Elvis' Messerschmitt

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber
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elvis messerschmitt

Elvis Presley famously bought (and gave away) Cadillacs, lots of them. One of the first cars he bought after his first success with Sun Records was a 1955 Caddy, which caught fire and burned up out while on tour. Around that same time he bought Sun owner Sam Phillips a Cadillac as well. He bought a 1955 Fleetwood 60 Special and had it custom painted pink for his mother, Gladys, but she never drove it. There’s even a web site devoted just to Elvis’ Cadillacs. though he had at least a couple of notable Lincolns including a ’55 Continental that Ford had customized by Hess & Eisenhardt, the same company that made presidential limos. That web site documents about 30 Cadillacs known to be owned by the King, along with at least a score of Caddys that he gifted to friends and associates. The Cadillac fit Elvis’ image. They were big, bold, brash and fast. That big white Cadillac hearse that the king of rock and roll took for his last ride seemed particularly fitting. All it was missing were rhinestones. That’s why it’s a bit surprising to find out that Elvis owned and drove a tiny three-wheeler Messerschmitt micro car, and he owned it right around the time he couldn’t help falling in love with the much bigger Cadillacs.

The diminutive 200cc Messerschmitt, with only three wheels, so emblematic of the German economy in the 1950s, trying to get on its feet, contrasts sharply with Detroit’s rather large standard of the world that sported tailfins, dagmar bumpers and lots of chrome. Like many of his cars, Elvis didn’t leave it stock, apparently having some custom work done on the three-wheeler. It’s not known exactly how he got it, whether he bought it or it was a gift, but in 1956 Elvis was photographed with his Messerschmitt KR200. It appears that he owned and drove the car for at least a year, giving it to Bernard Lansky, a Memphis clothier in August of 1957. Much of Presley’s early stage apparel came from Lansky’s store and he bought personal clothes there for the rest of his life. Like many of his automotive toys, Elvis decided to make the little German bubble car a gift. Well, not so much a gift as a barter. Lansky got the KR200 and Elvis got his pick of the store for a couple of hours. In an interview about his clothes, Elvis mentions the barter exchange:

Presley describes Lansky as having shown great interest in the car so Elvis proposed a deal. It appears that Lansky thought it was a good deal as well. In the 54 years since, he’s held on to the little car. In the 2009 movie 200 Cadillacs, about Elvis, Lansky was interviewed and he said that he’d turned down many offers of cash for Elvis’ Messerschmitt. He clearly relished the car, which had a canopy just like a fighter aircraft (it was, after all, a Messerschmitt) saying it was “like an aeroplane without wings”. The Lansky family still owns it, a unique piece of history. Because of the Presley connection, it’s got to be the most valuable Messerschmitt on the planet.

The car is known to serious Elvis Presley fans, and to the microcar enthusiast community as well. Elvis’ taste in cars was, let’s say, variable. One of his favorite cars was a Stutz Blackhawk, and he owned more than one. In fact he owned the very first Blackhawk made. On the other hand, while in the Army in Germany, he had a couple of BMW 507s, and later had a grosser Mercedes 600. Still, the mental image of Elvis driving over to Lansky’s in a clown car so he could pick out some sharp threads is just too silly to ignore.

Ronnie Schreiber
Ronnie Schreiber

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, the original 3D car site.

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  • David C. Holzman David C. Holzman on May 13, 2011

    Wonderful, Ronnie! I wonder if the Messerschmitt cars are related to the airplanes. There’s a story my brother told, I think about a class he took in college, where fighter pilot, a guest speaker, was describing a dogfight in WWII, “and the f&*kers did this, and the f#%kers did that…” After a bit of this, the prof, a demure woman, interrupted and said something to the effect that she wanted everyone to understand that a Fokker is a German plane. No, no, said the speaker. These f~+kers were flying Messerschmitts!

    • Ronnie Schreiber Ronnie Schreiber on May 13, 2011

      David, I think the airplane company made them based on someone else's designs. Let me do some research and report back later. From Wikipedia:

      The Messerschmitt KR200, or Kabinenroller (Cabin Scooter), was a three-wheeled bubble car designed by the aircraft engineer Fritz Fend and produced in the factory of the German aircraft manufacturer Messerschmitt from 1955 to 1964. Messerschmitt, temporarily not allowed to manufacture aircraft, had turned its resources to producing other commodities. In 1952, Fend approached Messerschmitt with the idea of manufacturing small motor vehicles.[2] These were based on his Fend Flitzer invalid carriage.[3] The first of Fend's vehicles to enter production at Messerschmitt's Regensburg factory was the KR175.[4] The title Kabinenroller means "scooter with cabin".[5] While the Messerschmitt name and insignia were used on the car, a separate company, incorporated as Regensburger Stahl- und Metallbau GmbH, was created to manufacture and market the vehicle.[4] The KR200 replaced the KR175 in 1955.[4] While using the same basic frame as the KR175 with changes to the bodywork (notably including wheel cutouts in the front fenders) and an improved canopy design,[6] the KR200 was otherwise an almost total redesign.[7]. The rear suspension and engine mounting were reworked, and hydraulic shock absorbers were installed at all three wheels. Tire sizes were enlarged to 4.00x8.[6] Retailing for around DM 2,500, the KR200 was considered an instant success with almost 12,000 built during its first year.[8] A maximum speed in excess of 90 km/h (56 mph)[8] despite a claimed power output of only 10 PS (7 kW; 10 hp)[8] reflected the vehicle's light weight. In 1956, Messerschmitt was allowed to manufacture aircraft again and lost interest in Fend's microcars. Messerschmitt sold the Regenburg works to Fend, who formed Fahrzeug- und Maschinenbau GmbH, Regensburg (FMR) to continue production of the KR200 and his other vehicles.[9]
  • Chasgould Chasgould on May 22, 2011

    The Messerschmitt was built by the Messerschmitt Aircraft Factory based upon a design by Fritz Fend, who had originally designed an "invalid car" for those people who had lost the use of their legs after the war in Germany. Fend quickly learned that many able-bodied people and shopkeepers were buying his cars, as the war torn Germany was in dire need of a cheap, economical means of transportation, and Fend's tiny Bubblecar suited the purpose. Fend approached Willy Messerschmitt, whose aircaft factory had been idled under the Reparations Act, and was therefore prohibited from producing aircraft or munitions. Fend convinced Willy that his idled workers and factory, could be put back to work producing these tiny bubblecars, and that is exactly what happened. There are three basic models, the primitive KR175 produced in 1954 nand 1955, with 175cc Fichel & Sachs, one cylinder, two stroke engine, the slightly more civilized KR200 (which was the model that Elvis owned), and a fierce TG500 Tiger, which was a four wheeled version with a 500cc, two cylinder, two stroke engine that could do around 90 MPH right out of the box. There are other body style varients like the KR201 Sport model as well. We currently have twelve various models of the Messerschmitt in the Gould's Matcbox Motors Microcar & Minicar Museum, and if you want to see and ride in one, check out Gould's Sixteenth Annual Microcar & Minicar Classic Event, which will be held on July 8, 9 & 10, 2011 in Newton (near Boston), Massachusetts. Check out all of the details at www.bubbledrome.com, or on our facebook page at "Gould's Microcar Event" Chas

  • Dukeisduke This could make a decent 24 Hours of Lemons car (who needs reverse on the track?) - they just need to drop the price.
  • FreedMike Is this four days at 10 hours each, or four eight-hour days?
  • MaintenanceCosts I've worked 4-day weeks in previous careers. Unfortunately, my current business requires responsiveness to clients on all five business days, so it's not really an option for me right now.But 4-day weeks are outstanding. The longer weekend leaves you with a true day of rest after you complete all of the errands and chores that we all have to do throughout most of our weekends. I, at least, felt so much better during the work week when I had that third day off. Based on my own experience, I'm fully prepared to believe the studies and anecdotal reports that say employers are experiencing no drop in productivity when they move to a 4-day schedule.
  • FreedMike Pour one out. Too bad FCA let this get stale - I was always a fan of this car.
  • Theflyersfan I'm still trying to figure out the meaning of the license plate. This'll be the hill I'll die on, but I think this was truly the last excellent E-class model (W124). In 1995, for 1996, the W210 "radical front" quad headlight model was released and all signs pointed to this being the first model being built to a price point and not to engineering excellence, cost be damned. Future models were nice looking and had all of the latest tech, but for those of a certain age (read: older), the upright, wood-lined interior with the clickty-click buttons and the aroma of the old leather Mercedes used - that is the Mercedes that some of us remember. For $2,500, this Benz could be an interesting project car for someone with deep pockets and infinite patience. It's cheap enough to where if you get started and then realize that this will nuke the budget, you'd still be able to sell it and recoup something.