1946-1970 King Midget

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1946 King Midget
The 1946 King Midget was a single-seater, styled like a quarter midget race car, with scooped door openings but no doors or top. See more pictures of classic cars.

The 1946-1970 King Midget was a minimalist car if ever there was one: tiny, ultra-light, and powered by a one-cylinder engine. Though it never sold in large numbers, it fooled most everyone by surviving for two dozen years. There were good reasons for that longevity.

They stared out at you from the back pages of those "Do-It Yourself" magazines, a tiny ad the size of a postage stamp, a grainy black-and-white picture of a minuscule car and an all-inclusive boast: "World's Most Exciting Lowest Priced Car."

The founders of the enterprise were tinkerers, handymen, dreamers, and doers able to shape in metal what most men can barely shape in the mind. The buyers were hardy and individualistic, Like the cars themselves, and gloried in the economical operation and eccentricity of their vehicles. Not just any midget automobile, this one proclaimed itself "King Midget."

King Midget was one of the flood of new and offbeat cars introduced in the post World War II era, a roll of the dice by people who weren't part of the entrenched auto industry. Some were the dreams of men back from the greatest war in history, men who held an old-fashioned belief that in America a man could accomplish anything he set his mind to, that no mountain was too high and no door was closed to him.

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Many tried to find success: Playboy, Keller, Tucker, and Davis -- to name a few. Of all the cars introduced by these so-named "Lesser Independents," the King Midget lasted the longest. Why? Perhaps it was the men behind the car that made this enterprise so different from the others.

Dale Orcutt, from Columbia City, Indiana, and Claude Dry, from Pryor, Oklahoma, were men who seemed predestined to be friends. They met during the war years, when they served as Civil Air Patrol pilots. They seem to have had similar boyhood interests. Both were interested in flying. Both, amazingly, had built their own backyard airplanes. Both were imbued with mechanical ability and a fondness for tinkering. Both shared dreams of manufacturing a vehicle of their own design after the war.

The early postwar era was a healthy environment for such dreams, with war surplus machine tools selling at bargain prices. Dry and Orcutt got together in Athens, Ohio, where they leased an old two-story grocery store for their manufacturing venture and bought the needed machine tools. They started out on a shoestring, manufacturing small motor-scooters during the evenings, while holding down regular jobs by day. Midget Motors Supply was the original company name, but that was later changed to the more apt Midget Motors Manufacturing Company.

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King Midget in the Late Forties

By late 1946, Dale Orcutt and Claude Dry were ready to go into production with a tiny car of their own design, which they called the King Midget. This was a single-seater, styled like a quarter midget race car, with scooped door openings -- but no doors or top.

Planned as simple transportation for any person handy with tools, the cars were initially sold as kits consisting of chassis parts that could be assembled by the home hobbyist. Included were plans for making the body, although no body parts themselves were available. These kits were sold initially for around $50. A handy person would assemble the chassis parts, cut and shape a body, then install any one-cylinder engine he wanted to use. It appears that other kits, which included more parts, were later offered.

Reportedly, a few early Midget owners installed three-speed manual motorcycle gearboxes in their cars, but Orcutt soon came up with a single-speed, centrifugal-clutch automatic transmission, and that's what most of the early Midgets got. This gearbox didn't have a reverse gear, however. To back up, the driver had to get out and push!

In addition to the kits, some assembled cars were produced by the factory, for under $500, powered by a rear-mounted, air-cooled, six-horsepower Wisconsin engine.

Business was good, so by 1949 Orcutt and Dry were able to quit their regular jobs to become full-time automakers, now in a one-story warehouse converted to their needs (the two-story building had made producing fully completed cars very difficult, as final assembly was on the second floor). In any case, the first-series King Midget cars were offered through mid-1951.

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1951-1956 King Midget

In 1951 came a vastly improved King Midget, an all-new design that featured seating for two in its wider, roomier body. The car now came with a cloth top and was styled more like a regular car although in much smaller scale. The new King Midget rode a 72-inch wheelbase was approximately 102 inches long over all, and came with 4.00 x 8 tires although it appears that 5.50 x 8 tires were available as well.

Prices were low. One Popular Science article carried the banner "500 lb Car For $500!" Like the first series, a rear-mounted, Wisconsin one-cylinder engine was installed by the factory, although horsepower from its 2.i cubic inches was now 7 1/2. Starting was by pull-handle, as on a lawn mower, but an extra-cost electric starter became available later.

1951 King Midget
The second-generation King Midget expanded
to become a two-passenger car. Pictured here is the
1951 King Midget.

Kits were still available for do-it-yourselfers, but assembled cars were the vehicle of choice for many. This second-series K-M proved more popular and remained in production through 1957, with later versions upgraded further with an 8 Vi horse engine.

The second-series King Midget offered many new options. Foremost, perhaps, was the addition of a reverse-gear option in conjunction with the single-speed, centrifugal-clutch transmission. The original non-reverse transmission was still around, however. A third gearbox choice was developed, an all-new, two-speed automatic that used belts, gears, and pulleys to deliver power via chain to the right rear wheel.

As in previous K-Ms, there was no differential. The new design offered vastly improved performance and came with a reverse gear as well. This new transmission was so advanced that King Midget took out patents on its design.

Early second-series cars came with a Plexiglas windshield, but that was soon changed to a tinted safety glass type. Steel winter doors, with sliding Plexiglas side windows, were offered, as were a hot-air heater, speedometer, and turn signals. Standard color was California Cream, with other colors costing $10 extra.

In 1955 came optional Philippine mahogany doors with soft vinyl side curtains called "Winter Enclosures." Hand controls for the physically impaired were made available, and a special "Golf Model," complete with low-speed gearing, wide rear tires, golf bag racks, and an extra quiet muffler, was listed. Also in 1955, the standard color was changed to Peace Rose Cream. Somewhere around this time, the company name was changed again, this time to Midget Motors Corporation.

Through the years, sales were mostly handled by buyers purchasing directly from the factory, or through what was called the "Rider Agent Plan." In a direct factory purchase, the buyer had a choice of flying to Athens, Ohio, and driving his new car home, or having the company crate it up and ship it to him.

The Rider Agent Plan, developed by Dry, allowed owners the opportunity to earn extra money by demonstrating their own cars to prospective buyers. Although King Midget never had a dealer body, the rider agent and direct purchase systems worked well for most of the company's time in business. Word-of-mouth advertising played a large part as well.

The King Midget's fuel economy and stamina were becoming legendary. The simple drivetrain and the car's light weight offered fuel economy that even imports couldn't match. Owners routinely reported gas mileage in the 50- to 60-mpg range. Orcutt and Dry hadn't invented any radical new technology, they just used common sense and very careful engineering to keep weight down.

The frame was steel tubing and channel steel, drilled for lightness but sturdy nonetheless. Advertisements showed it supporting the weight of 20 men weighing a combined 3,237 pounds, yet it was light enough to be lifted by a single man. Assembled cars weighed about 600 pounds, which is why they could get by with so little power. The Wisconsin engines were tough yet simple, and provided adequate though hardly exhilarating performance. Still, the King Midget appealed to a thrifty crowd that reveled in fuel economy numbers rather than acceleration statistics. Many Midget owners, in fact, wrote to the factory with tales of their experiences.

Consider a man from Oklahoma. He bought a King Midget in Ohio and drove it a distance of 1,079 miles, spending just $5.25 for gas. He wrote, "The following Sunday I had the tank filled with gasoline and drove from Enid to Canton, Oklahoma, and again had the tank filled to the top. It seems impossible, but it took only seven-tenths of a gallon to fill the tank to the top, which would be 90 miles to the gallon. You certainly have produced a wonderful little car."

A man from Indiana said, "My only regret is that I did not buy a King Midget sooner." A rancher from Oregon wrote that "In spite of hard use. King Midget shows no sign of wear or needing repairs." Consider this boast from those pre-radial tire days: "I now have about 70,000 miles on the tires on my King Midget. It is a wonderful little car." Another Ohioan stated, "Never thought I would own a car that it would be a pleasure to fill with gas. This one is, it takes so little."

Business was steady, and Orcutt and Dry were smart enough to not try to expand the business beyond the potential of a limited market. One of their secrets of success seems to have been just that: running a steady business without the roller coaster ups and downs that some other independents experienced.

They never had a large advertising budget. A small ad placed where it was likely to be read by prospective buyers, in magazines like Popular Mechanics, seemed to have brought in enough business to keep them happy. Most of the car was manufactured in-house, so parts expense and inventory were easier to control.

In fact, they claimed that "Midget Motors Corporation manufactures almost every part in the car except for the engines, tires, battery, lights, horn, and instrument group. Probably no other auto manufacturer in the world makes as large a percentage of the parts for their cars as does Midget Motors." Employment never went much over 21 assemblers, who worked at fixed stations rather than the fancy moving assembly lines in Detroit.

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1957-1966 King Midget

The 1957-1966 King Midget series started off with a new King Midget that was introduced in mid-1957. This "third-series" K-M was improved in many ways. The styling was all-new. With squared fenders and hood, it bore a strong resemblance to a Jeep in miniature. Wheelbase now measured 76 1/2 inches, while overall length increased to 117 inches, up more than a foot from the second-series cars. A rear-mounted, air-cooled Wisconsin single-cylinder engine was again used, now with 9 1/4 horsepower.

1961 King Midget
When the 1961 King Midget premiered at the
International Automobile Show that year, it was
described as "a compact-compact car."

Bumpers were larger, front and rear tread were both up two inches, to 44, and tire size was increased to 5.70 x 8. Bodies were now of unit construction, with frame and body components welded together for improved strength. Brakes were hydraulic to all four wheels. As in the past, the new K-M came with a six-volt electrical system. Weight was up, to about 700 pounds. Prices increased, too, ranging from $825 to $950, but most imports cost at least twice as much. Domestically, there were no real competitors. All in all, this was the nicest and best finished King Midget ever.

Dale Orcutt and Claude Dry continued to make improvements to their baby car. The Philippine mahogany doors were replaced by aluminum doors (and, later, by steel). In 1961, the electrical system was upgraded to 12 volts. A new model, called the Driver Training Car, came without a body, just a chassis and seats, and was offered as a low-cost vehicle for high school driver training courses.

An incident that occurred in Northern Alaska, near the Arctic Circle, was to have a profound and lasting effect on the future of King Midget. A young executive named Joseph C. Stehlin, Jr., with the Rootes Group of England, was on assignment in the Great North supervising the shooting of a promotional movie about that company's Hillman cars. Down the same rough Alaskan road he was traveling came a pair of King Midgets. They weren't there for any special testing; they were the daily transportation of two locals.

The enthusiastic owners impressed Stehlin with tales of the rugged yet parsimonious manner of their cars. Stehlin later flew out to the factory to take an investigative look at the company and its product, talking to dozens of K-M owners and reading hundreds of fan letters that buyers had written over the years.

It was enough to convince him. In 1966, Stehlin managed to put together a group of Eastern businessmen to buy out the company, making Orcutt and Dry an offer that was too good to pass up. Stehlin masterminded the buyout and became the new president of Midget Motors. Orcutt and Dry stayed on at the company as consultants.

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1967-1968 King Midget

A great change came to the 1967 King Midget. K-M claimed almost 100 improvements to the third-series models, "most of them in 1967." The Wisconsin motor was replaced by a Kohler engine, still only a one-lunger, but with 29.07 cubic inches and 12 horsepower at 3,600 rpm. The heavy-duty industrial engine came with an exhaust valve rotator and counter-balanced crankshaft.

1970 King Midget
The side-marker lights on the fenders of this
1970 King Midget were required by the feds
since 1968.

Performance was improved, but according to factory literature, owners could still expect "up to 50-75 miles per gallon (some report as high as 93 under ideal conditions)." Speeds of 50-55 miles per hour were easily obtainable, though K-M was a bit more modest, claiming "SPEED APLENTY -- Up to 40 to 50 miles per hour."

Safety, undoubtedly a concern to potential buyers, was handled thusly: "King Midget is more and more recognized as a solution of the teenage driver problem. This beautiful little sports car that is safe by its very design, fills the need for the unusual and gets the youngsters out of hot rods and high powered family cars." And although efficiency was touted, style wasn't entirely overlooked: "We believe you'll agree that its graceful continental lines give it that 'chuck-full-of-power' appearance that make it King of small autos."

King Midget defended its short 90-day guarantee, noting that "Actually the cars have proven very rugged and trouble free and there have been very few occasions where it was necessary to use any guarantee."

Meanwhile, the cost of the 1966 buyout had one unfortunate side effect -- it increased the company's break-even point. An ex-employee recalls that the factory usually employed about 21 assembly workers. Some men worked a night shift welding up chassis, others worked days assembling the cars. According to this ex-employee, the factory was building at the rate of about 1 1/2 cars per day, which was no longer sufficient to meet its fixed daily cost of operation.

The solution seemed simple enough: raise production without increasing employment, have the same number of employees build more cars. A new production manager, Vernon Eads, went to work immediately to increase productivity. He had worked earlier at K-M and knew the processes. He spotted some production line bottlenecks, mainly it seems, in the painting procedure, and worked the kinks out of the system. By 1969, K-M was building four complete cars per day. That's when it all hit the fan.

King Midget never had a dealer body. For years Claude Dry had been able to sell the minuscule output with his own methods. One story illustrates how it once was: A lady from California flew into the tiny airport near Athens, took a cab to the plant with the intention of buying a new car and driving back to California that day. Trouble was, she hadn't ordered a car and hadn't told anybody she was coming. To complicate matters further, it was a Saturday, only a few workers were on the job, and there was exactly one car in stock. But it was sold. In fact, it was in a crate awaiting shipment on Monday. The workers uncrated the car, she took possession, and left for Lotus Land. That's how it was in the old days at K-M.

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1969-1970 King Midget

King Midget fell on hard times in 1969-1970. As one King Midget worker recalls, one day in 1969 they counted up the unsold cars in factory stock. There were 125! With all that money tied up in unsold inventory, other bills began to go unpaid, including -- according to this same source -- taxes. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service soon padlocked the plant. King Midget was bankrupt.

1970 King Midget Commuter
The 1970 King Midget Commuter featured a
fiberglass dune buggy-like body .

Production manager Vernon Eads ended up buying King Midget's remains and made an attempt to revive the company. He formed Barthman Corporation (his wife's maiden name), with plans to get back into production. Demand for the current King Midget seemed to be on the wane, however, so Eads decided to develop a new model.

The revised car, called the King Midget Commuter, used a one-piece fiberglass body, the idea being to reduce assembly cost. It was powered by the 12-bhp Kohler engine, but now came with a differential, reportedly from a Crosley. The Commuter was displayed at a few shows, but the public reaction to its "dune buggy" styling was negative. Eads tried to license production in Canada. He also set up a plant in Florida with the idea of exporting the Commuter to other countries. That might have worked, but we'll never know. A fire in the plant destroyed the only body mold, as well as about a dozen bodies awaiting final assembly. Only three Commuters were built.

Eads assembled a dozen of the steel-bodied third-series cars as 1970 models, and these, along with the three Commuters, comprised the total 1970 model run. With new safety and emissions rules on the horizon and a declining market for the car, the fire was the final straw, so Eads ended production.

Estimates of how many King Midgets were produced over the years inspires differences of opinion, since no factory production records have been found. The widely repeated number is 5,000 total over 24 years of production. But some people involved in the company have given estimates as low as 4,000 units and as high as 14,000.

Surprisingly, most of the leftover King Midget parts have survived over the years. In 1980, one enthusiast, John Weitlauf, assembled three new chassis from leftover parts, and it may be that they later received bodies from their owners. But the King Midget's biggest fan must be Dave Stults, who over the years has bought out all the parts stock from the old K-M and Barthman operations and the Florida and Canadian ventures -- some 14 tons in total -- as well as the rights to the King Midget name. Today, Stults's King Midget Auto Works is the largest supplier of parts to King Midget owners, who are still proud of the "World's Most Exciting Lowest Priced Car!"

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1995 King Midget

The "Series Five" 1995 King Midget proposed here assumes that at least one other major design generation had appeared between the Series Three last built in 1970 and this all-new "1995" model. The styling is deliberately a "spiritual successor" to what had gone before, but still follows the basic theme of the previous design.

The "new" King Midget features a one-piece body, which not only enhances its strength, but also keeps the styling cleaner because of the lack of crease lines and the like. From the manufacturer's point of view, the single unit eliminates the assembly time involved in using many pieces and boosts quality because there's that much less to fall off! Door and hardtop are optional, made of thermoformed SMC resin material.

Probably the most difficult aspect of "federalizing" the King Midget are the bumpers, and this has been accomplished with five-mile-per-hour impact units front and rear, which are made of thermoformed Enduraflex material finished in a neutral charcoal gray color.

To help make the new King Midget look more like a "real" car -- and more importantly to improve handling and ride -- wheels and tires are significantly larger.

To assist in keeping costs down, front, rear, and side-marker lights have been sourced from recreational vehicle component suppliers, as have been other miscellaneous parts.

The windshield frame is made of extruded aluminum, as are the optional side-window" frames, which have flap vents. These parts are bought "off the shelf" from van conversion window suppliers, again to keep costs in line.

Luggage skid ribs are molded onto the rear deck surface, a side benefit of using the one-piece resin body.

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1968 King Midget Specifications

Here are specifications for the 1968 King Midget, including detailed information on its interior, engine, suspension, brakes, transmission, and more.

1965 King Midget
This dolled-up 1965 King Midget sports fancy
wheels, whitewalls, and pinstriping.


Body Style
2-passenger, 2-door roadster
Wheelbase (in.)
Overall length (in.)
Overall height (in.)
51.0 (top up)
Overall width (in.)
Tread, front/rear (in.)
Ground clearance (in.)
Curb weight (lbs)
700 (approx.)
Fuel tank (gal.)


Leg room (in.)
Seat width (in.)
Seat height (in.)


Frame channel and steel tubing, ladder-type, 3 crossmembers
Body steel


Manufacturer Kohler
Location rear-mounted
Type 1-cyl, L-head, 4-cycle
Bore (in.)
Stroke (in.)
Displacement 29.07
Horsepower @ rpm
12 @ 3,600
Main bearings
2, ball bearing
Carburetor 1, ball-bearing sidedraft
Oil capacity (qts)
Exhaust 2-stage muffler


Clutch Type
centrifugal, with expanding weights and springs; automatic actuation at 800 rpm
Transmission Type
2-speed automatic, centrifugal actuation, belts and pulleys
none; single-wheel chain drive on right rear wheel
Turns, lock to lock
direct drag link 3.0 (approx.)
Turning radius
Suspension, front
independent, self-contained coil spring/shock towers that also serve as front spindles
Suspension, rear
independent, self-contained coil spring/shock towers, anti-roll bar

4-wheel hydraulic drums, self-equalizing
Diameter (in.)
5.0 (approx.)
Parking brake
mechanical, on rear wheels
5.70 x 8, Silent Grip tube-type
center-bolted, pressed steel
Electrical system

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