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This Adorably Tiny Car From 1957 Was Ahead Of Its Time

At a time when giant cars were all the rage, the Motoplan was a very different take on vehicle design. Our congestion clogged roadways could desperately use that vision now.

On a typical traffic-clogged commute to work, most people drive with three empty seats. One solution, beyond public transit and carpooling, is shrinking the car itself. Startups like Lit Motors and car giants like Toyota are working on new single-seater designs now. But it turns out the idea isn’t new: Here’s a charming one-person ride from 1957 recently unearthed by Core77.

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Built using an old motorcycle sidecar, the “Motoplan” was designed by a German engineer named Carl Jurisch who was convinced that a single-seat vehicle was the future of transportation. Jurisch, a motorcycle racer and talented engineer who at age 23 had built his own motor from scratch, watched as cars became popular in post-war Germany. He tried to find a way to redesign the car to be more like a motorcycle.


His design was full of innovative quirks. Instead of a steering wheel, it had handlebars a little more like the controls on an airplane. Since there wasn’t room for a regular fuel tank, Jurisch designed one that could pop up. “The machine unfolded like a puzzle box, with canopy, tail unit, seat, and fuel tank pivoting upward for easy access,” wrote the auction house that sold the car last year.

While it might not have fared well on the Autobahn, the car could reach a respectable 55 miles per hour, and presumably got good gas mileage as well. But 1957 wasn’t the best time to sell a tiny car, and Jurisch couldn’t drum up any interest in his design.

The designer took his prototype to a popular German car magazine and asked them to review it, but was laughed out of the room. “Who would buy such a silly impractical thing?” the editors reportedly asked.


So Jurisch sent the car to a motorcycle dealership in New York, hoping for better results. But Americans wanted giant American cars with tailfins; ad copy at the time even emphasized the length of a car as a selling point. No one wanted the Motoplan.

Only three prototypes were ever made, and only one still survives today. Makes you wonder how driving to work would be different now if these had actually caught on.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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