by Tony Marshall (published in the Isetta Gazette June 1980)
One point on which many of the micro cars were disappointing was lack of ease when it came to servicing. Admittedly, such vehicles were small enough for all the major components to be relatively manageable, but other features were less than perfect, as witnessed by the many Isetta's with holes cut in the parcel shelf for improved access to the engine.
On the other hand, this rare bubble was designed to be as simple to work on as possible, and therefore was one up on all of the common makes.
The designer of the Shelter, Mr A. Van der Groot, was studying at the University of Delft in 1947, when he first decided to design and build his own 'dwergauto' or dwarf car. The original plan was for a three wheeler based on two bicycle frames welded together, but by the time the first prototype was ready for testing in 1955, the design had already altered beyond recognition.
The car was a three wheeler, with two wheels at the front, and the single driving wheel at the rear. The body was in the saloon style, and had a door fitted at each side, and the engine was fitted behind the seats. It was purely a two seater, and was one of the smallest cars built at the time, with an overall length of approximately seven and a half feet, and a width of just over four feet. Minor changes were made, but by the time the car went into production it was still basically the same.
Mr Van der Groot kept the design of the Shelter as simple as possible, partly to reduce the cost of construction, and partly to simplify service and repair. The body was made up of single curvature pressings, with a large removable rear skirt panel reaching almost up to the rear window. Removal of this panel allowed unrestricted access to the engine, and it was claimed that in the event of a breakdown it was possible to remove the defective power unit and replace it with a new one in ten minutes! The prototype was fitted with a 200cc ILO engine, similar to those used in contemporary Fuldamobil cars, but Mr Van der Groot felt that he could produce something a little better. After some experiments, he came up with an engine of his own design and manufacture, which was just as efficient, but much easier to maintain.
The engine was a two stroke of 228cc, and featured a three speed gearbox with automatic centrifugal clutch. Other ideas were for a three speed gearbox with a manual clutch, or a variable ratio system as introduced on the Daf three years later. Everything on the engine, with the exception of the Bing carburettor and the Siba or Bosch Dynastart, was produced by Mr Van der Groot. Crankcase, cylinder, crankshaft, piston, everything was kept as simple as possible, manufactured from easily obtainable materials, with a minimum of specialist equipment.
This method of construction was utilised throughout the car, the body being quite basic and very easy to make, including such fittings as the seats, which were simple metal pressings, and the steering wheel, which was formed from tubular steel. The road wheels were made by Van der Groot, as were all the suspension and steering assemblies. In fact, the only parts that were bought in, apart from those already mentioned, were the tyres, windscreen, and parts of the lights.
The end product was a car that could probably claim to be the world's easiest to repair. If anything became broken, it was a simple matter to make a new part. Even the engine, which could be changed in ten minutes, could be stripped in a further ten minutes.
The original production run was planned for twenty cars, and materials were purchased for this number in mind. Sadly, though, only about ten bodies were made, and of these, only five or six were used. The reason for the lack of production seems to be that by the time the car became available it was considered old fashioned, and had a 'home made' stigma. The twenty were to have been offered to the public on a rental or leasing basis to judge the reaction, and the fact that not even that many were built seems to suggest that public opinion was not favorable. In fact, one contemporary magazine said in so many words that the Shelter was bound to fail because it was of basic and unsophisticated design, the very features that should have made it attractive.
Two are known to survive. One is owned by the son of Mr Van der Groot, and the other by Sjoerd ter Burg, who provided much of the information used in this article.
It is one of my ambitions to find another.