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.
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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