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In Praise of the 'Suitcase Scooter'

Remembering a fold-up ride that embodied a radical idea: "Small is beautiful."

It's been five decades since the German economist, E.F. Schumacher, published his influential collection of anti-consumerist essays, "Small Is Beautiful" in 1973. The ideas in that book have permeated most cultures around the world — even, gradually, the United States, where "bigger is better" is the unofficial national motto. Here, in tribute to Schumacher's landmark work, FOTO offers a series of pictures of a particular wee vehicle that embodies the ideals set forth in Schumacher's essays: a collapsible motorized "suitcase scooter" that, alas, never really caught on in America. Maybe it's time for a comeback? Paging Elon Musk…

TRUNK SHOW F. Roy Kemp/BIPS/Hulton Archive/Getty Images TRUNK SHOW The Suitcase Scooter was designed by French engineer and visionary Victor Bouffort. But despite being extensively marketed in America, Europe, and Japan, Bouffort's little titan missed the scooter craze of the 1950s, and was overshadowed by countless Japanese mopeds flooding world markets in the 1960s. Still, according to the folks at Motorcylepedia "it did sell in small numbers in America … [and] was also far superior to any of the American models." Pictured: A woman pulls a Suitcase Scooter from the back of a car in 1962. TIGHT FIT F. Roy Kemp/BIPS/Hulton Archive/Getty Images TIGHT FIT The Suitcase Scooter sold for $245.00 in 1962. (That's almost $2,000 in today's money — which, in reality, might be another reason it didn't really catch on.) It could reach speeds of around 35 miles an hour (2.8 horsepower, two-stroke engine), and had a range of around 170 miles on a single tank.

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THE REVEAL F. Roy Kemp/BIPS/Hulton Archive/Getty Images THE REVEAL The scooter was just 27 in. x 13 in. x 24 in. when folded up — small enough to fit into a car trunk far smaller than the cavernous one pictured here. READY TO ROLL F. Roy Kemp/BIPS/Hulton Archive/Getty Images READY TO ROLL Bouffort was not just a man with a plan for new types of transportation. He was also, quite literally, a hero. According to the site Retromobile , in 1932 "Victor was 20 years old. It was at his parents' home that … in 1938, he helped build the Elytroplan — a high-stability airplane. During the [Nazi] occupation, Victor Bouffort's task was to bring supplies to Swiss residents living in France. With every journey he made, he risked his life: he would hide Jewish children in his lorry and then take them to Switzerland, saving them from being deported to concentration camps." PACK IT IN F. Roy Kemp/BIPS/Hulton Archive/Getty Images PACK IT IN A clever feature of Bouffort's invention: a "side car" that was just the right size for carrying tools, a bit of shopping, sports gear … or a very small passenger. SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET F. Roy Kemp/BIPS/Hulton Archive/Getty Images SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET In the years since the Suitcase Scooter made its debut and quietly faded away, the premise behind its invention remains valid, if largely (and sadly) ignored: namely, that small and hyper-efficient vehicles designed for errands and just tooling around the neighborhood can be as stylish as they are smart.

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