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.”