During the 1950’s in Flanders, faith still held a strong positon in local societes. So strong, that vicar’s lead a very busy life, and regularly required the help of so-called “coöperating vicar’s”. In the small town of Wildert Hubert Van Geen – born in 1889 – took on that role. As a former missionary and retired priest he knew what to do. He was a man of deeds, he proved that in ’14 – ’18 and ’40 – ’45, when he played an active role in resistance. Van Geen decided he needed a car. He chose a Messerschmitt KR200. Including driver, because Van Geen preferred to be driven. He used the Messerschmitt to visit his parishioners. When needed, a small army of acolytes would chase the Messerschmitt on their bikes. In Wildert, many people still remember that spectacle.
Soon though, the Messerschmitt became too little for the vicar and his following. Therefore it was traded in for a Fiat 500 at the local Fiat-dealership of Flor Ribbens. He got stuck with an unmarketable car, because at that time everyone wanted a “real” car, and nobody fancied a Messerschmitt anymore. Ribbens simply kept the KR200 as a toy for his seven kids, who regularly used it to tear along family grounds. Among his three brothers and three sisters, it was Pat Ribbens who grew up to be the “petrolhead” of the lot. He took over his fathers garage, and became the guardian of the Messerschmitt, simply because he had grown to love the little thing. For the amount of money a passing cyclist offered for it, Pat bought the KR200 off his siblings. “I couldn’t bear the thought of it going to somebody else”, he says.
Pat made plans for a complete restoration, but the hustle of his company and growing family caught up with him. The Messerschmitt ended up stored in a container, and remained there for many years, until Pat got more free time. He freed the KR200 from its container and took it to a repair shop saying: “restore it”. “I noticed the guy was a bit reluctant to get to work”, says Pat, “he advised me to keep the car as it was, because it was in fact in pretty good shape, it just had some light rust on the surface of its body. And to be honest, that does give it a certain charm. With hindsight, I’m glad to have followed his advice. Now I feel less guilty if I take it out when the weather is dodgy.”
Because driving Pat and his KR200 do regularly. You can’t help but think Hubert Van Geen – who died in 1973 – watches them from a little cloud every now and then. He’d enjoy the sight.
The tale of the vicar’s Messerschmitt was published in AutoWeek Classics in 2016.