Daily Driver? 1957 BMW Isetta

It isn’t that unusual to see classic vehicles from the 1950s and 1960s being used as daily drivers. These are usually (but not always) larger cars, station wagons, and pickups. However, finding a micro-car that has been used this way is a bit more unusual. Barn Finder Mitchell G spotted this one for us, so thank you for that, Mitchell. This 1957 BMW Isetta saw service until February of 2019 and is now looking for a new home. It is a complete car that runs and drives. Getting it back on the road would seem to be a straightforward proposition. That could make it a great project to tackle during the rapidly approaching Winter months. Located in Orange, Connecticut, you will find the Isetta listed for sale here at Hemmings. Hand the owner $15,800, and you could be bopping away with a quirky classic. It appears that even this price might be negotiable, so that would be something to pursue.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and the Isetta is a demonstration of this point. Much of Europe struggled to recover from the ravages of World War II and getting the masses mobile once again was going to be difficult. Manufacturing was going to take a long time to ramp up, and raw materials were in short supply. Add stagnant economies into the equation, and the opportunities weren’t available for vehicle manufacturers to sell the types of cars that were appearing on American roads. That meant that innovation was required, and small vehicles proliferated. In Italy, Fiat saw success with the 500, while France saw the rise of the 2CV. The VW Beetle was gaining market traction in Germany, but there was still a demand for something smaller and cheaper. BMW saw this gap and decided to fill it. After initially negotiating with Renzo Rivolta to gain a license to build the Isetta, a deal was struck. BMW didn’t just buy a license, but all of Iso’s tooling as well. They then set to work on the Isetta and transformed it into a uniquely BMW product. Initially released with fixed “bubble” windows, the updated Isetta Moto Coupe DeLuxe brought sliding windows to the table. That is what we find with this little BMW. It is a complete car, and it doesn’t seem as though it has suffered the major rust issues that can plague these classics. The seller does acknowledge that there is some rust, but that it is minimal. The Light Blue paint shows its age, but it would be interesting to see how it would respond to a wet sand and polish. The fabric sunroof looks to be in good condition, as does the glass. All of the trim is present, and it seems to be in good order if the Isetta is to be used as an original survivor.

Life inside an Isetta could best be described as utilitarian. For those brought up on a diet of air conditioning, cruise control, and power windows, the interior appointments in an Isetta are quite a shock. In essence, there are none. The fabric sunroof is about it, and that is there as much for safety as comfort. The BMW has a single door, and in a frontal impact, this can easily become jammed. In the event of an accident where this happens, occupants were expected to exit the vehicle via the sunroof. Elegant? Not really! The Isetta features a single bench seat that can seat two adults, along with a small child in a pinch. Aiding access is the fact that the steering column is attached to the door, and pivots outward when the door is open. The interior of this vehicle is complete, and I suspect that most of it would present well with a good clean. There is a blanket thrown over the seat, so we can’t see the state of the cover beneath. You would have to hope that most of the trim can be saved because this is a little car that comes with a hefty price-tag. There isn’t a lot of upholstery there, but a trim kit generally costs about $1,200. I’d probably be inclined to find an upholsterer to make a new cover for the seat if required, which could potentially be a more cost-effective option.

The BMW Isetta was focused exclusively on being cheap to buy and just as cheap to run. As a result, it didn’t come equipped with a huge engine. This 298cc single-cylinder unit is an adaptation of a BMW motorcycle engine. It pumps out a hefty 13hp, which finds its way to the rear wheel via a 4-speed manual transmission. Acceleration and performance are all that you might expect from this sort of combination. A ¼ mile ET of 28.5 seconds is not fast, but it is faster than walking…just! The maximum speed was quoted as 53mph, but a headwind could severely dent this figure. This Isetta was being used as a daily driver until February of 2019. It was then given a rest but did see some limited use later in that year. It has been sitting since, but it does still run and drive. The brakes require attention, but this seems to be the extent of mechanical refurbishment that will be required. Beyond that, I suspect that a full service and a thorough inspection should have this little guy ready to hit the road once again.

Classic cars come in all shapes and sizes, and the Isetta is one of the tiniest. In a booming 1950s American economy, this is a car that must have seemed to be largely irrelevant. In other markets, it was a necessity if the population was going to get mobile once again. It might be a tiny car, but that doesn’t equate to a tiny potential value. If you wandered out today with $25,000 in your pocket in search of a tidy example, you might strike it lucky. However, your chances would be greatly increased with $30,000. If you want a pristine example, you need to add a further $10,000 or more to that tally. If this one is relatively rust-free, then it could be a straightforward proposition to restore. It is never going to threaten a Camaro Z28 down the ¼ mile, but this would probably attract the majority of the attention if they were parked side-by-side. The classic car scene. It’s a funny one, isn’t it?

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Comments

  1. Euromoto

    Daily driven from the house down the driveway to the mail box and back again. Give me a break.

    Like 2
    • Mitchell Gildea Member

      Still driven daily to be fair

      Like 6
    • bone

      Its in my state of Connecticut , the home of the Tinworm . Salt, snow , rain and humidity take their toll on rugged cars , on rust prone ones they are quickly devoured . Like Euromoto said – This is not a daily driver !

  2. Rex Kahrs Member

    These cars sure seem to be getting strong money on BaT. They are a novelty, but personally I would be terrified to drive this thing in modern traffic.

    Like 7
  3. Mike

    Imagine having to get into this in a torrential rainstorm. The entire interior would get soaked before you could close the door.

    Like 2
    • David Frank David Frank Member

      Wet yes, but perhaps a bit dryer then riding a motorbike?
      Cars like these were all people in Germany could afford at the time and are historically important, not a novelty. These are ingenious and interesting little cars that met the needs of the time. I’ve never understood why people read this column and being disappointed not to find safe, roomy modern cars with all today’s comforts. There’s little humor in making fun of the history of difficult times.

      Like 10
  4. Mark

    A “front bench seat that could hold 2 adults and a small child in a pinch”?
    “In case of a frontal impact, occupants were expected to exit via the sunroof because the front door could get jammed”?

    Driving this down a tree lined residential street once in a while is one thing and I get the historical novelty factor.
    I also believe folks are free to buy whatever they want with their hard earned cash.

    However, this thing is a clown car death trap and regardless of the rarity or monetary value, any suggestion that it actually be put back on todays road amongst the vehicles that are out there is flat out ludicrous and frankly, irresponsible. It’s up there with suggesting Crosleys on the Autobahn.

    What should be said is that one, if you put a small child in the front of this thing you should go to jail and two, odds are if you get into a frontal impact crash, (oh, I don’t know, let’s say with a full size Dodge Ram) the only use for the sunroof will be to insert the hose to spray off the jelly you will end up as.

    Like 6
    • Jimmy Novak

      This car offers far more protection than does a two-wheel open-to-the-wind motorcycle.

      Like 1
  5. Jim in FL

    I could see it being used in a small, isolated town in the Northeast. My in-laws have a house on Cape Cod, I spend a month there in the summer every year. I usually bike places, but they own a car. It’s a 2003 Toyota Matrix with 40k miles on it. I probably never go over 35 the whole month I’m there. Even the grocery store is on a 35 mph road. So it’s a limited use case for sure, but plausible.

    If they really are as valuable as implied though, I can’t see risking it as a daily driver. Too small to be seen, and a fender bender kills the value.

    Like 2
    • bone

      The salt air would kill it

      Like 1
  6. Bultaco

    This would be great to use in a resort town where people drive around in golf carts. Not sure how reliable it would be tho.

    Like 2
  7. Sopaconondas

    Price of Isetta is always up. If you want it for driving pleasure, not colector or investor aims, you can have one with the Karlsruhe tech approach in ‘A car made of concrete, and it works!’ A prestressed concrete chassis, a 4 mm thick concrete body.
    Engines, There are los of it, from a Sachs or OMC Wankel rotary from snowmobile, with its continuously variable automatic belt transmission. For road risks, please see ‘Vehicle compatibility in automobile crashes’, SAE.
    Blessings +

  8. Cobra Steve

    I keep feeding the passion/obsession with car collecting by saying to myself, “It’s just one more!”. Now the garage is full and anytime someone tells me about a “good deal”, I respond, “There’s no more room at the inn.” However, if I play Car Tetris in my garage/shop one more time, move a few tool boxes, this little jewel might fit????

    I need help. The Betty Ford Center is for folks with substance abuse issues. Is there a Henry Ford Center for fellas like me?

    Like 10
  9. princeofprussia

    Appears to have rust on front fenders and at the rear wheel well, also. The “rust is minimal” because the CAR is minimal! $15,000? By chance, does the seller happen to wear a plaid sport coat and have a price tag affixed to his toupee? Yikes!

    Like 1
  10. Martin

    My dad drove one for years as a frugal English farmer. He claimed he once had six people in it, and when he rolled it upside down into a ditch he was able to get it on its wheels and drive away by himself. We have a great photo of him and my mother in her wedding dress in it. I wanted to buy him one and restore it as a surprise but the prices got silly.

    Like 4
  11. JoeBob396

    As a valet parking attendant in the mid 60s I drove one of these. Even then I was amazed that anyone could face traffic in a major metropolitan area in it. At least the owner had a sense of humor. It was red, with big black polka dots. It looked like a big ladybug.

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