Microcar Project: 1958 BMW Isetta 300

While America generally followed the “bigger is better” mantra of vehicle production in the years following the end of World War II, many European manufacturers had to adopt designs that were more, shall we say, modest. Microcars flourished on their roads, and some of the more instantly recognizable and now desirable include the Messerschmitt and the BMW Isetta. This 1958 Isetta is a complete car that comes with a host of original parts. Unlike so many of its brethren, it is not riddled with rust that will cost a fortune to repair. The owner has chosen to part with this classic, so he has listed it for sale here on eBay. It is located in Kirkland, Washington, and while light bidding has seen the price reach $6,401, that has pushed it past the reserve.

The owner indicates that this Birch Green Isetta was produced in England, making it interesting that it is a left-hand-drive model. For potential buyers, this is not a bad thing. The Isetta was designed to be that configuration, and the RHD versions aren’t quite as good due to a strange engineering quirk. The engine is located on the right side of the vehicle, and the company believed that its weight would be counterbalanced by the driver’s position on the left. This was fine in theory, but the whole thing fell over, quite literally, with the early RHD versions. Placing both the engine and driver on the same side resulted in instability that could cause the cars to go “shiny side down” with little warning. The company’s solution was to install a counterweight, but this additional mass negatively impacted the performance of these low-powered beasts. Apart from being the more desirable LHD version, there are plenty of positives to take from this car. The Isetta could be horribly prone to rust issues, and it isn’t unusual to find them with the floors resembling Swiss cheese. This little gem does have some in the floor edges, but it is minor enough that the buyer could address it with patches rather than wholesale steel replacement. The frame is structurally sound, but it would benefit from a media blast and a repaint or powder-coat. The panels have accumulated some dings and dents, but there’s nothing that is beyond repair. The glass appears to be in good order, and the owner includes a wealth of new correct parts to assist the buyer in their quest for perfection. These include new light lenses and turn signals. There is also an extensive collection of used parts, including a complete set of glass, mechanical components, and a spare frame.

Disappointingly, this Isetta is not a numbers-matching vehicle. A previous owner sent the original engine for repair, and someone managed to lose it. That’s not something that you hear every day! The owner has sourced another motor that would be correct for this car. It is a 298cc single-cylinder brute that should pump out a dizzying 13hp. All of those rampant ponies find their way to the road via a 4-speed manual transmission. At a paltry 772lbs, the Isetta 300 is a long way from heavy. However, the leisurely stroll down the ¼ mile will still take 28.5 seconds. The company lists the top speed as 50mph, although it might be possible to top that with a tailwind. The state of this engine is unclear, but provided it isn’t locked, returning it to good health shouldn’t be difficult. As they are based on a BMW motorcycle engine, parts remain readily available. The rest of the drivetrain is intact, and the sale includes a significant pile of additional secondhand parts that should help keep this classic on the road for many years to come.

One area where this Isetta shines is when we check the interior. For a small car, interior restorations can be horrendously expensive. The owner believes that all of the trim is original, and I agree with his assessment that it should present well once treated to some careful cleaning. Technically, the Isetta 300 is a two-seater, but it could accommodate three small adults or two and a child at a pinch. The cars didn’t come with a host of luxury features, or to be more accurate, they came with none! The company developed and marketed the vehicle as a basic and cheap form of transport, and it knew that any features would add unwanted weight and cost. Therefore, if you’re searching for power seats or a radio, you need to look elsewhere. Air conditioning? Sure, but it’s also known as “open the window!”

The BMW Isetta is a fascinating car, and its relative simplicity and minuscule dimensions make them an ideal candidate for restoration in a home workshop. Many parts remain relatively easy to find, and their drivetrain configuration is no more complicated than an average motorcycle. Where these genuinely shine is in the classic market. What they lack in size, they more than compensate for in potential value. In today’s market, you will struggle to find a complete project car for less than $12,000. If you want to park a pristine example in your garage, you need to have a spare $35,000 sitting in your wallet. Those figures make this an auction worth watching. If the bidding doesn’t go too high, it could be a project build that turns a profit once you put down the spanners.

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Comments

  1. Stevieg Member

    I always wanted one of these, although I doubt I would fit in it. Sure wish I were smaller lol.

    Like 4
  2. Charles Atlas

    My 1986 White Ford Escort Pony 4 speed is better than this tin can.

    Like 7
    • Steveo

      I bet even you would much rather push this down the road than your Escort.

      Like 1
  3. Glenn Reynolds

    Why would anyone want this when you can get a nice used Yugo for the same money??

    Like 2
  4. Ben T. Spanner

    My Father bought a new 1958 Plymouth convertible. While he was grinding on the salesman, I explored. The dealership had a lower level with dozens of Isettas. They certainly didn’t sell dozens in my home town of Canton, Ohio. Maybe they were a distibutor.
    Istta was a refernce to ISO, who first built the car and who made refrigerators.

  5. ClassicCarFan

    I’d agree with the author that this is a good candidate for restoration/ownership. if the body is pretty good, the mechanicals are certainly very basic and easy to fix. I also agree, the engine/transmission parts can still be obtained. I had a 1963 BMW R69S 600cc twin for years and the single cylinder motor in this car has many common parts with the twins. There are specialist suppliers in the US and one big one (unsurprisingly) in Germany and parts are not hard to find.

    I must admit I find the prices for these cars baffling. I see the appeal of microcars as quirky oddballs.. a bit of fun maybe, but beyond novelty value they aren’t very usable or enjoyable. You can buy something more conventional like an old Triumph or MG sports car for realistic money, and it’s a car you can really drive on the modern roads…OK, maybe not as your daily driver, but they are usable in modern traffic and you can enjoy getting many miles of driving out of them. If you buy a microcar, what are you going to do with it…? take it shows I guess? trundle it around your quiet neighborhood when there’s not much other traffic around?

    I remember a few years back the large Bruce Weiner Microcar Museum collection was auctioned off. Some of the prices those cars sold for were bizarre…well over $100k each for many of them. I guess many of them are pretty rare? What would I buy for $100k ? a really nice E-type? a late-60s Maserati maybe? a Detroit muscle car? – or a glorified tin can with a lawn-mower engine? hmmm.

    its a free country of course… a classic car is worth what ever someone is willing to pay for it… but personally I don’t get the appeal.

    Like 1
  6. Lowell Peterson

    Love it! I wish I had room for it! Dang! Perfect for SoCal Rat Rod! Ohhh! That ‘patina’!

  7. Jean Delmond

    Isetta designed by Iso Rivolta,but with 2stroke engine. Licence sold to BMW who put his R27 engine in 300cc form with electric starter half R60 engine

  8. Gerard Frederick

    My girlfriend Serena had one in 1964 in San Francisco and drove it up and down the steep streets as well as to her parents in Santa Rosa without trouble. Going to Santa Rosa was a torture, because it´s almost up hill all the way and she was stuck in the slow lane at 35 mph. As far as the car goes, the metal was far from thin and cheap. All components were very good quality. The tongue in cheek remarks apropos the Yugo are far off the mark; now THAT was a tin can if ever there was one.

    Like 1
  9. Ivan

    Wow. It’s seating at $12,000 already!!!! Crazy!!! I bought mine 6 years ago for $8,000 and it is complete and perfect (except it is not a BMW engine)

  10. Howie Mueler

    Over $12k now with 3 days to go!!

    Like 1
  11. Kurt

    I couldn’t fit in it.

  12. Chris Munn

    It’s hard to imagine going into the garage and thinking “I’ll take the bubble car today “

    Like 2
  13. dogwater

    I guess if you lived in a retirement village it would be ok

    Like 1
  14. steve

    The made in England bit is odd. I love the color, I love the year, I faint at the price… If this was a British spec car, I understand that they were actually a 3 wheeler, not a 4 wheeler trying to LOOK like a 3 wheeler. 3 wheels = motorcycle and that saved big money (surely 20 pounds a year!………)
    I was told (never saw one) that the earliest BMW versions had a 2 cylinder engine but one cylinder was used to supercharge the other so it was a twin single or..(wait for it!..) a TWINGLE……. I love poking at some poser with their shiny “-series” BMW and asking if that has one of those “Twingles” under the hood…. AND reminding them that BMW is actually an aircraft engine firm and was forced into building bikes and cars after both world wars…

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