Skip to main content
Publish date:

Car of the Week: 1958 Meadows Friskysport

Small packages often bring BIG fun. Such is the case with this 1958 Meadows Friskysport.
Car of the Week 2020
IMG_2582

Mark Green has a fantastic sense of humor. It didn’t come standard with a Meadows micro car, but the ability to laugh at the world, and yourself, sure comes in handy when you own one.

Green is the proud and happy owner of a 1958 Meadows Friskysport — a VERY small car enjoyed by a very small fraternity of owners. There’s likely only about 75 Friskys in the world, and only 15 known ’58 Sport convertibles like the one Green’s father bought 57 years ago that still remains part of the family. And the guy who sold it to them was a little whacky himself. Literally.

“It was imported into our hometown of Warsaw, Ind., by Stanley ‘Whacky’ Arnold,” laughs Green. “That was his name. He would actually import Bristols, MGs and other cars and sell them in our hometown and also Chicago back in the day.

It is a bit tight rowing thorough the gears, but it is manageable.

It is a bit tight rowing thorough the gears, but it is manageable.

“My father bought it in 1964. There are only five we know of here in the United States, and there’s only 15 of that style, the convertible, that we know of worldwide. I’ve got a second one of them in the garage at home that I am restoring, so I own 40 percent of them here in the States! [laughs]… My dad traded an Econoline van and cash and the guy gave him this back. He just liked it … I have no clue [what he planned to do with it]. At the time my dad was a manager at KFC, and their building was painted red and white-striped, and the car was painted red and white-striped with the Colonel on the door … I’ve got pictures of it, too. It was the KFC-mobile. That was up on the East Lansing campus, Michigan State.”

Given that so few were produced during an ever-changing production run and unstable company ownership history, it’s no surprise that Friskys in the United States were not easy to keep running. The local NAPA store was a little thin on Friskysport parts, and your best bet to get some mechanical work done was either learn it yourself, of find an adventurous motorcycle mechanic with time on his hands.

And so, while Green and his dad did their best, their little machine spent plenty of time out of commission over the years. “The clutch went out of it back in I’d say the early ‘70s, so it sat until 1980 when I pulled it out of the garage and took the engine out,” Green recalled. “It’s a motorcycle engine, so I tried gluing cork back onto the disc. We got it running for a while. But the float had holes in it, and you can’t find a float for the carburetor because it’s a Villars motorcycle engine built in England. I had it running again for a while, then the clutch went bad again and it basically sat in the garage until the Internet came along and we were able to find more information on what we needed to do to it.”

The 324cc, two-cylinder, two-cycle engine that powers the Friskysport.

The 324cc, two-cylinder, two-cycle engine that powers the Friskysport.

Green gives much of the credit for the condition of his Frisky these day to John Meadows, the grandson of company founder Henry Meadows. John has become the unofficial custodian of the company’s history and set up the Frisky Register to keep track of the surviving cars and help owners network. 

“He’s got about all the data on them that you could ask for,” Green says. “He sent me stuff on what to make for it and how to build it, and I also made parts and sold them back to him.”

“In 2015 we actually went over to the national microcar rally in England and stayed with [him] and had a great time over there. They treated us like royalty. It was a fun trip.”

A GRAND LITTLE PLAN

The Meadows Frisky could just as easily wound up named the “Flower Frisky” if history had been only slightly different. It was Captain Raymond Flower, a race car driver and head of the Cairo Motor Co. in Egypt, that originally hatched the idea for the car. He had hoped to produce a tiny commuter a car in Egypt, but the pieces never fell into place and Flower eventually turned to Henry Meadows Ltd., a supplier of car and marine engines and parts in the U.K.

A prototype vehicle called “The Bug” was built in 1956 at the Meadows plant. It had room for two, four wheels, a fiberglass body, gull-wing doors and a two-cylinder 250cc Villars motorcycle engine. The car was chain-driven and featured a narrow stance in the back end and Dynastart reversing system “where you shut the engine off, push the key in and there is a reversing solenoid that will change the power from one set of points and coils to the other side so it will run backwards and go in reverse,” explained Green.

IMG_2584

The Vignale coachbuilding company of Turin, Italy, was tabbed to produce the bodies for the cars, but before they could ever deliver anything more than a pair of test bodies a major design switch scrapped the gull-wing doors in favor of rear-opening (i.e. “suicide”) traditionally hinged doors.

The whole corporate backstory gets a little hazy and complicated from there. In 1957, Henry Meadlows Ltd. was the official parent company of the Frisky brand, but a year later the Flower Group headed by Raymond Flower acquired controlling interest. A year after that, Henry Meadows was bought out by the Marsten Group of companies and the brand was renamed Frisky Cars Ltd. That same year a hardtop coupe was added to the Friskysport convertible and two other models, the Family Three and Frisky Sprint, were also announced. The Family Three was similar to the existing two models, but with just a single wheel in back. The Friskysprint was planned as a lightweight racing/sports car that could top 90 mph. Alas, nothing more than a prototype of the Sprint ever materialized.

IMG_2588

The ownership juggling act continued in 1959 when another owner, C.J. Wright, took over operations. The change coincided with the debut of the Frisky Family Three Mk2 model, followed by the Frisky Prince, another three-wheel model. By 1960, the Frisky brand had seemingly used up all its lives and disappeared for good, but not before it blessed the collector car hobby with a small fleet of tiny machines that have found a loyal following of fans.

The Friskysport that wound up in the Greens’ driveway was one of a small number of left-hand-drive cars that were imported into the U.S. It carried a 324cc, two-cylinder, two-cycle engine with a steel tubular chassis and roller chain transmission. The cars were reportedly capable of squeezing 60 miles out of a gallon of gas and could hit 65 mph if the driver kept his foot to the floor long enough. A vinyl top provided minimal protection from the elements.

Not surprisingly, the Friskys never caught on in the U.S. They had their share of design and execution flaws — including a fuel tank corrosion problem. Mostly, though, they were just the wrong car at the wrong time for the U.S. market. Americans were not thirsting for tiny three-wheeled motorcycle-type vehicles when there were rivers of chrome, high-rise tail fins and big, powerful V-8 engines to be had.

Green tooling around with the top down.

Green tooling around with the top down.

ONE OF THE “FAB 5”

Green knew his ’58 Friskysport was probably pretty rare, but didn’t really know how unusual it was until he began corresponding with John Meadows. So far, it’s one of only five such vehicles that have surfaced in the U.S. Since the entire production total for all years of the Frisky brand was probably only somewhere in the neighborhood of 750, any of them are rare orphans these days.

“They actually built these cars for the U.S. market before they built them for their own market — to make money,” Green says. “This is one of the early ones they built … It has the turn signals on the side of the car, behind the doors … This one actually came with clear plexi material (windows}, and they just slid down into two posts, where the ones in England actually have two Plexiglas sliders. And that tail section there will unbolt from the rest of the body. This one was actually made in two pieces, where most of the others are a single solid body. That’s what my 1960 is, a solid body.”

Green faced plenty of challenges finding and/or building all the parts he needed to do the repairing and restoring that his car needed to keep it on the road. Fortunately, he’s a pretty resourceful guy and he’s met plenty of like-minded fellow enthusiasts during his micro-car endeavors.

“I know where all 35 of [the Friskys] are in the United States,” he jokes. “I pretty much know where all the Sports are. I work in a machine shop and I made parts and helped other people get their cars back on the road, and in return they helped me get mine on the road."

“For example, the brakes are Morris Minor. You can’t buy the brake products. But the Morris Minor brakes will work. You can still get tail lights. They are not the right ones, but you can get the lenses. And just the rubber parts you can’t get, because nobody makes them. So I fabricated some molds and found people that would actually make them for me.”

Green has been able to keep the original two-cylinder power plant rolling all these years — “18 British horsepower! A lot of lawn mowers have more than that!” he jokes. Going for a spin, with or without a passenger to share the ultra-cozy front bench seat, is never short on adventure. Green actually reaches under and around his right leg to shift four-on-the-floor, and the top of his head reaches up above the windshield.

IMG_2601

“The suspension is very rough. It’s got two shocks in the back. The front suspension, the best way to describe it is the old torsion [setup] like on a trailer, that’s basically what it is. When you hit the bakes on this car, instead of dropping, it will raise. That’s just the way it was designed,” he notes. “They say they’ll do 60 mph, but I won’t. Over [in England’ I drove in a road rally for 40 miles and it actually wasn’t bad."

“There’s not much else to them. I guess over there you could get a radio in it, but you couldn’t hear it anyway [laughs].”

A lot of people think the Friskysport is an Amphicar. A quick peek out back shows there is no prop.

A lot of people think the Friskysport is an Amphicar. A quick peek out back shows there is no prop.

If the profile of the car looks a little familiar, it definitely is a mini-doppelganger to a much more well known small machine, the Amphicar. “Yeah, a lot of people will think it’s an Amphicar. They’ll look around back and ask if I’m going to put a prop on it and I say, “[Darn], if fell off again!’”

Green’s car has some custom made hupcaps he says he picked up from a guy in Scotland.

 “This would have had like baby moons,” he notes. Otherwise, there is not much on the car that has changed over the years. Green says eventually he plans to take the body off and do some work on the doors. “You can see the body gap between the doors and the front fender. That needs to be fiberglassed back up to support it. Over the years with the weight of the windshield has sort of drooped. My dad and I were going to do it, but he passed away … I just haven’t had the time. I’m not retired yet.”

Green says he has no other big plans for the tiny Meadows, other than taking it to shows so other car fans can see it and learn the car’s unique story, and taking it for occasional spins around town or just around the block. It’s almost a certainty that Green won’t be parting with the car anytime soon. It has become part of his identity and certainly given him some status in microcar circles — not to mention countless hours of enjoyment.

“It’s just a fun car,” he says. “Since it’s been in the family for so many years, it just has a special place. And my grandson has already claimed it.”

Mark Green with his Meadows Friskysport

Mark Green with his Meadows Friskysport

SHOW US YOUR WHEELS!

If you’ve got an old car you love, we want to hear about it. Email us at oldcars@aimmedia.com

old cars divider 50th
Old Cars FREE ISSUE Promo

*As an Amazon Associate, Old Cars earns from qualifying purchases.  

Where to Bid

Car Auciton

Check out the Old Cars Auction Calendar

The Old Cars Auction Calendar has the when and where you are looking for when it comes to classic car auctions.