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