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Bubble Car: 1957 BMW Isetta 300

The Isetta was an Italian-designed microcar built under license in several countries, including by BMW in Germany. Its egg-shaped appearance and bubble-like windows earned it the nickname “bubble car.” It would become the first mass-produced automobile to achieve 78 mpg. This 1957 edition has been off the road for at least 15 years and some of its mechanical components have been removed for rebuilding. So, much of the remaining work might entail putting things back together again (plus paint). Located in Springfield, Oregon, this oddity is available here on craigslist for $12,000. Thanks for the Beamer tip, Matt H.!

These little cars are seldom seen these days in the U.S., yet more than 161,000 of them were built in the 1950s and 1960s. Not the safest design when it comes to frontal collisions, the forward end of the Isetta was one huge door that opened for two passengers to enter and park themselves on the single bench seat. BMW made the Isetta it’s own by redesigning the powerplant around a BMW 1-cylinder, 4-stroke, 247-cc motorcycle engine which generated 12 hp. This was later upgraded to 298-cc (hence part of the name) and a couple of extras horses were added. The gears were operated through a 4-speed manual transmission

We’re told this ’57 300 has spent its life on the West Coast, so the body is mostly rust-free. There looks to be a bit on the passenger side rear wheel well and the seller says there is some in the battery tray. So, whipping the body, paint, and interior back into shape shouldn’t be a huge undertaking. However, much more work will be involved in putting all the rest of the parts back in order.

At 30,000 miles, the tranny was removed 15 years ago and rebuilt, but never reinstalled. The seller says the engine was running at that time and seems to have compression now. The brakes are fine, and the tires have tread left, but if they, too, are 15 years old, it’s time for some new doughnuts. The clutch is said to be new along with some other odds and ends that are laid out for potential buyers to feast their eyes upon. These are cool little cars. The last time I saw one in person was at the BMW plant/museum in South Carolina in the mid-2000s.

Comments

  1. RayT Member

    I LOVE these, Russ! I’ve driven one — restored, and in perfect mechanical nick — and found it delightful. As fast as you’d want it to be (which isn’t very fast) and easy to get used to. If I could, I’d get one now, as it would be perfect for zipping around the narrow-streeted town I live in. Unlike some people I’ve talked to, safety in an Isetta has never seemed an issue to me; but I sure wouldn’t take one on the freeway!

    While prices for these have gone up — as anyone who looks at “Bring A Trailer” can tell you — I have to say the seller has an inflated idea of what it’s worth. Restored examples might go for more than $30K in a bidding war, but the cost for a comprehensive restoration (which it needs) would bring the total well north of that.

    They’re simple, easy to work on, and more spares are available than one might think, so a decent mechanic would probably have to farm out just the bodywork and upholstery. Still, the whole thing is going to run into an additional five-figure sum….

    Worth it? To me, yeah. But I’d rather pay a good bit less to get started. This is a pull-it-apart-and-start-over project in my book. But it’s tempting, even so.

    Like 9
  2. CCFisher

    Maybe Steve Urkel needs another one.

    Like 3
  3. Melton Mooney

    When I was a child I used to play in a derelict pale yellow Isetta in my grandparents backyard. I wish now I’d have paid better attention to it. All I really remember about it is that it always had spiders in it.

    Like 6
  4. David Frank David Frank Member

    And to think, they actually made a limousine version with 28 hp. It had a backseat And one extra door on the side.

    Like 3
  5. chrlsful

    the 600 is more my style but at least these have the two up front. Other 3 wheelers missed the point~

    Like 1
  6. Gerard Frederick

    Back in the day (1964), my girlfriend Serena had one in San Francisco. We used to zip up and dowm the steep inclines of the city with no problem. Once we took the car on the freeway to visit her parents in Santa Rosa. Driving mostly up hill reduced the speed to a mind numbing 30 mph, but we made it in one piece. Even then, it was only useful within city limits, but it was fun and extremely well made.

    Like 3
  7. David Laker Member

    Had a BMW 300 around 1959. Last time I drove it, we were airborne as I had fallen asleep and driven off an overpass. Later had a British-built 500. Electrics on both were a nightmare.

    IMO, one in great shape should bring about $5k tops but they do have appeal commanding in the 30’s.

    Like 1
  8. dogwater

    What are you going to do with that thing, wouldn’t want to drive it on the street the way people are today might be a good trailer park car

  9. Rick

    My mother wanted to trade her 55 Lincon Capri Convertible in on one of these cars. The salesman told her, “lady if yountrade in that Lincoln, I will give you three of these cars”.

    Like 7
  10. Howie

    I have seen many of these at car shows, but have never been in one, this was posted 2 weeks ago.

    Like 2
  11. Angel_Cadillac_Diva Angel Cadillac Diva Member

    I love these! As a kid, I had a 1/12 metal model I played with a lot! That one front door always fascinated me.
    I have never seen one with tailfins like this ’57.
    Just to clarify, some of these were built with 3 wheels. England taxed their vehicles on how many wheels they had. The 3 wheel Isetta was considered a motorcycle and there for either not taxed or a very low tax. Don’t take this as gospel, I just read it somewhere.

    Like 3
  12. Kenn

    I would only use it in the same places I would use a golf cart.

    Like 1

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