Microcars hit their peak popularity in the years directly after WWII when factories in Germany and Italy, no longer making military aircraft, re-tooled to meet another demand: freedom – now cheap and available to the masses. Tiny, economical cars were perfect for this environment. Using scooter engines, and super-light bodies, Messerschmitt, BMW, Heinkel, and Lambretta popularised the microcar. Their appealing (if cramped) aesthetic soon spread across the world: Britain, Japan, and Australia all created versions of the microcar. Most notably in Australia the Goggomobil Dart and that most versatile of microcars, the Zeta Runabout.
Made in South Australia, the Zeta Runabout was designed by engineer and entrepreneur Harold Lightburn in 1964. His company, Lightburn and Co, made wheelbarrows and washing machines and it was their success in the use of lightweight fibreglass that led them to design a small car using that material. Taking note of the shortcomings of other microcars – mainly the lack of any stowage space – Lightburn gave the Runabout actual luggage space.
This exhibition will feature microcars from the Powerhouse Collection, and a selection of loans from notable Australian collectors. It will also examine contemporary electric and hybrid microcars such as the Renault Twizzy and the Smartcar now seeing a resurgence due to the damaging impact large petrol engine vehicles are having on our world.