BMW-Isetta – 1955

In the aftermath of World War II the extraordinary Isetta made an appearance — a tiny minicar capable of meeting the need for affordable transport at a time when raw materials (and money) were scarce. This unmistakable vehicle was introduced in 1953 and with its hinged front, teardrop shape and small proportions was unlike anything seen before.

It swept the world, being licensed in various countries — Belgium, Brazil, Britain, France, Germany and Spain — acquiring assorted nicknames like ‘bubble car’, ‘rolling egg’ and ‘yogurt pot’. The most graphic was Brazil’s ‘FNM’s soccer ball’ (FNM being a heavy truck). In the latter context, and the happy event that anyone survived a head-on crash, the Isetta’s occupants were supposed to exit through the canvas sunroof.

Having obtained the license to manufacture the Isetta in Germany, BMW, with Teutonic efficiency, quickly set about improving the basic design. In came a fan-cooled, four-stroke BMW motorcycle engine, the front suspension was reworked, headlights were repositioned and a larger sump installed. The big Dynastart combination generator-starter unit was retained, along with the complex drive train that turned two closely spaced rear wheels. In 1956 the Isetta Moto Coupe DeLuxe was introduced, the ‘DeLuxe’ element being new sliding windows and protruding front crash bars. This became the BMW-Isetta 300 with a larger engine that improved acceleration and aided hill climbing.

The BMW 600 was an enlarged Isetta stretched to contain four seats, with an unchanged front, two side doors and a 582 cc twin-cylinder motorcycle engine — it was made from 1957 to 1959 but wasn’t a success as customers were by then clamoring for real cars. However, production of the 300 continued until 1962 to service the financially challenged and by the time the last hinged front slammed shut in the factory over 161,000 of the handy little roadrunners had been built.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:

Germany

FIRST MANUFACTURED:

1955 (until 1962)

ENGINE:

247 cc or 298 cc Single Cylinder

PERFORMANCE:

Top speed of both models was 54 mph (87 km/h)

YOU SHOULD KNOW:

Original Italian Isettas were entered in the legendary Mille Miglia road race in 1954 and took the top three places in the economy class, with the winner averaging nearly 45 mph (72 km/h) during a punishing run that lasted for some 22 hours.

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