1957 BMW Isetta 300
Chassis no. 494 575
Americans who are familiar with the tiny Isetta often know that it was built by BMW. But what they frequently aren't aware of is that it was originally designed and built by Italian appliance manufacturer Renzo Rivolta and marketed as an Iso. The Italian firm produced its version of the bubble car from 1953 to 1956 before the license to build the cars was sold to BMW, which was focusing production on both motorcycles and an expensive line of large cars powered by straight-sixes or V-8s. With the Isetta, volume production soared and BMW was able to earn the cash it needed to develop new conventional models.
The biggest change to the Isetta was the deposit of an air-cooled four-stroke BMW motorcycle engine in place of the Italian version's two-stroke power unit. In 1956 European models used a 250cc engine, but of course, the American market demanded greater power which rose from 12 to 13hp when a 300cc engine was fitted. The rear-engined, rear-drive Isetta featured a four-speed manual transmission. Up front, the suspension was independent, while the narrow rear axle used quarter-elliptic leaf springs.
All Isettas used a front-opening door with a steering wheel that swung outward when the door was opened. With a light load and a flat road, an Isetta 300 can reach around 50-53 mph while returning as much as 45 miles per gallon in the city. So, as gas prices rise, perhaps the stock answer to the question 'what is it?' should now be 'economical'!
Early production Isettas such as this have the more distinct 'bulbous' style glass than their successors and, for that reason, are more true to their 'bubble car' nickname. The BMW here is reported to have been restored between 2009 and 2010. Taking a good rust free example as its start point, work was carried out by a marque specialist who used new old stock parts where required. The result is that the car is both well presented today, but also accurately detailed. During this process it was mechanically rebuilt also, and a correct interior trim kit, supplied by 'Isettas R Us', was fitted. Completing the external presentation are a chromed luggage rack and picnic basket. To top it off, it sports prominent chrome bumpers to keep you out of harm's way, as well as the obligatory 'escape hatch'/sunroof, for when you park too close to the garage wall.
As this writer can testify, an Isetta provides enjoyment both for its driver and those that you pass on the road. This is a great example with which to experience this 'bubble' car legend.