This is the nutty tale of a legendary loon who was either one of the automobile industry's most visionary entrepreneurs, or least successful shysters.
Egon Brütsch was the brash, happy go lucky son of a stocking magnate who, like playboys before and since, fell in love with racing cars. After the end of the Second World War, the two most prized forms of currency on the black market were cigarettes and women's stockings. And, Brütsch was flush with stockings. So, he bought the most powerful race car he could find, a supercharged Alfa Romeo Monza that had been driven in the 30's by Paul Pietsch and brought it to the first Formula Libre circuit race in postwar Germany at Karlsruhe in 1946.
You could pretty much enter anything in the free format, and he instantly became the favorite since he had presumably the fastest car. But, the Alfa was old and couldn't take a strong boost from the supercharger, and Egon, who had raced a little before the war, was inexperienced. He lost badly, the trophy going to a standard production BMW 328. At Hockenheim in '47, a non-supercharged 1100cc Cistalia won. Egon again was back in the pack. He finally got himself a win in a hillclimb event, but only because the race had been split into two classes. Cars with half the displacement of the Alfa were still quicker.
It became apparent that a modern chassis would beat horsepower every time. So, gathering up some more hosiery, Egon set about having his own car built. He figured, what if you combined a modern chassis AND power, and sourced another huge motor from Paul Pietsch. Pietsch's Maserati had crashed and burned before the war, but its 3700cc six cylinder survived pretty much unscathed. Brütsch hired an engineer named Westenreider who put the engine in a stretched and strengthened frame from an old Alfa Romeo military vehicle. So much for modern chassis, I guess. The resulting car was again relatively massive. But, it was fucking fast.
Egon finished third in its debut at Hockenheim in 1948, but would have won had he not kept shredding tires. He designated the car the EBS for "Egon Brütsch, Stüttgart," but everyone called it the Wastenrieder-Maserati. Not the last diss of Egon in this story. After the Hockenheim experience, Egon and the Wastenrieder-Maserati would lose only one other race that season. Egon had achieved his dream of becoming a champion driver in two years with nothing but derring-do and panty hose.
1949 saw the introduction of Formula 2 and much more developed cars than Brütsch had competed against in '48. Pretty much due to Egon's big car, the Free Formula format was kept, but the Wastenrieder-Maserati was no match for the smaller quicker cars of his competitors. Halfway through the season, a frustrated Brütsch had only one win and decided to look for a better option. He had Wastenrieder design a light monoposto chassis, this time to be built from scratch. It used a double tube frame with rubber sprung suspension. He wanted to use a new V8 that was being designed by Richard Küchen, but it was mired in delays, so Egon went to another older motor, a 2.3 liter Bugatti 51 engine. Egon was still confident in his new car. So confident in fact, that when he entered it in a hillclimb race at Schauinsland, he loaned the old Wastenrieder-Maserati to "King of the Mountains" Hans Stuck, the most successful hillclimb driver of all time. Stuck won, of course, and Egon Brütsch sheepishly disappeared from racing.
But, he wasn't done with cars. Really, his adventure had only begun. Thinking on the childlike joy that driving race cars had given him, Egon came up with an idea. And, with a rash foolishness that would dog him the rest of his life, he made the coolest and most expensive toy ever. A perfect, half-size Maserati race car replica. You know, for kids. Priced at 750 marks, no one could afford it and it was a complete flop. Undaunted, Egon pressed ahead. Since small cars had always been his bane, he went the can't beat 'em join 'em route and designed a little race car inspired single-seater that he had built by coach builder Wendler in 1950.
It used an NSU 125cc motor powering one rear wheel and Egon loved it. He set his sights on starting his own car company. Stockings had been paying the bills for his whole life, but times were tough and no stocking empire was enough to build an automobile factory, so Egon had to find someone to manufacture his designs. It was a challenge that would prove difficult his whole career. The single-seater torpedo car wasn't marketable, so Egon designed a familiar looking roadster.
The 1950's were the golden age of microcars, so Brütsch made his car small and cheap. It weighed 165kg and was to be priced at 2,000 to 2,500DM. Wendler built a steel-bodied prototype in 1952. The car had a Lloyd 400cc engine and could get up to 50.
Brütsch kept tweaking the car and had more prototypes built. One was a larger 2+2 with a Ford Taunus 1100cc engine he advertised would cost 3600DM. Egon had marketing materials printed and took the cars to shows, but orders didn't materialize. Then in 1953 he discovered fiberglass and it changed his life. He was struck at how it could be formed into any shape. It was also a light and cheap material, which he knew from experience were two keys to building an affordable car. He had one of the little roadster bodies built with the stuff by the Pforzheim company, then locked himself away in his small studio to experiment with it himself. After a year, he had come up with his own formula for glass fiber reinforced polyester. Something which took GM's teams of scientists thousands of man hours while developing the Corvette. All that time in a room with chemicals seems to have made him nuts because the cars he designed were like nothing else.
His first was the Spatz (sparrow), a cute open car with three across seating and three wheels. It had a revolutionary clamshell design, two halves mated together with a large rubber gasket like Bill Buckle had developed for his Dart in Australia. This made it strong and easy to produce. Instead of a chassis, it had front and rear subframe assemblies which meant the wheels were basically just stuck onto the fiberglass tub. The rear wheel was driven by the venerable Sachs 200cc motor like in the Messerschmitt and many other microcars. Again Brütsch hit the road to find a manufacturer, and this time he did. Struggling motorcycle company Victoria was looking to enter the microcar market and snapped up a license. Victorias were some of the finest, most technologically advanced motorcycles on the planet and, when they got a prototype Spatz they were shocked. It was crude and seemed thrown together without any regard for functionality. This was to become another theme for Egon. After a few weeks of testing, the prototype split in half. Its chassis-less design was shit. Victoria had to completely redo the car. They dragged the great Dr. Hans Ledwinka of Tatra fame, now 77 years old, out of retirement and he penned a brand new backbone chassis with 4 wheels. The body was tweaked to accommodate the 4th wheel and a frunk, and a removable roof was added.
Victoria supplied a 250cc motorcycle engine and an incredibly advanced 5 speed (!) electronic transmission. It even had heat and defrost, almost unheard of in a microcar. (Weirdly, Victoria didn't want to splurge for a clock even though there was a spot for one on the dashes they sourced from Triumph. So, instead of a plain delete plate, they painted a fake clock face with the hands perpetually set at 8:20. One of my favorite car quirks ever.) It was an entirely new vehicle and Victoria decided their license with Brütsch was null and void. Egon sued, but the court condemned his design as "dangerous" and sided with Victoria. Brütsch was screwed and the Victoria Spatz debuted in February 1956. While it was probably the most modern and refined microcar out there, it was also relatively expensive and production stopped after 800 cars. The whole project sunk Victoria which ceased as a brand in '58. A company in Switzerland, Belcar, had also licensed the Spatz, but didn't have the money for a redesign. After learning of the suit, they shut down production after only a handful of the original three wheeled design had been built there.
Meanwhile, Egon was busy building more smaller and smaller fiberglass cars. He started with the Zweg (dwarf), which was like a scaled down Spatz with room for two. He then built a one person Zwerg for good measure. These cars were also chassis-less, but smaller and thus stronger than the Spatz.
They got the attention of a French company called Societe Air-Tourist who was the sole distributor of Cessnas in France. They bought a license to build the cars, but were also not satisfied with the lack of a chassis, so again a backbone frame was added and the body redesigned with some French flair. About 30 cars were built and sold as the Avolette.
In 1956 he moved on to the Rollera, a pretty little one seater that looked like a sidecar had declared independence and gone off on its own.
It sported a 98cc engine which put out 5.2 horsepower. Brütsch was planning on debuting it at the International Bycycle and Motorcycle Exhibition in Frankfurt. A few days before the start of the show, he hit upon the idea of building the world's smallest car. So, in a day he threw together his masterpiece, the Mopetta.
He basically shrunk the Rollera down to as small as possible. He used no blueprint, just mixed some fiberglass and went to town until he had a shape he liked. It was lumpy and primitive and gave no consideration to a seat or a drivetrain. He propped some wheels and tires up next to it, had his secretary sit in it, and snapped some pictures. The next day, he took it to the exhibition where the Rollera was being displayed. He stuck it on a high shelf where no one could get a good look at it and started pitching the smallest car in the world. He figured it would attract attention which he could deflect to the other car, but of course the Mopetta was all anyone wanted to talk about. Egon realized he may be on to something. He took to cruising around the exhibition in the Rollera with the little Mopetta body lashed to the luggage rack. He even said it was amphibious because, fuck it, yeah, sure it floats (it didn't). He managed to rope Societe Air-Tourist into producing the Rollera which became another travesty.
They only built 8. (This nicely restored red one was, ironically enough, originally bought as a toy for someone's children and was found rotting in a sandbox before being rescued by a Canadian collector.)
But, emboldened by the stir created by the tiny Mopetta, Brütsch set about making it work. By now he was building frames for his cars, thankfully, so he designed a simple little triangle ladder and mated a 50cc kickstarted Ilo motor to one wheel. The car was small and simple enough for Brütsch to start production himself while he looked for someone to buy the license. Egon dragged one of those little things all over the world like a Bible salesman always accompanied by his pretty secretary who featured prominently in all promotional material.
The car and the lady were always well received, but no one wanted to take the risk of building something so ridiculous. Also, Brütsch cars were establishing a pretty sorry track record. But, in 1958, Egon finally got a big fish on the line. Georg von Opel, of Opel fame, was interested. He was no longer involved with his eponymous car company and wanted a project. He became enamored with the little Mopetta which he wanted to call the Opelit. A contract was drawn up and Egon was delighted. He would finally be involved with a genuine experienced car manufacturer. But, literally just before signing the contract, old Georg finally came to his senses. I mean, who the fuck was going to buy that thing? It wasn't just a deathtrap, it was a literal coffin. The deal was off. Egon still managed to build 14 on his own. Most of them were sold at a motorcycle shop in London. Around 6 still survive.
Egon kept building little prototypes for a while. The most striking of which was the absurdly named V-2. Yes, like the rocket. Why he thought post World War II Europe was ready to buy a car named for something which nearly flattened the continent is anyone's guess. 4 were constructed, each with a slightly different design, and shown around the world.
One variation called the Jet even came to the New York Auto Show.
Fittingly, he managed to license it to an Indonesian company that had never heard of him or V-2 rockets and wanted to build the car and then sell them in France and Germany. Unsurprisingly, the idea never took off.
An Englishman sunk his life savings into establishing a company to build Brütsch cars around the time of the Opel deal, but he never got any traction and eventually filed for bankruptcy without producing a single one. Egon chalked up another victim.
He had one he called the Bussard (buzzard) which nearly suckered poor Societe Air-Tourist again.
Finally, in 1959, Egon Brütsch gave up on building cars. People just didn't seem ready for tiny sleek little motorized pods. The auto world would never see another quite like him. He was an innovator and a visionary and also a bit of a huckster, certainly an auto industry staple, but no one was quite like Egon who flitted from idea to idea like a child without an attention span. He would take his skills to his next snake oil venture, pre-fab houses. This time he built them to normal scale.
Brütsch's cars would take on legendary status due to being so eccentric. An original Mopetta is probably pound for pound the most expensive collector car on Earth. A nice and very correct replica recently sold for $66,000.
So, how does it stack up against the other smallest car ever made? Well, at 66.5 inches long, it's actually a foot longer than the Peel P50, which stunned me when I read that. At 34.5 in. it is 6.5 inches narrower. It weighs 171 lbs to the Peel's 130. Its 49cc engine made 2.3 horsepower. The Peel got 4.5 horses out of a motor of the same size. The Mopetta used bigger wheels, 4.00 X 8's versus 3.50 X 5. The Mopetta is open, has handlebars and barely looks like a car. So, I guess the Peel wins. But, the Brütsch has way more panache.