Scottish Memory Lane
- Three Wheels, Two Seats, One Engine, Half a Brain!
Messerschmitt KR200 on Trip to Scotland
Ronald Fraser, now living in Australia, sent in this longer than usual story of his escapades with a Messerschmitt KR200 three-wheeler motor car to be included in the "My First Car" section. A synopsis has been added there but here in full is his humorous account of life with "a car with three wheels, two seats and one engine"!
Three Wheels, Two Seats, One Engine, Half a Brain!
Once again I picked myself out of the scenery and went over to assess the damage to my 1000cc Vincent motorcycle after another “tank slapper” disagreement as to who was in control. This time it was at over 100 mph, it hurt and I thought “enough of this, I’m sick of falling off, flies driven up my nose at speed, being frozen stiff and dancing around howling as the circulation comes back ….!” and traded the vicious beast in as the deposit on a new Messerschmitt KR200. This was 1959, I was an impecunious RAF corporal, and 225 quid was a vast outlay (a Mini was 400-odd). Drove 715ALD back to my camp at Brampton from Goldhawk Motors at Hammersmith, flinching slightly as big trucks thundered past on the A1 with tyres above me, and almost instantly learned (as did we all) you forget car practice and don’t pass debris on the road between your front wheels.
The years of 'Smitt' ownership thereafter were unalloyed pleasure, as the idiosyncratic charm of the little silver road-hugger confirmed my initial attraction to its layout, performance and reliability. Before long it had Abarth exhaust, radio, boot luggage carrier and all the usual add-ons proud owners indulged in. Er – why was it always when you had a heavy suitcase on the carrier it was the back tyre that punctured? But it was amusing to corner with Minis and their vaunted performance, staying with them and ignoring the fact that your inside front wheel was six inches off the deck…!
By this time I had become a Loadmaster on Beverley transport aircraft at Abingdon, and on one occasion we were tasked to perform at an air display at RAF Leuchars in Scotland. With the aid of the Nav and Signaller we lifted the KR200 into the Bev., and flew up for a night stopover before the display. Unloaded the Smitt, and drove over to my home town 30 miles away to visit my Mum. The garage attendant at Leuchars was a little dumflabberfounded when I said “Fill ‘er up, it’s taken me two hours to get here from Oxford, and I’ve used 1500 gallons already”. Next day the spectators were also a bit startled when this little silver “extra cockpit” picked its way through them, under the crowd retaining rope and drew up behind the Beverley, rear clamshell doors opened, we lifted it in, closed the clamshells and roared off to do our display. From 500 feet you could still see the flutter of white as they turned the pages of their programmes to see what all that was about! (The illustration is of the Blackburn Beverley taking o9ff from RAF Leuchars in Fife)
I even rallied the thing in a local motor club rally in the Cotswolds and gained a top six placing, which was a bit of one-upmanship. Most of the other vehicles were stuck at a flooded ford or chickened out, but having taken a PhD in stupidity, I unloaded the navigator and set off across. Half way over I discovered I had lost traction and was beginning to float sideways down the river towards the Thames and Lechlade, Richmond on Thames, London and the North Sea in that order. Not being enamoured of the idea of being sunk by Naval gunfire as a danger to shipping in the Channel, I hopped out and we pushed it to the other bank, we turned it on its side and emptied out the water that had come in the track rod gaiters and proceeded on our way singing hymns to “those in peril on the sea” and gained lots of points – and that, son, is why Daddy has that silver pottie in his collection….
At this stage I was wooing my wife-to-be who was doing her Occupational Health Nursing certificate at Birmingham Accident Hospital, and on the breaks when I got back from flying trips and detachments to global hot spots, the KR200 wore a groove between Abingdon and Birmingham. At times when I got back from such trips and Oxfordshire was covered in snow, I just looked for the smallest snow mound in the Sgts Mess car park, kicked it till the lid appeared, climbed in and puttered off like a two stroke toboggan while all the rest were digging out their cars, defreezing locks, having starting troubles and swearing a lot. And in what other vehicle can you flip the lid open in fog to see the road edge better? When we got married, we wore an even deeper groove between Abingdon and Scotland visiting our parents, which the KR200 handled uncomplainingly with two up and luggage. The only time we had a problem was one dark and gloomy night, driving over the desolate Douglas Moor just north of the border, black as the Earl of Hells waistcoat, no other vehicles around, 2 am, and Madam in the back suddenly woke up from a snooze and yelled “Watch out for that man…!” I stared at the empty road disappearing into the distance in the headlights, and she explained she had seen a man dressed in black Puritan clothes and tall hat clutching a staff with a candle lantern hanging from it, crossing the road right in front of us. The instruction book says the KR200’s top speed is 60 mph – don’t believe a word of it – 75+ can be done when the hairs on the back of your neck are rising…!
Anyone out there took part in the Esso Scoot to Scotland in 1963? We did, with 715ALD. From all over England starting points, ourselves from Oxford, all (well, most) ending up at a prestigious hotel outside Edinburgh. Beautiful weather, and from Esso another tankard for the collection – still used to decant the XXXX stubbies into. A long trip, with special stages, but the Smitt behaved impeccably as usual, and my wife’s navigating was spot on, though she was less impressed with my doing the KR200 party-piece of leaving the car parks of the intermediate halts changing gear going backwards, which always startles the onlookers.
The only real contretemps was the day I was driving through Edinburgh, at a part of Roseburn which had very high pavements. (Graphic on the right of Roseburn is © Callum Black via Wikimedia Commons ). A delicious lassie was walking along when a gust of wind caught her skirt and blew it over her head. I naturally went “Wowee” and did an “eyes left” and then thought to look forward again, in time to see the stop lights of the car in front in line with my ears. When the graunching noises finished I had to lie in the car with the seat removed and kick the front panel out enough to allow sufficient pedal movement to drive it home. Both my wife and the repair shop thought it hilarious, though it wasn’t so amusing paying the bill for panel bashing. If miniskirts had been around then we’d all have had flattened noses from smashing them off the windscreen.
Then in late ’63 came a posting to RAF Seletar in Singapore, and with great regret I had to sell the Messerschmitt to one of my squadron mates, complete with aircraft type instrument panel, anti dazzle panel nose paint job and ejection seat signs. I even had, at one stage, a braking parachute on the back (an airborne supply dropping drogue chute “liberated” from RAF stores). It didn’t slow one up much, but certainly dissuaded following drivers from tailgating! I had hoped to fit two “sparking” toy machine guns on the front and go chasing Triumph Spitfires but never got round to it. My mate, for some unexplained reason painted it black and even more strangely, fitted the chrome capped end of a Beverley aircraft’s “P-Tube” (a device where flight deck crew can relieve themselves to the outer atmosphere in flight) to the end of the heater hose – suitably disinfected, I hasten to add. It takes all sorts…
A number of years later, back in the UK at RAF Brize Norton, I saw an advert for a KR200 for cheap sale and in a fit of nostalgia, bought the wreck. The trip from Peterborough back to Brize was a nightmare, as it was – to use the technical term – buggered. The only advantage of the holes in the floor was that one could shove ones feet through and assist the braking with the soles of ones shoes…. However, I eventually got it home and stabled it in my garage alongside my SAAB which visibly shrank away from it. Patched the floor with marine ply, derusted as much as possible and put my trust in God and Hammerite, and then went mad with paint on the outside which was originally a sort of puke green colour. Numerous cans of spray paint later it was transformed into a leopard with the result shown here, and used it as a runabout for a bit (between breakdowns). Eventually it was such a mechanical disaster I let the Council take it away and have it mercifully put down.
Now I’m retired and living on the Capricorn Coast of Australia (half way up the right hand side - graphic here of Capricorn Coast and Great Barrier Reef here via Wikimedia Commons ), I sometimes have hankerings for another 'Smitt' though perhaps not on our local dirt roads. We’ve got a Mazda MX5 for fun and a Subaru Forester for practicality, but there are moments when I remember the joys of parking when someone pulls in close to your right hand side so you can’t open the lid, switching off/on/off/on to reverse when you’re in a hurry, shoving the end of the heater hose up your trouser leg to warm your fundamentals on a cold day (not applicable here!) and all the joys of three wheel pottering – or should that be Smittering? Colliding with a large kangaroo could make your eyes water a bit, though.
Ronald & Christine Fraser, Queensland, Australia
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