January 11, 2018

Vintage Photos of the Creative Postwar Microcars of Hungary

In the early 1950s Hungary, like its neighbors, had languished under a harsh Stalinist regime. Innovation and new ideas were frowned on. But after Stalin died in March 1953 some restrictions were slowly lifted. Life became easier. Perhaps, after all, it was a good time for a talented young designer and engineer to put his skills to use.

Eastern Europe in the 1950s this was a political as well as a technical challenge. After the Soviet takeover in the late 1940s, the Russians set up Comecon, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, to co-ordinate economic relations across the Soviet bloc. In line with the principles of socialist planning, each country was ordered to make certain products but not others. Czechoslovakia, Poland and Romania were allowed to make cars, but Hungary was forbidden to, probably because it had no existing car industry. But a national vehicle, like a national airline, was a symbol of patriotic pride, especially in eastern Europe. Hungary's Communists were soon determined that Hungary should have its own cars. Accordingly, they quickly found a very Hungarian solution. The way around the Comecon restrictions was via the Magyar speciality known as the kiskapu, or “little gate”. When one door closes, the kiskapu usually opens, often lubricated by an envelope of bank-notes.

The answer to the prohibition on the manufacture of cars, Hungary's Communist leaders decided, was to make an enclosed geared vehicle with a steering-wheel and petrol engine that transported people in safety, but did not qualify as a car because it was too small: the microcar. As the Magyar microcar was not actually a car, it could drive through both the kiskapu and the thickets of Communist bureaucracy, or so the argument went, and so the microcar did, with some success.

The Alba Regia and the Balaton

The Alba Regia

The Alba Regia

The Balaton

The Balaton


Kálmán Szabadi's Fesztivál

1955 May Day parade in Székesfehérvár with (from left to right) the Balaton, the Úttörő, an Isetta, and the Alba Regia

The Pajtás

The Pente 500

The Pente 600

The Pente 600

The Surányi

The Surányi

The Surányi

The Úttörő

The Úttörő

The Vellák

(via The Economist and Jalopnik)




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