room, too. Unlike the Isetta, its door opens without taking the steering column with it.
Like many microcars of the era, the Kabine was available with either three or four wheels.
According to the Bruce Weiner Microcar Museum, the Kabine was available in a couple of flavors, with the 153 sporting three wheels and the 154 sporting four. Early 153s had a 174cc single making 9.1 horsepower; later 153s like this one have a 198cc single making 9.9 HP. The 154 initially got a larger 204cc engine making 9.9 HP before that was reduced to 198cc.
That tiny engine delivers power to the rear wheel through a manual transmission, which, awesomely, has a reverse gear. Many microcars of the day didn’t have a reverse gear, requiring the driver to awkwardly push-back out of a tight space.
They are pretty rare, too. The Lane Motor Museum notes that about only 6,000 of were produced. So to find one at all, let alone one this clean, is pretty neat. Production was short between 1956 to 1958 before Trojan Cars of the UK built them under license in Ireland until 1966.
As for reliability, the Lane has a pretty great story to tell about a 1,200-mile trip Jeff Lane took with Kabine owner Claude Guéniffey in the 2008 Microcar rally:
“The Heinkel amazed me on the rally; we drove it 6 days, 10 hours a day wide open, only stopping for fuel in the middle of the day. Except for the air cleaner falling off, and the points needing adjustment in Italy, the car never missed a beat. A truly well-engineered vehicle...”
This Henkel Kabine is said to come with an owner’s manual and has had its fuel system gone through. The little piece of history rolls across the Mecum auction block in Schaumburg, Illinois on October 22.