Lovely Survivor: 1959 Borgward Isabella

Here’s a car many have never seen and few would regret. Very few were imported, so they were not common, even in 1959. Compared to American cars of the time they were quite small but they were larger than most other German cars. The coupe I used to drive in the 1960s was very different than the American cars I was accustomed to. This Borgward is in Anderson, California and listed on eBay. Bidding is over $8,500 and is very active. The seller is asking $9,995 on their website.

Finding one of these in America is difficult, finding one that is all original with just 16k miles is quite rare. Given how clean the body is and how nice the interior looks, it’s easy to believe it really does have less than 20k miles on it. It will need some work to the seat upholstery, but other than that the inside looks ready to go. And the seller has information on the original owner, so it shouldn’t be too difficult find the car’s complete history.

The engine looks to be clean, although it could use some detailing. This 1.5 liter inline 4 only produces 60 horsepower, but these aren’t terribly heavy cars and with a 4 speed transmission it should move along just fine.

These Borgwards are pleasant cars to drive and this one looks to be in especially nice condition. If you’ve been looking for something interesting and unique to drive, you really can’t beat this Isabella! So will you be hitting the road in this lovely coupe?

Fast Finds


  1. Terry J

    Had a pal that had one circa 1965, Eastern Oregon. Nice little car. Notice the 4 speed gear box is a column shift: 4 on the Tree ! :-) Terry J

    • Jay

      I was just going to say the same.
      4 on a tree. Neighyhad one.

  2. boxdin

    Pics purposely avoid the large rust bubble below the trunk handle.
    In the 60s I knew of a few of these, DKWs etc, my mid school teacher had one of these.

  3. Howard A Member

    Ha, David, you’ll have to do better than that. I have heard of Borgward. When I was a kid, we had our family doctor that made house calls ( remember those?) and he drove a Borgward. Me and my brother used to make fun of that name. He must have known someone that sold these, because I believe he also drove a Lloyd later on. Other than that, nothing else. Looks like a pretty well made car.

  4. geomechs geomechs Member

    There were a couple of these washed up out west. Definitely not a power house but some designer expected these to last forever if you maintained them properly. I never saw so many grease nipples on one vehicle in my life. You can grease the door hinges. Someone told me the hood hinges too but I never checked that out. Aside from being high maintenance, they still could rust.

  5. Jim Marston

    The same company made the Goliath and Lloyd autos that were smaller, the Lloyd being the smallest and with the least power

  6. Fred W.

    The neighborhood junkyard I prowled as a teenager was full of these. Cars were only 7 or 8 years old and already junked.

    • juan

      I´m quite sure that was because nobody wanted them or the lack of parts/service because they were almost bulletproof; here in Argentina were tons of them and suffered the worst conditions and kept running, I saw a few in my town´s junkyard only because they were crashed or blown engines (careless owner/driver) with little or no rust at all; and talking about the engine you can make it diesel only changing the cilinder head and putting an injection pump and injectors, I don´t know if you also have to make something else to the front suspension but I guess not, If the engine block was prepared for that task I´m quite sure the rest of the car was.

  7. Keith

    My Uncle had one of these. Interesting little vehicles. Geomechs is right that for whatever reason there are a few of these kicking around Oregon and Eastern Washington. Now, if you really want something unusual, I know where a Borgward Isabella WAGON is located. It’s rough to be sure but when did you ever see one?

  8. Alan

    My mother had a Goliath in early 60s , not for long though

  9. KEN TILLY Member

    I have owned two of these fantastic cars when living in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) where they were plentiful. One day a friend of mine was heading to Gatooma, about 70 miles away, in his 1959 Borgward and I followed him in my 1957 Studebaker Silver Hawk about 5 minutes after he had left, and I never managed to catch him! The Stude sat on 95 mph the whole way and when I arrived at the shop he was already pouring tea into his cup! Take a look under the hood for the electrical wiring. You won’t find much as it was routed under the front fenders,and shielded from stones etc. Neatest engine bay you are ever likely to see.

  10. Paul B

    This car is actually a 2-door sedan. The coupe had a dramatically smaller cab — a Borgward response to the VW Karmann Ghia, if you will. These were excellent cars, well built and tough with high performance for their time. My next door neighbors had a wagon when I was a kid and it was very impressive. BMW owes a debt to Borgward, as it wound up with many of the company’s engineers after Borgward went bust in the early 1960s. So there’s definitely Borgward DNA in the Neue Klass cars that sent BMW to its great success. As for the many Isabellas that ended up in U.S. junkyards, a lot of that was due to difficulties owners had finding parts and knowledgeable service after the show was over. That was common with many orphan cars, especially imports.

  11. Milt

    I’m sure every stoner is looking at that air cleaner and imagining all the possibilities..

  12. Carguy

    The DeSoto dealer in Scottsbluff, NE. (in the Panhandle, 34 miles from the Wyoming border) sold these during the heyday for both brands. The Pontiac dealer sold Vauxhalls, the Chrysler dealer sold Renaults and the Ford dealer had Anglias. There was also a stand-alone VW dealer in those days. We knew what they were and could tell them apart back in the day when you could do that with American cars too.

  13. Paul B

    Car is now marked sold at the dealer website.

    • Jesse Mortensen Staff

      Maybe they marked it sold because the reserve has been met on eBay? It’s currently at $8,800 with 6 hours left.

      • Brakeservo

        Who knows what’s really going on. It’s dealer so there’s shenanigans no doubt.

  14. Will Owen

    Saw one parked in a Tennessee field; the guy had cut the knee-high grass so prospective buyers could look under. There was some surface rust and the interior smelled like a tomb, but the floors were solid. We were suitably impressed, but couldn’t figure a way to fit it into our lives.

    Mr. Borgward was a pretty good engineer, but his idea of growing the business was building several different lines of cars that did not exactly sell like hotcakes. He was not particularly good at taking anyone’s advice, either. Doggone shame.

  15. Jim Norman

    In the 1960s, a college friend had a Borgward Isabella, I was impressed with the fact that it had a padded dashboard — years before American manufacturers started doing that.

  16. glen

    Reminds me of the flying car from Harry Potter.

  17. Dave Wright

    Had a friend that was collecting the coupe version of these in the early 70’s. They seemed to be a solid little car but I had 356’s and my 53 GMC so never looked closely at them. I was interested that anyone would collect something like them at that time in Southern California…….he also had a 71 (?) Shelby 500 Mustang that was his daily driver.

  18. Milt(2)

    Had a 1959 Isabella while stationed at NAAS Kingsville, Texas. Shifting was 4 forward gears, 1 reverse gear on the column meaning 5 on the tree. Lost the fan belt while driving in Mexico but the local shade tree garage discovered the A/C belt from a 1958 Buick fit just fine. Months later the fan broke loose and plowed thru the radiator but the local Kingsville VW Mechanic (formerly a WW2 Panzer tank mechanic) discovered a Volvo water pump, fan, and radiator fit just fine. It is amazing how many auto parts are universal to several different makes.

  19. Bill McCoskey

    Unless the previous owner/driver was over 350 pounds, That’s not a 16,000 mile car. Those seat splits are from the thread in the sewing seams giving way, usually due to high mileage or a very heavy driver. Now look at the pic of the back seat. At the extreme right side of the pic is the door opening windlace, it’s so badly worn the inner foam rubber core is exposed.

    The reason the under hood area and underside is so clean is because the entire car was recently pressure washed. Note on the right front lower control arm, where the paint has flaked off down to bare metal, it’s not rusted yet. Plus, all the front steering rod joints have NO grease showing. Pressure washed fersure!

    This car is at least a 50,000 mile car in my opinion.

  20. Roger

    Had one in ’66. It was a ’60 model 4 on the tree with a cable shift. Fun little car. Traded it for a ’56 Chevy 2 door sedan.

  21. W9BAG

    4 speed on the column. Really neat cars.

  22. Wolfgang Gullich

    Borgwards were fantastic cars. The company history is interesting as well, especially the part where BMW colluded with the German government to effectively put them out of business

  23. chad

    “gone” for $200?
    some 1 may B donin what they do here – put up for sale (w/o intent) to see what it’ll bring?

    1st look I thought it wuz an ‘Amazon’…

  24. Angus Macleod

    Whilst serving in the Royal Air Force In England in the 1960s a friend owned a Borgward and I am perhaps one of the people lucky enough to have sat in and driven a Borgward.
    Years later when visiting a toy shop I couldn’t resist buying a 15 inch model of a Borgward Coupe which I proudly display on top of our sitting room cabinet.

  25. RobM

    This is a 2 door sedan, not a coupe. Borgward also offered an Isabella Coupe. A group from the European Borgward club is shipping their cars to the U.S. to begin a cross country tour next week!

  26. Brakeservo

    What, if any, is the connection between Borgward cars and the Hansa shipping company?

  27. Chris A.

    My Dad helped a widow by buying her late husband’s blown engine1959 Borgward Isabella TS sedan for $35. Originally she just wanted it towed away for free, but Dad asked her if by any chance there was a shop manual. That was worth the $35. I’d been begging for a car. When I came home from school he said “Here’s your car and the manual to fix it”. “We’ll work on it together and I’ll pay for any parts you need”. There were actually two versions of the 2 door sedan; the regular and the performance version called the TS which had a Solex two barrel carb. It was very easy to work on as you could access everything. Parts like gaskets, a fuel tank and some electric parts were available from Fergus Motors in the NYC area, but we sourced most parts from a local junk yard including a good engine and brake parts. The engine was great to work on and the car had lots of room and was easy to drive. Interesting engine as it looked like it had a DOHC head with two valve covers. The intake manifold was cast into the head and was straight down into the intake valve. Good low end torque and a broad power band. The engines responded well to tuning and both Borgward and Cooper made use of them in race cars. However the sedans swing axle rear end was twitchy unless the tank was full and you had a bit of weight in the rear. Good winter car as you could retard the distributor, set the manual choke and even in sub zero weather it started. Good heater and strong unibody construction. The comment above concerning grease fittings including the door hinges is accurate. Mercedes Benz had the same fittings on their door hinges at that time. But the car was “unattractive” and the girl across the street called it the “Warthog”. Good dating car as both the driver’s and front passenger seat backs reclined. Very tough car and it deserved better in the markets. Carl Borgward should have stuck with trucks.

  28. Snarky

    We found a Borgward in a pasture, drug it home and now we have 11 various vehicles. Maybe it’s time to sell the Borgward it they are so rare! But she would be so sweet to drive down the road… maybe we’ll keep her another decade. ha

  29. Tom S.

    My dad had an Isabella Kombi wagon. The whole family loved that little car.

  30. MRE2ME

    A friend had a 1959 i believe back in 1968 & gave up on it because he couldn’t get parts on a 9 year old car in Toronto.

  31. Harit Trivedi

    When Borgward had its assets sold / gifted away there was still money left over. The family still retained their house and a few early cars as they owed no-one anything.That tells a lot. And nobody was punished. Check the activities of Mercedes, BMW and Borgward, and the plant in Bremen.

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