Every year, countless fabulous cars roll into Monterey Car Week, dazzling the public and journalists alike. It’s not just water that flows around Monterey, but money, too, as hundreds of millions of dollars change hands as opulent pieces of history change from one hand to another. However, you don’t need to be a millionaire to get in on the action as there are some awesome cars in the field that don’t cost more than the mortgage on a small Midwestern home. Take a look at this Frisky Family Three Convertible. It’s the most adorable thing you’ll see this week, which is why we tried to buy it.
On Monday, Thomas wrote about a handful of collector vehicles coming up for sale during Monterey Car Week. Personally, put me down for that lovely 1992 Autozam AZ-1. A few of these vehicles had one thing in common in that they didn’t necessarily require their buyers to be the owner of a McDonald’s franchise. One car Thomas didn’t include was this, a custom convertible that started life as a Frisky Family Three. This three-wheeled microcar convertible has a two-stroke motorcycle engine, shiny sky blue paint, and no roof, so you can take in the sun as you smile from end to end.
From Racing To Egyptian Cars
The Frisky Family Three is the brainchild of Captain Raymond Flower, a British racing driver who had business interests in Egypt. Flower was the managing director of Cairo Motor Company, running the company with his brothers Derek and Neville. The men also ran Flower & Sons in England. Cairo Motor had a contract with the Nuffield Organization–an umbrella of auto manufacturers–to distribute cars in Egypt.
After World War II, Flower got the idea to create an Egyptian-built people’s car. Flower wanted to employ Egyptians to build cars they could afford to own. This project would encapsulate a number of cars, most bearing the name Phoenix. Apparently, the Phoenix cars weren’t just passenger vehicles either, as later on there was at least one racecar called the Phoenix 2SR6.
Winds of change came in 1952 when an Egyptian revolution resulted in the toppling of King Farouk. After Gamal Abdel Nasser rose to power and the 1956 Suez Crisis, this dream of an Egyptian people’s car came to an end. Further, Flower and his family were among those British people expelled from the country, forcing them to return to England.
Back in England, Flower started shopping around for a manufacturer who might want to produce a small car for developing nations. Eventually, Flower approached Henry Meadows Limited with his idea, and engineer Gordon Bedson evaluated the vehicle. According to the Official Meadows Frisky Website, which says it got its information directly from Flower, the fuel rationing caused by Suez Crisis made small fuel-efficient vehicles appealing. Of course, this was an era where many people found inexpensive mobility in motorcycles, scooters, and microcars in the new post-World War II world. Flower’s car design was now not just viable for the developing world, but at home as well.
Meadows was interested in the little car and gave Flower space at its Park Lane Works facilities for its development. Bedson, who brought experience from engineering at Kieft Cars and Vickers Limited, joined the project alongside Keith Peckmore.
In December 1956, the team at Meadows constructed a prototype vehicle. ‘The Bug,’ as it was nicknamed, started performing durability trials. This first car had a tiny, but round fiberglass body, resembling, well, a bug. It also had gullwing doors, two seats, a steel frame, and a Villiers air-cooled 250cc two-cylinder motorcycle engine. The Meadows team took the car to the Oulton Park circuit, where the vehicle endured a seven-day, 24-hour test run. The car apparently covered about 4,000 miles over the seven days with the best lap reaching 54.91 mph.
Local papers covered the testing and reportedly suggested that the vehicle needed new styling. Flower reached out to coachbuilder Carrozzeria Vignale of Turin to develop the production model’s body. Vignale gave the project to a then-young Giovanni Michelotti. The production car would be called the Frisky at its debut at the 1957 Geneva Motor Show. Meanwhile, a subsidiary of Henry Meadows was created called Henry Meadows (Vehicles) Ltd.
Reportedly, it was determined that the gullwing doors were too expensive for mass production, so the Meadows team would remove the doors from the production car, turning it into a convertible. But the production Frisky did get stellar fiberglass lines from Michelotti. Around this time, Flower ran out of funding for the project and reportedly turned it over to Meadows in exchange for royalties.
The Meadows Frisky Sport convertible would go into production in 1958. Meadows expected to construct 200 cars per week, but over the course of months, just 20 were built. Henry Meadows (Vehicles) Ltd would end up under the control of Flower. Though, later that year, the company would get acquired by dealership group and camper manufacturer the Marston Group, becoming Frisky Cars Ltd.
The Frisky Coupe would join the Frisky Sport convertible and following the discovery that a three-wheel vehicle would be subject to half of the taxes of the Frisky Sport, it was decided to develop the three-wheel Frisky Family Three, which was also cheaper to produce thanks to a hardtop body and a smaller engine.
A 1959 advertisement claimed that the Meadows’ Frisky scored 60 mpg and was capable of 60 mph. The price? £499.7, including tax.
Frisky Goes Three
The Frisky Sport and Frisky Coupe had identical chassis but different bodies. These were four-wheel microcars sporting 324cc Villiers 3T two-stroke two-cylinder engines that made 16 HP. The Frisky Sport weighed 701 pounds and had a claimed top speed of 65 mph. The Frisky Coupe weighed 793 pounds with a claimed top speed of 56 mph.
In late 1958, the Frisky Family Three was conceived as a cheaper model. This three-wheeler came in at 727 pounds but came with a 197cc Villiers 9E two-stroke single making 9.5 HP to the rear wheel. It had a top speed of just 50 mph but benefited from a lower vehicle excise duty, the ability to be driven with a motorcycle license, and a MacPherson strut front suspension. The earlier four-wheeled microcars wore Dubonnet-style leading arm suspensions. The Frisky Family Three launched in early 1959 at a price of £378.
The Frisky Family Three that was up for grabs in the Monterey, California RM Sotheby’s auction last week was not an official Frisky creation, but a “what-if.” The Family Three was never sold as a convertible, but a previous owner of this one chopped off its roof, creating a sort of one-off Family Three Convertible.
The listing doesn’t have a ton of detail about how the car was transformed into a convertible but look closely and you’ll see that there does appear to be a soft top hiding behind the seat. The windshield appears to come from a Frisky Sport and there’s even a Frisky Sport badge up front. So, it’s not a Frisky Family Three that was just chopped up, but someone went through the work to make it look like it rolled out of the factory this way.
A Rare Tiny Car
Frisky wouldn’t stop with the Family Three and its other developments would include the Frisky Sprint sports car, which never went into production, and the Frisky Prince, a rebodied Family Three. After experiencing financial troubles in 1959, Frisky Cars Ltd ground to a halt. The brand would be passed on a couple of more times before production ceased in 1961. Another company was created to provide parts for existing owners and even that firm’s journey ended in 1966.
In total, it’s estimated that there were just 1,500 Frisky vehicles of all models built, and of those, perhaps 75 survive today. Frisky came and disappeared in the blink of an eye, leaving behind a bunch of adorable microcars. This car was expected to sell for between $30,000 and $40,000 on Friday, August 18, but someone spent a whole $84,000 on it. I’m glad I’m not sitting on a pile of cash like this because I’d love to take this little sky blue guy down the Pacific Coast Highway.
[Editor’s Note: The Autopian’s cofounder Beau handed me his bidding number and said “Go for it.” So I bid this sliced-up Frisky all the way up to $70,000 before Beau smartly (in my opinion) decided to let this one go. It’s amazing, to be sure, but you have to draw a line somewhere, and also, personally I think a bone-stock one with its roof still intact would be cooler. If anyone has a line on one, let us know!
Regardless, bidding at RM Sotheby’s auction was a rush! -DT].
(Photos: RM Sotheby’s Auction unless otherwise noted.)
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