You don’t need a license to drive this weird plastic-bodied French microcar, nor do you need a reverse gear to get this wacky front-wheel-drive car to spin around in reverse.
[Full disclosure: The Lane Motor Museum invited me over to their 3rd Annual Media Rally, where they fed me lunch and dinner and let me drive a selection of weird and wonderful microcars.]
This is a 1978 SEAB Flipper I, a miniscule microcar made for France’s sans permis regulations, which allow people with no license to drive. A small button in the floorboard is there to move it two inches forward because for some reason, that’s part of the sans permis regs.
You can fit one person inside comfortably, or two if you squeeze, or you’re both small.
SEAB stands for “Societe d’Exploitation et d’Application des Brevet.” They’re best known as the group who made the plastic bodies for the Citroën Mehari, but they soon started making little cars of their own. The Flipper I has acrylic windows and a plastic body, which is moved along slowly and noisily by a 47 cc Sachs Adlx two-stroke engine driven by a two-speed automatic transmission.
What sets the Flipper I apart is that the entire front axle—engine and all—rotates around a central point, which allows it to go in reverse without needing a reverse gear. The front axle can rotate a full 360 degrees.
It’s a long steering rack, where it took two and a half turns to do a ninety-degree turn. Five turns, then, would put the car in reverse. It takes some effort to turn, but the massive steering wheel inside helps a bit.
You have to be careful as turning the car winds up a cable that feeds wiring and other necessary bits to the engine from the rear of the car. You have to unwind the steering wheel counter to the direction you turned it to unwind the cable, or else you could bind or break that cable.
But of course, trick backwards capability must be tested, so I did some donuts in reverse. They’re not fast donuts, but they’re still donuts!
Is this the ultimate microcar party trick or what?