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The Gas Menagerie: 1956

The Gas Menagerie: 1956

Elvis Presley in 1956 at home in Memphis with his three-wheeled Messerschmitt "bubble car" and Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and grandfather Jessie Presley. Photo by Phillip Harrington for Look magazine. View full size.


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@ Rip Tragle
Rip, I suspect that two of them are pictured here.

Alanna is correct

Sorry Dave, mispellings aside, Alanna is correct. The photo is with Dan Shackleford. In all fairness though there is a strong resemblance to his grandfather Jesse.


Loades, I owned an Isetta for about 30 hours. In this before-moving-to-Naples experience, a friend in Apalachicola, Florida, sold me his old pale-blue-and-white one for $50. A day or so later, when my dad found out, he made me return it. Frankly, by that time I wasn't sorry to see it go. That was enough time to realize that driving a tricycle car makes it almost impossible to avoid potholes in the road, and there were a lot of those in 1966 Franklin County, Florida! A month or so later, my dad bought me a used '65 four-door Corvair and I dearly loved that car.

I owned one of these

...after an Isetta. My best mate at the time had a Goggomobil) which he used to park up close to the front of my Isetta so I couldn't open the door to get into it! That wasn't the real reason for selling I it, I just loved the look of the Messerschmitt. Mine was cream and maroon and cost me £20 (US$30) secondhand in 1963.

Right on!

Jim Page: Rumor has it that the canopies of the first ones actually were genuine left-over combat aircraft canopies. And those contraptions also owed some of their genesis to attempts to make some cheap form of individual transport for crippled veterans and paraplegics.

There was a "Heinkel Kabine" as well. Junkers Aircraft basically quit altogether, while the original Junkers & Co. is still doing well with gas heaters, as they have since 1895 (although as part of the Bosch Group now).

By the way, one nickname for the Messerschmitt was "Schneewittchensarg", or "Snow White's coffin" in English.

Messerschmitt KR200

The more common of the two Messerschmitt "Kabinrollers" - German for Cabin Scooters, so the classification as a motorcycle isn't too wrong - the other being the KR175. They were made by Messerschmitt until 1956 when the company was able to make aircraft again. At that point Messerchmitt sold the Regensburg factory to the car designer Fritz Fend who carried on production under the company name FMR.

I recall seeing one of these from time to time at a nearby supermarket, the last time being about 25 or 30 years ago now (I think, it might have been later). At the time it kind of blew my mind; a car from Messerschmitt that bore some resemblance to the cockpit of a wartime fighter plane, right down to the way that the canopy opened. It would have completely thrown me for a loop had I known at the time that the KR200 not only ran in a 24 hour time trial at Hochenheim but broke 22 speed records for cars of its class including an average 24 hour speed of 64 miles per hour.


These cars were made at a time after the company was banned from making aircraft. One of many companies that made these types of cars.

Messerscmidt in the Parking Lot

When I was a kid living in Naples, Florida (late 1960s), I worked at the Publix on the north Trail. An elderly gentleman who shopped at our store drove one of these three wheelers, which looked to me to be made from aircraft parts.

My recollection was that his was deep red and cream colored, and it was beautiful.


Amazing what these little beasties go for these days! Who knew they'd ever be worth above $50,000 for a restored example. Wonder where this one wound up?

The guy could buy

I was working in Hollywood as a Triumph motorcycle mechanic when Elvis
and the rest of the "Memphis Mafia" showed up and he bought a new bike
for himself and the rest of the guys; as I remember it was an even dozen.

Maybe not Grandpa

This is a wonderful photograph, of course, but I do not think this is Elvis's grandfather, Jessie Presley, but rather Dan Shackleford, from Tupelo, Ms., who was visiting the family when Phillip Harrington shot a number of photographs on Audubon Drive. Furthermore, Elvis gave this car to Colonel Tom Parker, his manager, who did not keep it. Thank you so much, Shorpy, for posting the remarkable pictures in this series! Alanna Nash, author of "The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley" (Simon & Schuster, 2003)

[I am no Elvis expert but do note that the Web sites that put the name Dan Shackleford to the fellow on the left also misspell "Messerschmitt" and "Audubon" -- they do not impress me as being very accurate. -Dave]

Dave, duly noted. Grandpa Jessie lived in my hometown of Louisville. I have seen a number of photographs of him, and while it's true that this fellow somewhat resembles Jessie, I do not believe they are one and the same. I have seen at least half a dozen photographs of Jessie Presley, and he does not appear to use a cane in any of them. He also was quite a dandy, and loved to dress up. And in Phillip Harrington's original story for Look magazine, he identifies this gentleman as Shackleford. -- AN

Haven't Seen One in 50 Years

A classmate in Palm Beach Public School (FL) drove one of these in 1962. We were in 9th grade but it was apparently classified as a motorcycle allowing him to operate it. But then again it was Palm Beach where some laws were never enforced for certain people in those days.

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