Jack Vetter's Heinkel Cabin Cruiser

Note: This text originally appeared in Tom Strongman's Auto Ink column Kansas City Star on May 1, 2005. Mr. Strongman has given me permission to reproduce the story on this site.

Jack Vetter’s fascination with microcars dates back to the late 1950s, when he did odd jobs and cleaned up vehicles at of Isetta of Kansas City. Each year he organizes the annual Microcar and Minicar Picnic.

Vetter’s Heinkel Cabin Cruiser is one of many unusual cars that he owns. The tiny, egg-shaped German car is slightly more than 8 feet long and a little more than 4 feet wide. The wheelbase is a diminutive 68.75 inches. The car weighs 535 pounds empty, which is considerably less than some full-dress motorcycles.

About 10 years ago, Vetter, of Westwood, found this Heinkel, minus its engine, hanging in the doorway of a bar at 75th Street and Quivira Road. Once he persuaded the owner to sell the car, he had to cut the body in half to get it through the door.

“I took a MIG welding class,” Vetter said, chuckling as he described how he got the body back together. “I learned to weld pretty well,” he said, by the time the car was finished. The car didn’t have an engine, but Vetter located one locally.

The Heinkel’s styling is similar to a BMW Isetta’s, “only more weird,” Vetter said. Entry is through the large single door that is the front of the car. It has two wide wheels in front and two closely spaced wheels in back. The engine is a 174-cc, single-cylinder that produces 9.2 horsepower. The four-speed transmission gives it a top speed of 56 miles per hour.

Vetter’s Heinkel looks a lot like a small airplane minus the wings and engine. It has large, curved Plexiglas windows. The front seat is large enough for two adults and a minuscule rear seat - more like a bench, actually - is large enough to accommodate two small children.

Roughly 27,000 Heinkels were built between 1955 and 1964. More than half were built in Germany, but others were manufactured in Argentina, Ireland and England.

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