1951 Wisconsin Motors Minnie
The 1951 “Minnie” was Wisconsin Motors new entry level design, filling a hole in their lineup as the Mouse moved upmarket. Trading on the popularity of a cartoon mouse, (and treading dangerously close to copyright infringement) the Minnie was not only marketed at women, it was designed by a woman. Two women, sort of. Belva Lagerfelter was in her own right a “gearhead”, had participated in several long distance road rallies, and was an active member of the Ladies Motoring Club. Norma Lagerfelter was her daughter, age 10 at the start of development (12 at release in 1951). At age 10, Norma already had a wealth of driving experience, Uncle Ray’s minisprint (used as an engine development mule) was her favorite toy at the farms, when she could get her hands on it. Belva acted as development lead, Norma as chief test driver. The design brief was simple: an affordable car that could be easily driven by a 10 year old girl.
To reduce front axle weight, the familiar typhoon ohv triple was mounted in the rear of the car, enhancing traction at the rear and reducing steering effort. Front tires were narrow 100 section cross ply on 10 inch rims, directed by rack and pinion adapted from the updated mouse. Tiny 6.7 inch drum brakes used hydraulic pressure and a “Master Cylinder” for ease of operation, and the rearward weight bias helped the car make the best of what was available, stopping the Minnie from 100kph in 222.3ft. A lightweight version of the modular transmission was developed using a hydraulic clutch throwout to reduce pedal effort and featured 3 widely spaced gears, top gear essentially functioning as an overdrive. The differential could be manually locked via a lever on the floor. “Sliding Pillar” four wheel independent suspension ((Macpherson Struts)) saved weight over double wishbones, as did an aluminum intake manifold and tubular exhaust manifolds on the engine.
Three variants of the Typhoon ohv triple were available, rated at 10HP, 15HP, and 15+HP. The 10HP model was new for ‘51, and catered to the then booming Mexican market, though it was offered in the States as an “eco” alternative. Modern dyno tests of a vintage example spun the rollers at 15 hp@4600 and 21 lb-ft @2200rpm, winding out to 5100 rpm. This carried the 440cc Minnie to 51.5mph, zipping through the ¼ mi in just 30.3s. 10HP cost just $623@30% dealer markup (($4678@0%Automation)) and got 31.6mpg.
The 15HP is the same 639cc Typhoon 15HP that featured in the ‘46 Mouse, now with an eco carb and aforementioned manifolds. This variation dynos at 25.1hp@4900, 32.6lb-ft@2900, 5200 redline and carries the 1378 lb Minnie to 72.5mph. 0-100kph 42.5s, 28s ¼ mile. 26.8 mpg
The 15H was the performance variant of the Typhoon, available special order through WM’s performance division. With high compression pistons, ¾ race cam, 2 barrel carb, and long primary tubular exhaust manifolds, this engine required premium gas and made 42hp. 15+, indeed. It propelled the 2 seat Minnie H to 87.6mph
Interior trimmings were minimal, using four barely padded “bucket” seats ((think tractor bucket seat, not modern car)). The car nevertheless included many thoughtful touches in the interior. Storage nooks abounded: in the dash, doors (these doubled as the door beams), under seats, even built into the monocoque itself in the rear passenger area. Windows in the doors roll down about halfway due to a curve in the glass. Front and rear windscreens hinged at the top and could be adjusted via hand cranks. Rear quarter windows hinged at the front and could each be cranked outward about 5” . Unseen but beautiful, brass drip rails carry water away from window moldings in an effort to prevent rust. Also unusual in a car of this class was the color palette. For a modest charge, customers could order premium “big car colors” which included some metallic and candy paints in this era. Trim bits were powdercoated with a crackle finish in a variety of colors.
What are these fake grilles doing on the front? I’m glad you asked. Equipped with the same advanced safety features as the early mouse, this new car also featured a “crush zone” at the front of the car. Those fake grilles help control deformation in the event of a collision.
The Minnie debuted on a frozen lake at an ice racing event in Lake Geneva. Otto had invited some newspaper men to come see his new car and phenom driver. Quite intentionally, the new WM car showed up late and missed qualifying. Starting at the back of the pack, the combination of car and driver quickly proved its dominance while Ray and Otto looked on. The driver, concealed by her helmet, was Norma, age 12. Ray and Otto shared a moment of pride, Norma was indeed a natural racer. Cool, calm, patient, and precise; she picked her way through the 16 car field in just 22 laps, stretching her lead with every lap of the remaining 3. Norma years later described the drive, “It was like the car and I were in our own universe, where time almost stood still… I saw everything, knew everything, conscious thought became a mere passenger. I can’t describe it, it was like driving in a cloud of light…” After the race, Norma kept her helmet on until she was called to the podium, as instructed earlier by Otto. Chatter among the racers escalated until it became open jeering. Belva put her hand on her daughter’s shoulder and smiled. She had coached Norma on this, “Folks don’t like to lose, sure, but some folks don’t even like a woman competing -feel like it’s a threat to their honor or some such. It ain’t, but don’t you argue with em. Kill ‘em with kindness. You’ve always had a pretty high opinion of yourself, and you don’t care much what people think -you’ll be just fine.” Indeed, she could feel her daughter beaming inside the helmet as the comments flew at her.
“Hey Otto, izzat a driver or a horse jockey? Talk about weight savings!”
“Hey feller, those Lagerfelters feeding you alright? C’mon over to our place if ya need a good, home-cooked meal!”
“Fella must be some kind of ugly, keeping his helmet on indoors!”
Talk settled down as ceremonies began, and Norma’s car number was finally called. At this point, she removed her helmet and approached the stage. The room fell into a stunned silence. No one feels too badly when they get beat by a factory backed car, but to get whipped by a little girl… They’d felt sure they’d been beaten by a pro when they saw her drive. As she accepted her trophy, her eyes and face beamed with joy, and the Lagerfelters started to clap. Ray whistled, Belva let out a war whoop,and the room quickly joined suit, falling victim to an infectious happiness. Otto brought out a bottle of brandy from under his coat and started to pass it around as he approached the stage. Norma stood there dumb and gleaming. She felt 50 feet above the crowd, charged with a happiness whose intensity almost seemed dangerous -as if she might explode and take out the surrounding three counties.
Otto reached the stage and addressed the crowd, inviting everyone to a nice fish fry at the supper club, courtesy of the race winner. Outside the club, Lagerfelter stationed 3 early production Minnies with salesmen offering demo drives. By the end of the night he had his first 15 orders, one sold to one of the newspapermen he’d invited to cover the event. The event was considered a success, as was the car, and the Lagerfelters would remember it fondly.
Don’t race Norma! After the car’s debut, Norma’s personal car was fitted with one of Ray’s California hot rod shop’s V8-60s, with a ¾ race cam. In this form, the car was good for 15.0s in the quarter and 143 mph! The conversion was offered as a kit, the extra cooling vents shown here were executed by Ray Lagerfelter.
Minnie - 15H.car (24.9 KB)
The most fun you can have with 42 hp? I’ll let you decide. Oversteers. Back it into a hairpin on dirt and you’ll see why I like it.