The BMW of today, with its tech-laden super-sedans, hybrid sports cars, and ultra-luxury SUVs would probably not exist if it weren’t for an Italian appliance company named Isothermos. The loose connection began in 1942 when Isothermos was purchased by a young engineer and heir to an industrial fortune, Renzo Rivolta. With a passion for motoring, Rivolta began to expand the company’s range, adding motorbikes to the portfolio and renaming the works Iso Autoveicoli S.p.A. After World War II, Europeans were desperate to get back on wheels, but with raw materials and fuel at a premium, few could afford a conventional car. Motorbikes and scooters became hugely popular, but they were impractical in bad weather or for families. As a way to bridge the gap between bike and car, some manufacturers turned to motorbike-powered microcars that offered cheap, efficient, and practical transport for the masses.
Wanting to cash in on this new market, Renzo Rivolta began development of a 2-passenger microcar with a single front clamshell door, and a small capacity motorbike engine mounted amidships. Introduced in 1953, the Iso Isetta Turismo was the quintessential cheeky bubble car. It was adorable, it could transport two people and some groceries, and it was highly efficient, if not terribly quick thanks to having just 236 c.c. and 9 ½ horsepower. It turned out to be reasonably successful in the home market, with 20,000 built at the Iso works in Milan.
Iso recognized a viable market for the Isetta, however, he lacked the manufacturing capacity to meet Europe-wide demand. Rivolta’s stroke of genius came in 1954 when he sold the rights to the design to a number of different companies in Europe and South America. Among those firms was BMW, who was struggling through the post-war recovery. Most of their factories were devastated by bombing, and their Eisenach works fell within Russian-controlled East Germany. BMW’s post-war product line consisted mainly of expensive six and eight-cylinder luxury cars that, while capable, had limited appeal in the post-war economy. Without the time and resources to develop a small car, the Isetta was the perfect opportunity to support the bottom line. Of course, they couldn’t help but to fettle with the design, modifying it to accept a 250 c.c. four-stroke engine shared with the R25/3 motorcycle and making minor styling changes. In 1956, BMW bumped the capacity to 298 c.c. which gave the new Isetta 300 nearly one-and-a-half times the power output over the 250. With a storming 13 horsepower on tap, not even hills could stop BMW’s mighty-mouse! The Isetta continues to delight today’s collectors, and even the most serious collections make room for the adorable – yet historically significant – German bubble car.
This charming 1957 Isetta is a one of just a few to feature the rare and desirable Cabriolet body. According to the BMW Mobile Tradition Certificate, this Isetta is an export model originally sold through the official American importer for Isetta cars, Fadex Commercial Corporation of New York, New York. Various sources put the number of Export-model cabriolets at around 50; a tiny fraction of the more than 160,000 Isettas built by BMW. This particular example benefits from extensive maintenance and care at the hands of its current owner, with service records going back more than 18 years. With its attractive presentation and well-sorted mechanicals, this Isetta is an excellent choice for a driving enthusiast. Numerous options and accessories include the “tropical” door with its additional fresh air vents, dual windscreen wipers, and a luggage rack complete with a picnic basket. It rides on appropriate 10-inch wheels fitted with dog-dish hubcaps and s fresh radial tires up front. The Spanish Red paint contrasts with a bright white pinpoint vinyl top. The body is crisp and glossy with a charming character and few areas of texture visible on closer inspection. Trim and brightwork are in good condition overall, with some original pieces mixed with restored items. Bumpers and over riders display excellent quality plating, both in the front and rear.
When opening the distinct refrigerator-style door, the steering wheel cleverly folds away, and ingress is surprisingly easy, even for taller drivers. This car’s controls and switches are finely preserved in original condition, with the gearshift and primary controls falling easily to hand. The opening roof panel and the rear section, along with the sliding side windows, give a wonderfully airy feeling inside “the egg.” The bench seat is upholstered in white basketweave-style vinyl with red piping. The remaining interior panels are in excellent order, covered in white upholstery and a correct type black rubber mat lines the floor.
Records provided by the owner document the regular care and maintenance this Isetta has received in his time with it. Recent work included sorting of the brakes, carburetor tuning, and minor fettling. Since 2000, the car has been treated to an engine rebuild (2001), gearbox rebuild (2006) and numerous other cosmetic and mechanical repairs. It is nicely sorted and ready to be enjoyed on the road, where the cheeky fun of an Isetta is best appreciated. It is easy to be taken by the Isetta’s charm, and this rare convertible version is sure to delight both casual enthusiasts and seasoned microcar collectors alike.