The bubble car bursts back to life

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The Independent Online
Nostalgia can come in many forms, and now it has arrived bubbled-shaped.

The car synonymous with cramped legs, low fuel consumption and even lower performance, is making a comeback.

A small manufacturing company, which earlier this year started making full and kit-versions of the bubble car, claims its production books are full until the end of September and has been "inundated" with potential orders.

The new-found interest in the car, whose potential footnote in history as a symbol of the Sixties was cruelly supplanted by the invention of the Mini, comes as much from young people as from the middle-aged rekindling old passions.

People are apparently being drawn to the car by a combination of cheapness and chic, as well as plain nostalgia.

Even the five members of the Spice Girls have been trying to buy old models of the sportier Tiger bubble car.

Dawn Edwards, of Preston-based Tri-Tech Autocraft, which is making the kits, said:"We've had interest from a variety of sources, including younger people. Some are using them to commute, some people just find them fun."

The company has sold around 15 kits so far, but hopes to sell many more by the end of the year as production is stepped up. "Our orders are full until the end of September," said Ms Edwards, whose husband Rick is one of the two partners in the firm.

She added:"One customer said he was just sick of driving `Euro boxes' and he wanted to get back to real driving again."

The firm is producing two versions, each of which pays homage to bubble car names of the past: the slightly cheaper Schmidt, which refers back to the Messerschmidt models, and the Zetta, a reference to the old BMW Isetta. Each kit is more than pounds 3,500, minus the engine which the buyer provides, usually a 250cc motorcycle engine. The on the road cost is usually just over pounds 4,000.

Though the finished product can produce speeds of just 75mph, it is largely the bubble car's appearance which attracts new interest.

Roger Bentley, membership secretary of Micro Maniacs, which represents around 1,000 bubble car owners, said the glass fibre kit cars would help revive interest among younger people. "I think everyone is looking for something a bit different these days. "

The heyday of the bubble car lasted but briefly, said Mr Bentley, from the mid 1950s until the early 1960s.

The main manufacturers had been German companies looking to change from wartime production; BMW, Messerschmidt and Heinkel, though a wide and wacky range of models was produced, such as the Cassakina Sulky, the Goggomobil and the Bamby.

Mr Bentley believes the revival of interest coincides with a development of a more rounded shape in modern cars.

The interest was clear earlier this year when a collection of 81 bubble cars fetched more than pounds 440,000 at Christie's. Mark Robertson, of Christie's International Motor Cars, said: "It's another sign of the way people are looking to the past. Some of the bubble cars are chic, some downright ugly. But they are different and fun."