Mark’s Winter Project: 1959 BMW Isetta

Josh MortensenBy Josh Mortensen

As cold and brutal as winter can be, there’s one perk that comes with the cold and that’s having a reason to stay in the heated comfort of the garage (if your so lucky at least)! While many of us work on our projects year around, winter is a great time to make serious progress on your project and the thought of getting to enjoy it come spring does wonders for staying motivated. Reader Mark W just picked up this 1959 BMW Isetta as his winter project!

He’s planning on doing a full restoration, a task that would typically be difficult to achieve in one winter, but these cars are so small and simplistic that he shouldn’t have any difficulty getting it done in time for some warm weather fun!

From Mark РThis is my latest barn find. This one has been sitting for over 40 years. Now like a few other cars that I have found, I am going to restore this and get it back on the road by spring.

Our thanks to Mark for sharing his find with us and we wish him the best with this winter project! We can’t wait to see it once it’s done. If you have a barn find project that your working on, we would love for you to share it with us!

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  1. jw454

    Every time I see one of these I think of one sitting in a barn at a friend’s house. My friend’s father allowed one of his friends to store it there back in the 1980’s “for as long as you need”. Well, Duane’s dad died in the early 1990’s and Duane is carrying on the tradition. The car is red and white and is in very good condition. It’s been sitting, undisturbed, for about 30~35 years. I tried to buy it at one time but, the owner said no and that he’ll restore it some day. That was 15 years ago and he was in his seventies then.

    • Steve Anthony

      JW454: Sounds like now is the time to AGAIN attempt to offer to buy it from him now that it’s been 15 yrs with zero progress

      • jw454

        I’ve mentioned it to Duane a few times and he says the owner is not going to sell it. Maybe he’s planing to leave it to a relative. Who knows.
        The last time I saw it a couple of years ago it was still in very good condition. It wouldn’t take much to have it in good running order. The barn was an old dairy barn and it has a concrete floor so I think that’s what’s helping it to stay in better than average condition.

  2. Derek

    Is that a 4-wheeler or a 3-wheeler?

    • Andy

      4 the rear tires are really close together

    • Alan Brase

      4 wheels. The rear ones are rather close together, maybe 24 inches or so. Can anybody find a drawing? I think it is just a BMW R26 cycle drive line with a fan and housing. They made a 4 passenger one later, like 1961, with one side door. A lot more practical, but not as cute. These go for crazy money

      • Derek

        Just had a look at the manual (my friend’s dad has one); doesn’t have track dimensions in it that I can see. It’s not the bike gearbox, as it has a reverse gear. The later car’s the 600, I think.

      • Alan Brase

        After I wrote that I realized the axis of the crank is parallel with the axle. So, different drive train from the R26. 18hp, btw. I rode on the back of an R26 as a kid and it was 50-60mph depending on the wind. I think the Isetta, not as fast as the bike.
        Oddly, these were originally brought to market by the Italian company Iso. Hence the Italian name for a german car. The original ones had a different bubble top and a 2 cycle motor. Some were built in Spain as well. WRT crashing, not so good. BUT, really if you have ANY classic car, you would drive it defensively. Stay away from dangerous traffic. Probably not take it out when weather and traction were bad. BESIDES, you could get a nice epitaph out of it: “Warned the Isetta wasn’t safe.” Maybe you can think of a better one?

  3. ccrvtt

    Please Please PLEASE keep us updated with progress pictures. Those of us unable or incapable of doing this would love to see your results. Best of luck with the resto.

  4. Francisco

    These don’t go very fast.

  5. Larry Brown

    When restoring these little bubble cars, examine the rubber donut in the transmission. These can rot away unnoticed and usually fall apart as you try to drive them away!

  6. sir mike

    Best of luck with the rebuild…keep us posted.

  7. Rex Kahrs

    Seat belts would be superfluous. This car would make my Caravelle feel safe. There is one of these on Tampa craigslist that the guy has been trying to get $35,500 out of for two years running.

  8. Fred W.

    Yep, it would crumple like an accordian in a collision with a Smartcar. Best used to cruise around the grounds of a car show or neighborhood, not on the highway. Made famous even to the masses by Steve Urkel.

  9. Joe Muzy

    Let Urkel keep it. Hard to believe the BMW’s of today started by these.

  10. Mark H

    The “sunroof” is actually the escape hatch, to be used in the event of a collision if the front door will not open. My brother has a ’59 stored in my barn. Same deal, not for sale, no interest in using it. Sad.

  11. Mark S

    If your worried about the safety factor then don’t buy one. No more dangerous than riding a motorcycle. I ride a side car motorcycle and I’m aware of the risks, doesn’t mean I’m going to get rid of it. I’m not prepared to live my life in a safety bubble. The older I get the bigger the list of other things there are that i can die from. So let live our lives

  12. Rex Kahrs

    I’d say that in general, driving most classic cars is certainly less safe than driving modern cars. Of course that doesn’t keep us from doing it. Like cigarettes: the word is out on those killers, yet people still smoke ’em for whatever reason. That said, this little BMW crashbox takes a deathwish to a whole…nother…level.

    Motorcycles? Nobody ever thinks they’re gonna die on one, but statistically they’re the most dangerous form of transportation known to man. No thanks to cycles, Isettas, or ciggies. Yeah I know, I’m a stupid wimp.


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