GALLERY: Behind The Scenes On Our 1957 Brütsch Mopetta Film Shoot
Over the years, our films have featured a large swath of the motorized world, but whether we’re careening around California with a 250 GTO or hauling wood through the thicketed countryside of England in a Land Rover, the stories center on the experience generated behind the wheel rather than what said wheel is attached to. The machines are intriguing enough on merits of engineering and design alone, but it’s the way they make us feel that matters more—it is the connection we feel to them that truly defines their worth, not market trends nor a stacked stat sheet. This is certainly the case of this charming pastel egg called the Mopetta.
Though it is clearly not the typical supercar accessory to the European jet-setters, it’s story begins with a man who very much fit the eccentric playboy mold. The German Egon Brütsch was a wealthy heir to his father’s stocking company, and he was infatuated with cars, even if he wasn’t the most successful pilot of them. He bought and built a handful of racing cars after WWII to campaign in hillclimbs and other competitions around the continent, but even with cars far faster than his opponents he never made much of a career with racing. He captured a few wins here and there in open-format events, including a victorious season in 1948, but he was never a natural talent.
He did have a keen skill for making miniature machines though. Starting with an absurdly complicated and expensive kids’ version of a Maserati GP car, he sold none of those and went about making some slightly more practical pieces. He would go through a few different models in this discipline—taking popular designs like the Porsche 356 and making small, typically motorcycle-powered cars that looked very similar—before he would land on the design he is best known for in posterity: the Mopetta.
The year was 1956, and the International Bicycle and Motorcycle Exhibition in Frankfurt was days away. Legend has it, Brütsch designed and built his Mopetta prototype in a single day and night before the show in an effort to make the world’s smallest car. He stuck three wheels onto the fiberglass form he’d emerged with, put his secretary inside, and took a photo. Then he brought it to the show. Whether or not the 24-hour turnaround time is true, it was a hasty creation, and so had nothing in the way of a powertrain. That would be solved by simply placing the Mopetta high up on his stand at the Frankfurt show; if you can’t see that it has no motor, how do you know it doesn’t have one?
The Mopetta garnered sizable interest from journalists and spectators; perched atop its platform like a piece of pretty candy, it represented a simplified driving experience that would be perfect for city living, and it was downright charming to look it. So much so that Georg von Opel, formerly of the eponymous car manufacturer, got very close to acquiring the rights to production at some point. Sadly for Brütsch, the deal would never come to full fruition, and Georg von Opel would not go through with the planned “Opelit Mopetta,” leaving just 14 Mopettas in the world, ones that an eager Brütsch had built himself.
Now, six decades after the first fiberglass shell, there are just a handful of Mopettas left in the world, making it officially one of the rarest cars to be featured in a Petrolicious film! This particular example is owned by Sasha Goryunov, a dental surgeon who fittingly measures the value of his microcar in smiles per gallon. Even the paint job is reminiscent of a big cheery grin, and it’s a sure bet that anyone the Mopetta passes by (though it is typically being the one passed, by cars, bicycles, foot traffic…) will have their day brightened by the unique car.
The Mopetta is more like a big motorized shoe than a car though, and it is technically classified as a motorcycle. Indeed, it is powered by a motorcycle engine the size of a standard carry-on item, and the 50cc ILO motor that drives one of the rear wheels churns out a whopping output that is more than two but less than three horsepower. It also has a three-speed transmission, and three of those are forward gears, meaning there is no reverse. That maneuver is achieved by exiting the cocoon, walking to the front, hoisting the nose, and then pointing it back in the direction you came. Simple!
Regardless of speed or corning acuity though, the Mopetta has so much to offer to those who can manage to squeeze inside. It is a pure vintage experience of course, but it’s one that carries a surprising degree of relevancy in the modern age. As our population grows and we need cars that take up less and less space and use less and less fuel, the Mopetta may prove itself to be a viable car design in the future, albeit likely with so many added safety features that it loses its charming proportions. No matter though, because for Sasha and his family, it is a car that already delivers all that they could ask for. It is a whimsical survivor of times long gone, but its story is far from over thanks to passionate enthusiasts like Sasha. Driving the car that makes you smile more than any other? That’s how you Drive Tastefully®.