The World's Strangest Cars
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TG500 - The Car That Thought It Was A Plane
The German company Messerschmitt made very functional fighter aircraft during the Second World War. Unfortunately, after the war they seem to have tried to build cars in the same way that they built aeroplanes.
What was it like?
Specifically; the cockpit (you could hardly call it a cabin) featured two seats in which the passenger sat directly behind the driver (or pilot if you wish). There were no doors, but the occupants got in and out through a hinged canopy, which was no doubt useful if it was ever necessary to bail out. However, the powerplant would not of be much use in a fighter; it was a 500 cc, twin cylinder two-stroke engine mounted at the back of the vehicle, but allowing for the fact that the TG 500 was so light it could still be powered up to about 80 miles an hour, although the acceleration time would never have got it off the ground; 0 to 60 could only be achieved in a little under 28 seconds.
Did it handle well?
Unusual for a bubble car of the period, this one was fitted with four wheels which made it far more stable than other, three wheeled, competitors. Transmission was via a chain to the rear wheels. Since the centre of gravity was so low handling was quite good although, typically of a light, rear-engined vehicle there could be a tendency to oversteer at high speed.
Was it cheap?
Unfortunately the cost of this vehicle was relatively high, at a little less than the price of the BMC Mini which was selling like hot cakes at the time. Also, as a four wheeler it did not have the tax advantages that it's three wheeled siblings had.
Was it safe?
There are no crash test records but the lightweight design, and the fact that the engine was in the rear and not the front, add up to a vehicle that offered very little protection to the driver and any passenger in the event of a collision. There was a sensitive steering bar rather than a wheel, which could take some getting used to and which didn't help much when instinctive movements had to me made.
Was it reliable?
Apart from the odd oiled up sparking plug the air cooled Fichtel & Sachs engine was fairly robust and the build quality was reasonable. Some bodywork issues surfaced, particularly with the cockpit cover which could sometimes be difficult to open or close properly.
Was it comfortable?
Hardly. The engine was very noisy, the suspension harsh and the cockpit cramped. As a passion wagon (it was, after all, designed for the younger generation) it was a non-starter.
Did it sell well?
No, it was very much a cult vehicle at a time when a lot of younger people were discovering that they could actually afford to drive a proper car. However, it's very scarcity means that well preserved examples can now fetch very high prices indeed.