Two-Wheeled Car: 1958 Maico Mobil MB200
Engine: 197cc air-cooled 2-stroke single, 65mm x 59.5mm bore and stroke, 7:1 compression ratio, 11hp @ 5,000rpm
Top speed: 55mph (period test)
Carburetion: Single Bing 2/26/44
Transmission: 4-speed foot shift, chain final drive
Electrics: 6v, coil and breaker points ignition
Frame/wheelbase: Multi-tube space frame, 50.75in (1,289mm)
Suspension: Telescopic forks front, dual shocks rear
Brakes:5in (127mm) SLS drum front and rear
Tires: 3.25 x 14in front and rear
Weight (w/half gallon fuel): 340lb (154.2kg)
Seat height: 30.5in (775mm)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 2.5gal (9.5ltr)/75mpg (avg./period test)
Price then (U.K.)/now: $587 (£209)/$15,000-$25,000
With a 4-speed gearbox, a full windshield, under-seat luggage capacity and trendsetting indicators, it was hardly surprising that the Maico Mobil was classed as a “two-wheeled car” when it was launched at the Reutlingen Show in 1950 in Germany.
Manufactured in 1958, the bike shown here was one of the last of the 200cc singles to emerge from the Maico factory at Wurtemberg in Germany. This MB200 has been owned by scooter enthusiast Simon Balistrari since 2013, and until the day of my visit, it had been parked in Simon and his wife Elaine’s dining room, so this was its first outing on the road. Understandably, both he and I were keen to fire up the 2-stroke and put it into action.
In the beginning
Before we don our helmet and goggles, perhaps we should reflect a little on the history of Maico and the launch of the unusual looking two-wheeler in 1950. For anyone who followed motocross in the 1970s and 1980s, the Maico brand is often associated with the screaming 2-strokes ridden by the likes of European motocross riders Badger Goss and Adolf Weil to championship honors during those decades.
Maico was founded in 1926 by Ulrich Maisch, initially building bicycles. Ten years later the German company expanded into producing motorcycles, using a 143cc engine manufactured by German 2-stroke specialist ILO-Motorenwerke to power its utilitarian range of lightweight motorcycles. At the end of World War II, with money from the Marshall Plan, Maico built their own range of single and twin-cylinder 2-stroke motorcycles under the name of Blizzard and Typhoon, and these were followed in 1951 by the Mobil.
Powered by a 148cc 2-stroke engine, the Mobil had aluminum bodywork and fairings built over a tubular space frame, which was unique in terms of both construction and style and owed little to any other two-wheeler. It provided maximum weather protection and carrying capacity for both rider and passenger, and with the fan-cooled engine mounted between the dashboard and the rider’s seat, period reporters were hard-pressed to describe it either as a motorcycle or a scooter. Perhaps not surprisingly, it got the title of “the two-wheeled car.”
For 1954, the engine capacity was enlarged to 173cc, and a larger 197cc version debuted also, turning out 11 horsepower at 5,000rpm. The bodywork remained the same throughout the Mobil’s production span, but the larger 197cc bike saw the 3-speed twist-grip-controlled transmission replaced by a 4-speeder, which was now controlled by a heel-and-toe pedal shifter. The wheels were mounted offset to make for an easy change of wheels in the event of a puncture, with a spare tucked away in the rear bodywork. Front suspension was a telescopic fork, while at the rear a comfortable ride for both the pilot and passenger was provided by a set of twin shocks along with a plush sprung rubber Pagusa seat.
With a 2.5-gallon gas tank, the Mobil was ideally suited for touring, and as early as 1953 Willem Dussel completed a circumnavigation of the world on his comprehensively equipped MB200: The combined weight of driver, luggage and machine was a staggering 660 pounds. There’s no doubt that even in its standard specification – the coachwork alone weighs in at 253 pounds – the MB200 was a heavy beast. Still, it could maintain a comfortable 50mph cruising speed with little or no protestation from the 2-stroke single, as proven by Motor Cycle in its October 1956 review of the model.
Unlike most scooters, the fuel tank is mounted in front of the rider under the dashboard, which also contains a handy glove box, ignition switch and a gear indicator in the speedometer. This leaves room for a pair of cavernous panniers under the seat to carry your weekly shopping.
Compared to much of the opposition, the Mobil was undoubtedly one of the most luxurious scooters built during the 1950s, but its radical looks and high price meant that it wasn’t a huge seller. Today, however, it is highly prized and regarded by aficionados as the “Holy Grail” of small two-wheelers. Getting one of the rare MB200s had been high on Simon’s wish list for years.
“I’ve always regarded the Maico Mobil as the ultimate scooter,” Simon says, “and after missing out on two that came up for sale I decided to put an advert in Old Bike Mart under the ‘wanted’ column. My request was spotted by Peter Whittle, who informed me that he had this bike, which had formerly been restored by Robin Spalding. After agreeing to a price, it joined my collection in January 2013.
“It was originally sold by the supplying dealers W.J. Harris in Boscombe in 1958, and the first owner of the then gray and black scooter was a chap by the name of John Cheeseman. It was originally registered under the number of XEL 340, but sometime in its life this was changed to NVS 905. From the comprehensive restoration log compiled by Robin, which includes invoices of all of the restoration work, and the old log book, I’ve been able to ascertain that I am only the fourth registered owner and that, if the odometer is to be believed, it has only done just over 4,000 miles from new.”
Previous owner Robin Spalding says that he bought the Maico in 2002 in rough but complete condition, and confirms that the mileage is correct. “I understand that very early in the bike’s history it went back to the dealer, who used it for a while. It was then laid up before going to auction in 1992. Another decade passed before I bought it. Thankfully, it was all there, as I believe there are only eight or nine others registered in the U.K. and spares are extremely difficult to find. Over the next few months it was totally rebuilt by a good friend of mine, now retired. He did all of the paintwork and stripped and totally rebuilt the engine for me. He did a fantastic job and the finished scooter looked better than the day it rolled off the production lines. But as I live in an area surrounded by narrow and sometimes muddy lanes, I decided it was too good to use, and it stayed in my collection until some years later when I sold it to Peter Whittle.” The Mobil didn’t cover any more miles in Peter’s ownership, and it would be another four and a half years before it made its inaugural trip out onto the roads.
On the road
Getting the Mobil started is fairly easy using the left-side kickstarter, but as was noted in Motor Cycle’s period road test, due to the width of the footboards it is easier to use the kickstarter while standing on the left-hand side. There’s no electric starter fitted, but if the carburetor is primed and the choke closed, from cold it is just a one-prod affair to bring the 2-stroke single singing into life. The exhaust note from the long silencer is very subdued, and as we headed off along the road – Simon on the Maico and me close behind on my modern Triumph – the engine on the Mobil quickly cleared its throat and it was obvious that the owner was having a lot of fun on his long-awaited ride. As we stopped at our prearranged photo shoot the smile on Simon’s face spoke a thousand words.
Here’s Simon’s appraisal of that first outing on his 60-year-old scooter: “Starting it is a piece of cake. I can see how when they tested a similar bike back in the 1950s they made comments about the weight and the fact that with no electric starter and a fairly difficult-to-use heal-and-toe gear lever the Mobil was not ideally suited to a lady rider. That said, the fairing and the large wraparound screen would offer superb protection in adverse weather. The large seat is incredibly comfortable and the cavernous under-seat compartment is perfect to carry your weekly shopping or your touring gear. Thanks to the decent suspension and the large, 14-inch wheels, the handling feels very stable. It was great to have indicators – not many bikes had those in the mid-1950s – and the brakes are more than up to bringing the 340 pounds of bike plus rider to a controlled halt. Obviously, being ‘new’ the engine felt a bit tight, but it ran perfectly and I’m sure that when it’s fully run in it will be more than capable of keeping up with modern traffic.”
Following the Mobil in traffic was a real eye-opener, as from the rear the large tail unit wrapped around the spare tire makes it look a little like the back end of a rocket. It was also interesting seeing the look on pedestrians’ faces as we rode past: even for those with no interest in two-wheelers, the Maico Mobil is decidedly different to the run-of-the-mill offerings usually seen on public roads. Whether you look upon it as a motorcycle, a scooter or a two-wheeled car, there is no doubt that it’s a fantastic machine, built many years ahead of its time. MC
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