This 1959 Goggomobil Is Insanely Cute and Gets 55 MPG. Why Can’t Detroit Do That?

May 31st, 2011

The last time we spoke to Justin Pinchot, he took us on a guided tour of his collection of toy robots. Recently, Justin sent us photos and a video (see below) of his latest toy, a 1959 Goggomobil TS 250 Coupe. According to Justin, less than 67,000 of these German microcars (it’s just 10 feet long) were manufactured between 1957 and 1969. Like other Goggomobil models, the Coupe is powered by a two-stroke, two-cylinder engine, manages a top speed of only 52 mph, and gets somewhere between 50 and 55 miles per gallon.

“One of my favorite features are the suicide doors.”

The Goggomobil’s visual appeal is undeniable, but when Justin tossed out that last stat, I almost got whiplash. I mean, I understand that two-stroke engines are environmental no-nos, that 52 miles per hour is not safe for U.S. freeways, and that the Goggomobil’s diminutive size is not for everyone. But can someone please explain why companies in Detroit and Munich aren’t making cars that are this stylish and fuel efficient? The Mercedes-made Smart cars look like ugly tennis shoes by comparison and get only 33 mpg around town and 41 on the highway. The design of BMW’s Mini Cooper is a whole lot better but its least-thirsty model only gets 29 in the city and 37 on the highway. Toyota’s Prius is in the same ballpark as the Goggomobil in terms of mileage, but it’s half again as long. I don’t get it.

What just about everyone gets is the car’s incredibly cute, 1950s styling. “I’m in Old Town Pasadena right now,” Justin said when we spoke on the phone the other day. “I can’t go anywhere without drawing a crowd. It’s just mind-bending. People love it.”

Even though the Goggomobil Coupe is small, which means you should be able to absorb it in a glance, most people stare because they probably don’t know where to look first. There’s the jewel-shaped grille in the front, the notched tail lights in back, the gill-like side vents to cool the rear-mounted engine, and the side-view mirror (just one) mounted roughly between the windshield and the front-left headlight. Did I mention the two-tone paint job and the liberal use of chrome? What a beauty.

“One of my favorite features are the suicide doors,” says Justin. He also gets a kick out of the parking lights behind the driver and passenger window. “They’re low voltage so that when you park the car on a dark street, you can leave the parking lights on so someone doesn’t hit it because the car is so small. You can put two of them in a regular parking spot on the street. I’m not kidding.”

Thanks to the engine being in the back and the car’s lack of trunk, there’s plenty of legroom up front. The “backseat” is another story. “There’s no legroom at all,” he says. “I don’t know who’s expected to fit back there.”

Speed is also not at the top of the Goggomobil’s list of features. “It’ll do 50; 55 if I’m going downhill with a tailwind,” Justin says. “It’s not very fast, but it’s fast enough if you’re in a Goggomobil.”

“Cars are mostly utilitarian now,” Justin continues. “I don’t think people are having quite the fun with them that they used to.” Little wonder, with gas prices at $4 a gallon and the cost of the average new car nudging 30 grand. “I think that’s why when I drive this thing down the street, it draws such a crowd. I don’t think there’s anything new on the market that’s as exciting as some of the microcars like the Goggomobil. Considering the price of gas, you’d think there’d be more interest. They’re really timely.”

28 comments so far

  1. Jen Robinson Says:

    Great article! Darling car–I want one.

  2. Seth Levy Says:

    Love Goggomobil but I have a Chevy Cruze Eco and just drove over 1,000 miles on 16 gallons of gas. Detroit can do it. I bet this car doesn’t have A/C.

  3. John Says:

    Detroit does do something like this only better. For example the Chevrolet Volt gets better mileage than this deathtrap and can cruise at highway speeds safely.

    Cure car but an anachronism not applicable to modern times.

  4. Cameron Browne Says:

    Great little car, since most cars in the US have only one person in them during the commute this would be the way to go. I’m not sure that the 50mph limit of the car makes it much more unsafe then many of the newer cars out there. Many of the newer cars have tiny windows, limiting visibility. It may be safer to see whats around you then to have the power to accelerate out of a situation. I’ve seen other cars accelerate to avoid a situation and end up accelerating into another. I have a 1981 VW Rabbit that gets the same mileage as this car and usually does 50-55mph. I find that going in the slow lane and using my brake has gotten me out of every traffic altercation. I just leave a couple minutes early to make up for the slower speed.

  5. David B. Says:

    It has no more safety features than the old VW Bugs – death trap. The weight involved with the safety features we now all require and rely on is substantial. Crash, emissions, et al have all robbed modern engines of efficiency in exchange.

  6. jonathan peterson Says:

    Rip the 6 airbags, seatbelt, padded dash, stereo, comfy seats and AC out of a mini and you’ll get better milage.

  7. Andy Says:

    Design requirements for safety also have quite a bit of bearing on design of a car. Anyone noticed how all new windshields slope forward at a radical angle? Safety first!

    It is sad that we’ve abandoned design. Unsafe at any speed, maybe, but lookin good at any speed is also important! haha.

  8. Brian Says:

    Great set of wheels, Justin! Did they make convertibles? Two of ‘em could double as roller skates…

    Nice article!

  9. Capn Dan Says:

    The microcars of 1950s Europe were cute, fun, cheap to build and simple to maintain. Unfortunately, they could never, ever pass current US emissions or crashworthiness requirements. An accident that would hardly dent a US sedan would put the front bumper of a Goggomobile into the driver’s lap, and there’s a reason the “suicide doors” were callled that. Sad but true.

  10. Jerk Says:

    Why can’t Detroit do that? Because it would be against the law to sell it in the United States. Automobiles are heavily regulated which stifles a lot of potential innovation and changes that an automobile manufacture would want to make.

  11. Mike Says:

    Anyone heard of the Nash Metropolitan? Hello?

  12. Ross Says:

    Fun car. Google for goggomobil dart for a pretty little opentop from the same company

  13. Tom Cabanski Says:

    If you make the car small enough and the engine small enough you can get incredible gas mileage. Ever hear of a motorcycle?

    Detroit can certainly “do that” but why would they? The reason these cars never made it here is that they are too small to be truly useful except as cute toys for rich guys with car collections. I have a funny feeling that hip, liberal idiots would have a problem with me if I strapped my twins in their car seats to the hood.

  14. bob Says:

    and then there’s always the ever-popular trabant…

  15. RaulJones Says:

    Comparing this with a POS Volt is just plain stupid. And I’ll wager this is more reliable than the Volt. 40 miles to a charge (plugincars.com) for a $41,000 electric craptrap? My old grandfather stuck an electric motor in a Karman Ghia back in ’75, and got 50 miles.

  16. RBro Says:

    It’s hard to be believe a a car such as this could pass any state (USA) DOT (Department of Transportation) inspection. It would have to be a ‘gray market’ title of ownership here, meaning that it would be VERY difficult to make this thing legal in the U.S. . A nice ‘toy’ for sure though and highly dubious that it’s being driven legally. I noticed that the plates appeared to be from Europe and it might be just fine there…again….goining back to the Trabant..

    R, Dallas, Tx., USA

  17. Danny Ross Says:

    Citroen 2CV got 50 MPG and 67.5 MPH with a flat opposed (boxster) made from 1939-1974. It was only 94,5″ long, and was sturdy enough (and had a high road clearance) that Citroen sent them into Africa – and they made it back.

  18. Rocco DellaNeve Says:

    We are focused on the wrong thing. We are working on new powerplants, which are extremely expensive to develop not to mention the immaturity of the technologies (range, cost, etc). If we focused on reducing the cost of lightweight materials like composites, then we could improve mileage on everything that we produce. In addition, there are some promising materials that don’t rely on non-renewables. The little car in the article is very light weight. This is the key to drastic and immediate improvement in mileage. You won’t need everyone to go to 2 seaters with old material technology. Make the same size cars and SUVs but make them 30% lighter. Here’s a thought, make it a government sponsored X prize. Give the “winner” $200 million dollars, but they must share the technology with the other manufacturers.

  19. Justin Sane Says:

    We only know where we are going when we have looked back at where we have been. This great web site’s focus is on vintage collectibles; the Goggomobil featured is a “collector” car, it was not purchased for transportation purposes, and will likely always be in a collection somewhere, or taken to car shows, not driven daily on today’s roads. (Although taking it for coffee is an experience you will not forget, and you better be prepared to talk to virtually every person who sees it!)

    The author seems to simply be asking that if a car with this much style could be conceived and built in late 50s Germany and get that kind of mileage, why is it so hard for Detroit to put out something comparable, and with some style, in today’s market? The answer is a bit controversial, but many of you are correct; safety standards, materials used, technology all may stand in the way, but the truth is if the buying public demanded high style and fuel economy combined, Detroit would build it. But if consumers continue to buy big, gas guzzling, style-less vehicles, that’s what Detroit will build and sell.

    Having driven the Goggo, I don’t think I would classify it a “deathtrap”, although it is quite small and low, it’s no more dangerous to drive than any other very small car. It is a unique, novel, and seriously fun driving experience, but not one I would want to rely on daily. Many vintage cars are less than safe, at least by today’s standards, but just go to any vintage car auction, and you will see they still get quite a bit of attention, adulation, and fetch crazy high prices. Does it lack A/C and other creature comforts? Of course! But that’s not why most people buy vintage cars.

    For “RBro” in Texas, surprisingly this Goggomobil is street legal, and is titled, licensed and insured in the state of California. I only had the car for a day or two when I took those photos, and had not yet installed the new CA license plates, but rest assured, it has passed inspection and is totally street legal. It was also brought to the states quite legally, no gray market shenanigans here.

    I’m gratified to see it inspired so many interesting and thoughtful comments. Happy collecting!

    Justin

  20. ignatz Says:

    my mother had one of these,the same model. she drove it for 14 years.i got my drivers license in it,cop that took me was squashed in the tiny back seat and couldnt wait to get out.great times were had in this car.it is still somewhere in tasmania,cheers paul.

  21. mikielikesigns2 Says:

    it looks eerily like my 1954 Alpa Romero 750 spider, the front end, the “stance”, wheel openings, ect. Just wish i could finish the restro. & get it to come out looking like that!!!!

  22. vintagelove Says:

    Just a few thoughts: Ever see new/contemporary U.S. cars on the road with gaping holes in them, with the hollow front bumpers torn off? I remember when the Trabant was ridiculed for the same low technology/quality, albeit the hole between the 2 layers of plastic was much much bigger. But it’s the same story. As Detroit moves away from heavy, safe metal, it seems the technology is not getting better or raising safety standards at home. Why did taxi drivers across the country make a mad rush to buy all of the Crown Victoria’s and Lincoln Town Cars before they stopped manufacture forever in 2011? With the number of drivers on the road exponentially increasing since 1959 it’s hard to imagine the little Goggo on a stretch of open road humming along by its cute little self.

  23. William Says:

    GEO Metro back in the 1980′s/90′s and some Honda’s had 50 plus mpg. Why not now?

  24. Dan Says:

    This car is like my grandmother’s antique couch. Everyone who sees it loves how it looks, but in the four houses it has lived in during my 59 years on earth years, it has always been everyone’s least favorite place to sit. Show me an old car in good condition and I will show you a vehicle that, like Granny’s sofa, has spent a lifetime sitting mostly undisturbed in a darkened, climate controlled room.

  25. Andi Says:

    After I read the comments, I have to say that some people just don’t get the point… sad world!

  26. David Axelrod Says:

    Looks eerily like a 1960 Nash Metropolitan…they were cute as a bug!

  27. JHM Says:

    This is not a usual car by definition.

    It is a “Kabinenroller”, a cabin roller, that is a motorcycle (motor) with three or four wheels attached instead of two and a passenger cabin built around all that. I recall this concept to be called “bubble car” in English, if i am not mistaken. So, to compare that gorgeous little German legend from the time of the “Wirtschaftswunder” to a standard car of the same era or even cars of today is not fair, as it was never meant to be a competitor of cars, it was a small hybrid between motorcycle and car meant for working class people with a relatively small wallet to be able to afford their first step into modern means of transport in 1950′s Germany.

    There is a wonderful reconstructed film called “Traumreise zu Dritt – Im Goggomobil um die Welt” (“Threesome dream journey – around the world in the Goggomobil”) by Peter H. Backhaus – the original film rolls were destroyed and finally reconstructed a few years ago when near complete copies of the original film and magnet tape sound material were found by chance in some attic by German WDR TV – the film is marvellous, a colourful world journey from 1957-1962 in the Goggomobil done by Peter H. Backhaus and his wife Marlotte sponsored as means to promote sales then by Hans Glas GmbH, the maker of the Goggomobil in Bavaria. The film is available on DVD, and really worth looking, great nostalgia and a great joy to watch.

  28. Bob Says:

    I had one of these cars in 1961. I bought it from an import dealer who had taken the transmission apart, the engine out, and it was all in a box. My father and I, rebuilt the transmission, put it back together and I drove it my first year in college. It was fun, but couldn’t haul anything if you were going somewhere for a longer than overnight stay. Was not fast, but got you there. Local pranksters used to put the car up on the sidewalk when I’d park it downtown.


Leave a Comment or Ask a Question

If you want to identify an item, try posting it in our Show & Tell gallery.