- Written by webmin
A little while back, reader Jean-Claude Marcoux came across a photo of an unusual little four-wheeled, rear-engined car being called a Messerschmitt in an article in the November 1958 issue of Popular Science. The article hardly elaborated, noting that it sat four, was designed in Germany, and would be sold exclusively in the United States for around $1,000. The article went out of its way to trumpet the hinged rear section of the body that allowed engine access, but didn’t mention a model name or any other specifics.
To the best of our knowledge, Messerschmitt – most well-known in the automotive world as the builder of the KR175/KR200 Kabinenroller, a cockpit-shaped three-wheeled microcar – never built anything but the Kabinenroller when it came to cars. In fact, some accounts posit that Willy Messerschmitt cared little for automotive production, seeing it as a mere post-war stopgap until he could build planes again, leaving the tasks of automotive production to Fritz Fend, the designer of the Kabinenroller.
So our first thought drifted to Fend; after all, when Fend split with Messerschmitt in about 1956, he started his own auto company, FMR, and in 1958 began building a four-wheeled, two-cylinder version of the Kabinenroller called the Tg500. But nothing we saw referenced the sedan-like four-wheeler, and besides, PopSci called it a Messerschmitt.
Stumped, we forwarded the photo on to Charles Gould, who was eventually able to get an answer out of microcar expert Peter Svilians. Svilians noted that this four-wheeled Messerschmitt was called the K-106 and was actually predated by another, larger Messerschmitt called the P-511. The latter, which Willy Messerschmitt himself apparently championed, was a monocoque design bodied by Spohn and initially powered by an air-cooled four-stroke 45hp 1-liter radial five-cylinder engine, backed by a hydrostatic vane-type transmission/differential combination of Willy’s own design. He began work on the P-511 in 1950, temporarily substituted a Porsche engine in 1952-1953, then got the radial engine to work in the car by July 1954. Where the Kabinenrollers had a fuel economy of 3 liters per 100 km, the P-511 could do no better than 8 liters per 100 km, though it was capable of 75 MPH. By the time the P-511 was finally running with its radial engine, the funding for the project had dried up, Svilians said, leaving only the prototype.
The K-106, on which work began in 1955, was Messerschmitt’s second attempt to enter the small car market, to compete with Goggomobil and Lloyd. It used the P-511’s monocoque design, though with smaller dimensions and a 200cc Sachs engine, weighing in at 815 pounds empty. Fuel economy rated at 5.5 liters per 100 kilometers. A larger 400cc engine was considered, but left on the drafting table when the 200cc engine proved powerful enough for the car.
According to Svilians, Messerschmitt did indeed plan to sell it in America and envisioned several different versions: the K-107 with a 400cc engine and front-hinged doors; the K-108 with an 800cc engine and sportier styling; the K-109, a convertible with a 400cc engine; the K-110, a sports coupe with a 600cc engine; and the K-111, a curved-window version of the K-110.
But as aircraft production started again in 1956, Messerschmitt wanted to sell the developmental files to interests in the United States. Svilians said that Fend was interested in buying the project, but only if the Americans could fund the project, which, in the end, they couldn’t.
The only question mark remaining to the story, then: What was PopSci was doing trumpeting the car two years later? Did they just finally get to it in their pile of press releases? Or was Fend still trying to entice investors at that time? And what happened to both of these prototypes?
Thanks to Charles Gould and Peter Svilians for the legwork and to Harry Connors for the additional images.