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THE KING MIDGET HISTORY

In its day, the King Midget was billed as the "World's Number One Fun Car." It still is for those lucky enough to own one. Such fans then and now helped establish Midget Motors’ significant niche in the annals of automobile history.

In 1946, two aviator friends, Dale Orcutt and Claud Dry formed a partnership to build the automobile they believed America needed. In that postwar period, it was commonly thought that World War II debts would plunge the US back into depression. Yet there would surely be a pent-up demand for new automobiles since none had been built during the war. The solution was thought to be small, inexpensive automobiles. General Motors, Ford and a host of new companies set out to provide them, including Midget Motors.

When the postwar economy boomed, the big companies dropped their small car programs and the new microcar companies folded—all but one—Midget Motors.

Claud and Dale took a unique approach to the auto business; the time-honored path of small town entrepreneurs. They started small, creating a self-sustaining business and then used that business to build the car of their dreams. A modest, simple car “… a school boy could afford.” Lacking capital, they bootstrapped a small parts and publishing business into a car company. And they made it work.

They built on Claud’s Used Aircraft Directory, evolving an ad service called the Midget Motors Directory for small engines and surplus, some of which was their own merchandise. They drew plans for microcars, scooters and the like, and offered the plans and parts to build them. The business was immediately profitable.

Plans for a simple car that looked like a quarter midget quickly morphed into a kit containing the key parts. Claud’s wife named the car “King Midget”. A small building was acquired where Dale built a growing array of components for the car as well as Super-Cycle motor scooters. About 500 Model 1 King Midgets were built and a comparable number of scooters.

Demand for the King Midget really took off when Tom McCahill, the legendary automotive journalist, drove and praised the King Midget in 1949. Simultaneously customers requested a two-seat version, and great effort went into designing a new car, as well as a new factory to produce both King Midgets and scooters. The partners took out a mortgage to build the factory, but continued to operate the business on cash flow, building only when orders with deposit were in hand.

The 1951 two-passenger King Midget that came to be called the Model 2 was an immediate success after great publicity including the cover of Popular Science magazine. Demand overwhelmed the new facility, particularly when an order for hundreds of cars came from Mexico. The factory was doubled in size, soon paid for and Midget Motors continued to operate on a cash basis. It is estimated about 1,500 Model 2’s were built.

Continuous improvements were made to the King Midget and it became the focus of production. The Midget Motors Directory inspired the partners to charge a small fee for their brochures. Those pamphlets, advertised in the home mechanic magazines, inspired endless quarters and dollars to pour into the small Midget Motors headquarters, as well as enough orders with deposit to keep the factory’s 20 or so workers busy. Nearly all cars were sold by mail order. Claud ran the business while Dale ran the factory and both worked on improvements and innovations, some of which were patented.

A sidewalk car called the King Midget Junior (later the Trainer) was built as a loss leader to keep the employees busy in the off season.

As other American microcar companies foundered, Midget Motors developed and introduced a new King Midget in 1957, now known as the Model 3. Just a bit larger, it featured improved brakes and comfort, but retained Midget Motors’ unique automatic transmission and suspension. Despite Detroit’s trend to ever larger and more powerful cars, this King Midget quickly became the little company’s best seller, with some 3,000 sold over the span of a decade.

In the early Sixties as Claud and Dale were working on their next model and had reached an age where their health was becoming an issue, they had no succession plan. They decided to put Midget Motors on the market, seeking a buyer who could continue their success. They found Joe Stehlin, a young King Midget enthusiast with significant automotive marketing experience. Joe was able to obtain financial backing for the entire purchase price and took over as president in 1966, retaining the founders as consultants.

The new model was not nearly ready for production, the Model 3 was aging and Joe’s backers structured the deal as debt, so cash was an issue. Joe set about restructuring Midget Motors, ramped up production, and established dealers to retail the cars. With its higher retail price and dated design, King Midgets did not attract enough buyers. Just as production peaked in 1967, orders dropped.

The production manager, Vernon Eads, acquired the assets and struggled on a few years, even creating a new model, now known as the Model 4, patterned after the dune buggy craze. Only a few prototypes were built. It was too little, too late and Midget Motors finally breathed its last in 1970. The Midget Motors factory in Athens, Ohio, still stands and is used as a sheltered workshop.

After production stopped, King Midget Parts Co. was formed by Eads' family and continued to provide parts support. In 1980, John Weitlauf bought some parts and in 1985, sold them to Dave Stults, of Westport, Indiana, who also bought the remaining parts from the Eads family, along with all rights to Midget Motors, including the last Model 3 produced.

In 1995, Alan Conley, of Waverly, Ohio, purchased all the parts and rights to Midget Motors, changing the name to Midget Motors Supply. Conley expanded the number of parts available by making them or having them made. In 2001, Mike Beebe bought Conley’s business and moved it to Norwalk, Ohio.

Nearly all parts needed to restore or totally rebuild a King Midget remain available today. So … those teen-aged boys who yearned for a King Midget but had to be content with poring over the flyers and catalogs from Midget Motors can have their car now.

It’s not too late to live the dream! Buy King Midget. Share the love of these cars with others including a growing band of younger people who grew up without the benefit of those little ads in Popular Mechanics, et al. Join the King Midget Club and join the fun!


 


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