King Midget club members still don’t know all there is to know about the prototype fiberglass roadster that Midget Motors intended to build. How did the tiny Athens-based company plan to power the car? Was it ever meant to have a top? What exactly caused its demise? Now that club president Lee Seats has the prototype in his garage in anticipation of a full restoration and subsequent public display, perhaps some answers will soon come to light.
“All I know is that Midget Motors could’ve built it, but it would have been difficult,” Seats says.
Indeed. Chronically underfunded Midget Motors—a venture started by Claud Dry and Dale Orcutt in 1946—might’ve at one point been the sixth-largest carmaker in the United States, but ran on an infinitesimal budget compared to larger carmakers. Company headquarters was a small building next to Dry’s house, and research and development essentially consisted of the time the partners spent reading the latest issue of Popular Mechanics.
That’s not to say they didn’t meet with some measure of success. The King Midget Model 2 and Model 3 kept the company going well into the Sixties and the company was even able to make some acquisitions, mostly minibike and scooter companies. While the Midget Motors microcar lineup remained fairly static and uninspiring with cars almost no larger than the two occupants that could fit in them—a rarity in the postwar American economy that demanded ever bigger, more powerful, and flashier cars—Dry and Orcutt at one point aspired to build something a little bigger, a little sleeker, and a little faster.
According to Bob Vasholtz, a King Midget historian who has written several books on the cars, just as demand for the Model 2 started to wane toward the mid-Fifties, Orcutt in particular seemed taken with the idea of creating King Midget bodies out of fiberglass. “Fiberglass construction was not capital intensive and small-shop oriented,” Vasholtz writes in “Midget Motors: Blueprint for American Microcars,” thus “the product and process seemed tailored to Midget Motors’ volume and needs.” Besides, fiberglass promised an opportunity to both cut some weight and design a body with more complex shapes than the steel- and aluminum-bodied Model 2 and Model 3’s bodies without springing for more expensive tooling.
Orcutt then proceeded to shape a body model out of clay, seeking input from his workers. Once he finalized the design—incorporating a bit of contemporary Ford in the rear, Jaguar XK120 along the sides and perhaps some Crosley Super Sport in the front—he took some molds from the clay model and sent them to a still-unknown fiberglass shop somewhere in Michigan to have several prototype bodies laid up.
In the meantime, Orcutt set about modifying a 1952 Model 2 chassis for the new car. The front and rear suspension remained unaltered, as did a section of the frame, but Orcutt modified the rest with wider perimeter rails to better fit the envelope styling of the new body and to get the passengers sitting lower in the car.