Some know today, March 15, as The Ides of March. It’s also known as Selection Sunday, when the official 2015 NCAA tournament bracket is revealed. After grinding through countless practices, 30-plus games, and conference tournaments, it’s time for the final judgement.
Teams that won conference titles are rewarded with automatic bids and are given placements in the NCAA tourney. The rest of the bracket, however, is filled with at-large bids, placements that the rest of the teams earn with impressive victories, solid records against difficult schedules, and overall ranking.
The teams that are on the edge of making the tournament are referred to as bubble teams (i.e. they’re on the bubble, which could burst when the team isn’t invited to the tournament). To honor this yearly basketball tradition, let’s take a look at the funky microcars from the ’50s and ’60s known as “bubble cars.”
Messerschmitt was originally an aircraft company that had its hands in building some of the earliest known fighter planes. Based in Regensburg, Germany, Messerschmitt was presented with an opportunity to help with further development of a vehicle that Fritz Fend had built. It was called the Fend Flitzer and it was a hand-powered, three-wheeled invalid carriage meant for disabled veterans after WWII.
When Fritz noticed people who were not disabled were also showing interest, he decided to bump the vehicle up into a real production car, thus going to Messerschmitt. That idea was developed into a tandem two-seater with an aircraft-like bubbletop, no doors, and eventually a Sachs 175 motor.
Peel is generally known for its P50 (the car in the background), which is billed as the world’s smallest production car and appeared on Top Gear to much delight. But the car in the foreground is the cooky and much more bubbly evolution of the P50.
Built on the Isle of Man, it had three wheels, two seats, a 49cc motor, and a futuristic plastic dome. Designed by Cyril Cannell, less than 100 were built, and it was hilariously marketed as a “shopping car.”
Scootacar Mk I
If you can look at this thing and say “Scootacar” out loud without smiling, you probably don’t know what joy and happiness feel like. The British bubble car had a fiberglass body, was claimed to be able to fit a driver and two small children, and held a 197cc 2-stroke engine that fit beneath the seat. With a four-speed gearbox, it actually could get up to 50 mph. Designed by Henry Brown, it later evolved into a swankier MK II Deluxe.
Isetta (Iso, BMW, Velam, Romi)
Like most of these cars, the Isetta was originally created as a vehicle to help less-fortunate people afford the luxury of motorized mobility. The name comes from the Milan, Italy-based Iso S.p.A. refrigerator company. Owner Renzo Rivolta also had success in the scooter business and eventually tried out automobiles. Isetta translates to “little Iso.”
Widely recognized for its association with BMW, it was also sold as a Velam in France and Romi in Brazil, as well. The wacky design included four wheels (unlike the other three-wheeled bubble cars) with the rear two closer together than the front two and a single door that opened up the entire face of the vehicle. It originally ran on a 236cc two-stroke engine that reportedly could go 45 mph and get 50 mpg. These little suckers even ran to some success in the Mille Miglia.
In 1955, BMW created a success by redesigning and re-engineering the car, including giving it a new engine. More than 150,000 BMW-badges Isettas were reportedly built.
The images above show the prototype that inexperienced “designer”/journalist Norbert Stevenson created for his cousin Karl Schmitt, who owned the Elektromaschinenbau Fulda GmbH Bosch factory in Fulda, Germany.
It was a rough three-wheeled, steel-on-wood-bodied microcar that ran on a 198cc motor that was aimed to be affordable transportation for the masses.
The first cardboard and wood mock-up actually placed the single wheel up front and sat passengers tandemly, but Schmitt didn’t like that, so Stevenson threw in a bench seat and widened the front.