Tiny cars have intrigued Duane Saunders since he first saw a BMW Isetta at Fort Sill, Okla., in 1963. Saunders, from Downs, Kan., was in the Army after graduating from K-State in 1961.
“Many soldiers brought Isettas home from overseas duty,” he said, because it only cost $50 to have the car transported. Saunders bought one for $200 and kept it for five or six years.
Saunders was a physical therapist, and he lived in Great Bend until 1981, when he moved to Prior Lake, a suburb of Minneapolis, because his wife was from Minnesota. He had several clinics and 17 patents on sports medicine equipment. One of his most famous items was the Saunders S’port All, a back support combined with compression shorts which was popularized by pro golfer Payne Stewart.
In 2007, Saunders sold his company, and his daughter said he needed something to fill his time in retirement so he wouldn’t get bored. He decided to tinker with tiny cars again, and he bought a Subaru 360. That led to the purchase of several BMW Isettas in both 300 and 600 configurations, and then Saunders hired a body man.
“I took em apart and he put em back together,” he said. Before long, his hobby had turned into Saunders Classic Cars that specialized in restoring mini cars.
Two passengers can fit inside, and there is only one door, in front. The car weighs 770 pounds and is 89.8 inches long. It gets 63 miles per gallon.
One of Saunders’ wackier notions was covering one of his Isettas with cork. It was on display recently at the Greater Kansas City Auto Show, and it attracted people like bees to honey. Saunders’ meticulously cuts each cork in half before gluing it to the car, and he often uses a Dremel tool to shape the backside of the cork so it fits flush to the body.
The Cork Isetta is but one example of how Saunders has fun with cars. He is an avid K-State alum, and he travels from Minnesota for football games. Each year he dons a purple Elvis suit and drives his 1963 Cadillac Eldorado convertible, painted silver and trimmed in purple, in the homecoming parade.
So far, retirement is far from boring for Saunders, and he intends to keep having fun.