Brighton Built Bubble?: 1959 BMW Isetta 300

041116 Barn Finds - 1959 BMW Isetta 300 - 3

Barn Finds writer, Robert, shows us a similar Isetta a couple of months ago. That car was similarly-blue, but that’s where the similarities end; at least condition-wise. This beautiful, supposedly original (?) car is located in Malvern, United Kingdom and it looks like it has been kept in a velvet-lined box for the last five decades. If this car is really all-original it’s quite a find for you Isetta fans, and I know there are a few (thousand) of you out there.

041116 Barn Finds - 1959 BMW Isetta 300 - 1

I’m sure that most of us already know the history of the Isetta? That the car was conceived and designed in the early-1950s by Iso Autoveicoli S.p.A of Italy? And, that they licensed the design to other companies in other countries, including BMW? Ok, good, then we’re all on the same page. This is the second Isetta model for BMW; the first being the 250 which included the non-operable “bubble” windows. The 300 was actually quite a step up in having sliding side windows and a bigger engine with 13 hp instead of just 12! Ok, that doesn’t sound like a lot of extra oomph but it did help the car get around better, especially on hills.

041116 Barn Finds - 1959 BMW Isetta 300 - 2

This is the driver’s comprehensive control pod, i.e.; speedometer and odometer. Neither GPS nor BMW iDrive was needed in 1959, people looked out the dang windshield and drove their dang cars in those days! And, they also used something called a “map”! I say, they used something called a map! (hello, is this thing on?)..

041116 Barn Finds - 1959 BMW Isetta 300 - 4

Sleek and slick; I absolutely love these cars. The Isetta, as most of you already know, originally had just one wheel in the back like this car does, but a second wheel was added for a bit of extra stability; even though the two are fairly closely-spaced. BMW built almost 162,000 Isettas and the seller says that this car was built in Brighton, but I may have a bone to pick with that assertion. British Isettas built in the Brighton plant should have had a right-hinged door and also would have had the steering wheel on the right side; quite unlike the car shown on the photo below. Hmm..

041116 Barn Finds - 1959 BMW Isetta 300 - 6

We all know that these cars had a front-opening single door; left-hinged on this particular car. There was a bigger, relatively-speaking, model called the Isetta 600, or “limo”, that also had a right rear side door for the rear seat occupants. Yes, that one had a rear seat and was almost two feet longer than the Isetta 300. In case of an accident in a 300, if there were any survivors, they were expected to crawl through the sunroof; no, really. This car has a “Webasto style sunroof”, but even that looks too good to be 57-years old. I don’t know if the interior would have originally been carpeted or would have had fabric seats, either?

041116 Barn Finds - 1959 BMW Isetta 300 - 5

This should be a 298cc (300) single-cylinder, four-stroke engine good for about 53 mph. For a car that weighs about the same as a couple of US Football players, that isn’t a horrible power-to-weight ratio. But, some folks have slightly modified their cars for a bit of extra power for those quick trips to the market. This car sure is in great condition. Whether it’s original or not – the paint looks far too good to be 57-years old, the interior fabric wouldn’t have been like that, and I think that it most likely would have had a rubber mat on the floor instead of carpet – it sure is nice.

Prices for Isettas have gone from affordable to through-the-roof in the last decade. This example is what I would call affordable for microcars in this fine condition. This beautiful, blue bubble is found on eBay with an asking price of £12,995 ($18,519). Do you like microcars as much as I do?

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Comments

  1. Charles

    Wow, what a sweet well kept Isetta! The British versions were built with three wheels because they qualified to be licensed as a scooter. One would have to change the entire differential/gear box to convert a three wheeler to a four wheel version. All other versions had four wheels. We owned several US spec Isetta’s and a German spec version that looked sportier then the US version due to the European bumpers . US versions had a solid bumper.

    • rusty

      re: the 2 wheel rear end..I owned one of the few Isettas in Australia apparently bought in when they were current. [ie not a recent import which have come here] at the time I bought it said to be only 12 known here but with recent imports that has increased.

      mine had English body tags but was a 4 wheeler. Looked much the same as this one. It did have right hand drive [and door] but I could never be sure if the door had been converted or not…or was it a replacement door off a left hand drive that had to be converted although the car had no body damage . The door had some filled in screw holes that made me wonder if hinging had been switched to other side..

      Is it possible the English cars were supplemented by imported left hand drive cars but still badged as English..this could explain the 2 wheel rear end you say isnt a pommy Isetta..mine definately had english tags..and explain my possibly converted door.

      regards the sunroof. mine had a lovely roof rack and the then owners actually moved house with it carrying cupboards on top..yes amazing and they were 2 quite large people you would be surprised to step out of one…so dont think these cars are toys..they have worked for their livings too in the day..people drove them as cars back then…cause toys didnt exist in the car world back then.

      oh by the way the roofrack had a pull out section so if you couldnt get out the door in an accident you could still get out the sunroof…that is if you dont have a cupboard tied to the roofrack hee hee…

    • RollerD

      “The British versions were built with three wheels because they qualified to be licensed as a scooter”…

      Did not know that, thank you Sir. Have seen these draw a crowd and picture takers away from the more common participants at car shows and auctions alike. This one seems exceptional.

  2. onebugatti

    Is it right hand drive?

  3. Charles

    From the picture it looks to be a left hand drive. I am not sure if these cars were offered as a right hand drive? Obviously I will learn some things from this conversation? The engine is on the right. The rods and cables are set up on the left. BMW would have to almost built a mirror image of the car with the engine on the left and the control’s on the right. The cars have four speed manual transmissions shifted with one’s left hand. Bruce Weiner’s Double Bubble Acres in Georgia had the largest collection of Isetta’s that I have ever seen in one place. He had all sorts of variants, and I don’t remember seeing a right hand drive model there.

    The cars were surprisingly roomy for such a small car. My dad was 6 foot 4 inches, and he owned several Isetta’s over the years. I was about a year old when my folks bought the first one. As a toddler I remember riding in the package tray over the engine. The vibration and noise made for a good place for a kid to nap.

    The car averaged 55-60 MPG, and would cruise along at 55 to 57 MPH on the highway. Top speed was probably around 60 MPH. The cars had a heavy gauge welded pipe which made up the door frame, and another welded pipe that surrounded the inside of the body of the car, making the car fairly crush resistant.

    Many of the engine parts were shared with the BMW motorcycles of the day. The 300 cc engine used one cylinder from the twin 600 cc motorcycle and also the BMW 600 car which looked like a long Isetta with a door on one side for rear seat passengers.

    The last Isetta that we owned was a 1957 German spec model in red that I worked out $50.00 worth of yard work for when I was 14 y/o. At $3.00 per cut, and $20:00 per week to watch the house and take care of everything while the family went on vacation took me most of the summer to work out. The car was purchased by a US serviceman in Germany and brought back to the states when he transferred home.

    After a few years the engine needed an overhaul. He pulled the engine and had it rebuilt. After reinstalling the engine they never could get the car to start. He lost his patience with the car and sold it to me. I enlisted some friends and we pushed the car about two blocks to my house. I figured that dad would be mad when he got home, however he was amused that I had an Isetta. When I had worked off the payment, the fellow signed the title and gave it to me. I took it home, gave it to my mom, and she had the car titled in her name.

    It took dad and I about an hour to get the car started. It ran like a clock. In those days the only way to buy parts was from the BMW factory. I remember writing a needs list and sending to to BMW. They sent back a price list of the items and shipping costs. We mailed a certified check and a few months later the parts arrived. My folks had some land in the country where we kept some horses. My sister and I drove the Isetta around the property and had a great time with it. We took great care not to beat it up, and it stayed in good shape. When I got my license I wanted a muscle car, and the Isetta was put aside in the corner of the garage. We moved in 1974 and I sold the car to my uncle. It changed hands a few times and is fully restored today. The car resides in a private collection, but has spent time in a couple of museums.

    I regret selling the car, and am glad that it was saved.

    • rusty

      Interestingly my isetta although with right hand drive steering still had if I remember rightly the motor setup for lefthand drive.

      This further reinforces my thoughts that the English company actually started selling steering converted imports tagged as British.

      • rusty

        Oh I remember too the gear shift had been removed from the wall and dragged across and bolted to the floor beside driver but Centre of car Obviously due to the pposition of the engine and cables.

  4. piper62j

    Wheeler Dealers restored one of these on TV. It was RH drive, red and white and sold right away.. Evidently, these cars are very popular in the UK due to the excessively high cost of gas there.. Hail to the Queen…

    Nice find and great little car, but then you’d have to pay shipping back here to the homeland.

  5. JW

    I always chuckle when I see one at a car show, I do like them but get chills up my back thinking of a head on collision in one of these. A friends brother had a red one, never road in it, mostly because I’m goofy about being closed in to tight spaces. Guess that’s why I’ll never own a Smart car. Unless I decide to start camping again.

  6. Charles

    There is a picture of a right hand drive model in the related finds at the bottom of the page.

  7. rusty

    and no cow horn bumpers on front like mine…it does have the shifter on the wall but with motor on drivers side..the plot thickens…hee hee

  8. Mark in WNC

    Here we go…again. Isetta 300’s were built with fixed windows (Bubble Window) also sliding side windows. The sliding side windows were not progression of years. RHD cars had the door hinged on the right side. 3 wheel Isettas were for tax purposes and, as mentioned before, could be licensed as a scooter. A fourth wheel was standard everywhere else and was never ‘added’ for stability. Finally, a 250 or a 300 is an Isetta. A 600 is NOT an Isetta.

  9. Richard

    Is it possible the Brighton cars were built like my TR3 all one had to do was flip the rack and swap all the hardware from one side to the other to make it right hand drive. My “Chalmers” manual even has a chapter on how to do the swap.

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