Another forgotten name of yesteryear, Maicowerk A.G. was a West German manufacturer of motorcycles that hopped on to the 1950s micro-car mania with their own model, the 500. Founded in 1926 by Otto and Wilhelm Maisch, the brothers founded Maisch & Company to produce small two-stroke engines, as well as bicycle parts. The business grew, and by 1932 the brothers started producing motorcycles and scooters under the Maico name.
A micro-car is the smallest possible definition of what could be called a car, short of calling it a quadricycle. Typically Micro-cars have single or twin cylinder engines, seat only two persons (some were driver-only!), simple suspension systems, cable-actuated brakes and tiny 6” or 8” wheels.
The 500 was described in the sales literature as “Strong, Roomy and Economical”. Indeed, it was a four-seater – rare for a micro-car. The 500 was powered by a water-cooled (most microcars retained air-cooled engines) 452cc two-cylinder two-stroke Heinkel engine that put out a respectable 18bhp. The gearbox was a four-speeder with reverse which drove the rear wheels, and the 500 could achieve a top speed of 95km/h – again most micro-cars ran out of puff in the 60km/h range.
The body was steel, with a tube chassis from which the front suspension was coil-type and the rear was a swing-axle. A worm-gear steering, hydraulically-actuated drum brakes (recall most micro-cars used cable brakes) and a “Dynastart” self-starter for the engine - were all features that set the Maico 500 above the horde of micro-cars that came from manufacturers such as Messerschmitt and Peel.
Perhaps all these advanced features and the larger four-seat body is why the Maico weighed in at 575kg – heavier than the contemporary micro-car. It also stretched 3,430mm in length and was 1,470mm wide – close to the length and width of a modern-day Kei car!
However, the Maico 500 had an Achilles heel and that was weak steering arms. These regularly broke and were replaced under warranty, as customers would simply trade the car in for a competing model if the company charged for these – an example as to how volatile and crowded the micro-car market was. The Maisch brothers honoured their warranty claims while bleeding money, and designed an entirely new double-wishbone suspension for the front which addressed the issue, yet they were running out of time, and credit. The micro-car side of the business died a quiet death and the company continued making motorcycles and scooters. They made some successful dirt bikes and street bikes, as well as the popular “Maicoletta” scooter, which featured many of the conveniences we see on bikes to this day, such as foot-operated gear change, electric starter and electric fan for engine cooling.
The business folded in 1986 but the assets were taken over by another company that makes modern motorcycles under the Maico name.
Out of the 6,301 units of the Maico 500 that were built, this is the only one known to be in running condition in Sri Lanka. It was brought down by a firm of General Contractors that tried a foray into the motoring business, and this car was purchased by a doctor in Galle. It passed through many hands, and is now with a discerning car collector who gave it a full restoration back to the way it left the factory in 1958.
Being an absolute rarity, it is all the more significant that the current owner still has the original hand-book (Instruction Book in the language of the time!) and the advertising catalogue of the car.
MAICO MC 500
Years Built 1956-1957
Engine Heinkel, 2-stroke
No. Cylinders 2
Displacement 452 cc
Gearbox 4 forward + reverse
No. Produced 6301
No. Surviving Not known
Length 3430 mm
Width 1470 mm
Weight 575 kg
Interior 4 seats
Suspension Front Coil
Suspension Rear Swing axle
Top Speed 95 km/h