Original Bubble Car: 1957 BMW Isetta 300

It was the appearance of the original Iso Isetta that caused the world to coin the phrase “bubble car.” It was a term that seemed to find its way onto many other micro-cars of the era, but the Isetta was the trendsetter. The car was built by a number of different manufacturers, but the best-known examples are the cars that found their way out of the BMW factory. This 1957 BMW Isetta is going to need a full restoration, but its relative rarity in the USA may justify the effort. Located in Kissimmee, Florida, the littlest BMW has been listed for sale here on eBay. Bidding has now reached $1,075, but the reserve hasn’t been met.

When compared to the original Iso-developed car, and versions built by other manufacturers under license to Iso, the BMW version has some pretty significant differences. In fact, there is not one piece of the body that is interchangeable between the BMW and any other Isetta. One of the most obvious differences is the fitting of sliding side windows, which had been introduced in late 1956. These had a significant impact on the car’s appearance and set it apart from examples with fixed side windows. For such a little car, the Isetta has some pretty big rust issues. There is rust in the floors, and it looks like it might have found its way into some of the structural areas under the car. If this is the case, then it will take a pretty skilled and competent person to address those issues. The single front door has some significant rust in the bottom and around one of the hinges, while it is also obvious in the drip rails, along with minor spots in a few other areas around the car.

Being an Isetta 300, the car comes fitted with the 298cc single-cylinder engine, producing 13hp. Coupled to this is a 4-speed manual transmission. The Isetta is not a fast car, and a top speed of 53mph was possible on flat ground. The owner gives no indication about the condition of the engine and transmission, but given the fact that the car has apparently been sitting for many years, it will almost certainly require some mechanical work to get it mobile once again.

The interior of the Isetta is remarkable in its apparent simplicity, with a bench seat that can accept three people. However, that apparent simplicity does disguise some pretty innovative thinking. The single door opens very wide, making access to the car a breeze. To further improve the access, the entire steering column and control panel is attached to the door and pivots outwards with the door itself. There is little in the way of creature comforts, with a vent opening in the center of the door being about it. The interior of this Isetta will require a fair amount of restoration work (relatively speaking), but at least it does appear to be complete.

Restoring the body and floors of this 1957 Isetta is going to require some major work, but as the owner rightly points out, replacement rust panels are fairly plentiful and surprisingly inexpensive. The mechanical components and interior could be refurbished by a competent person in a home workshop. Is it worth the effort? It would certainly seem to be. It is now virtually impossible to locate a decent example for under $25,000, while a pristine example can cost around $35,000. That could potentially make this a very small car with a very big price.

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Comments

  1. Classic Steel

    Looks like a not so smart car ready to be taken out by a deer or raccoon crossing the road. If you hit a vehicle or tree have great insurance plans for family.

    The size of this makes me wonder why Ralph Nader didn’t call this unsafe at any speed too.
    I would feel safer on a motorcycle than this car.

    It would be a great riding lawnmower car to add a lower belly to cut grass🤔

    This is a great car for the collector to display only 👍

    2
    • Jimbosidecar

      In 1962 my father was headed to work which was on a 10 mile dirt road in central NH. It was winter and fresh snow covered all the roads. His car was a 1960 Ford Galaxie. On a steep hill he had a head on collision with a BMW Isetta. The Ford was rendered undriveable. The driver of the Isetta offered my father a ride home in his car which was damaged but still driveable

      1
      • Marshall

        I expected that the Ford driver would be driving the badly injured Isetta driver to the hospital with the crumpled up Isetta stashed in the trunk of the Ford.

        4
      • bone

        If he hit it head on with a Galaxie the driver of the Isetta would have been pulverised ; there is no padding or any sort of safety devices , and getting hit in the front would make the only access point on the car unusable.

    • Michael

      I read that book years ago and I believe he did have a paragraph or two suggesting ” foreign ” automobiles also had their shortcomings, of course that wasn’t within his tealm to try and change…

  2. TimM

    Deer or raccoon Classic Steel!! With the holes I see from the underside shot a June bug might take this one out!!!

    1
  3. Justajoe

    My first car. Loved it, but a transmission casing part broke, and there were no replacements I could find (1976) in the U.S. Too bad.

    Unsafe? Compared to what? My friend’s Subaru 360? Please. A Volkswagen Type 2? Not. Sure, a 1957 Bonneville has much more mass, but remember, force = mass * acceleration, so the amount of force the Isetta could generate is, um, small. Its brakes were way better than the Subaru, or another friend’s Karmann Ghia.

    As a daily driver today, I would be in everybody else’s way, but at the time I was not often (much) slower than everyone else.

    4
    • Classic Steel

      Good to know on your thoughts on safety.
      I hate to hear a missing part stops and sidelines cars.
      That would of been a machine shop item maybe…the non computer cad cams would of been high.
      I will-say that ebay has made finding obscure parts needed easier and lowered pricing with old car-parts.
      It also has elevated desirable cars too😉 👍👀
      A love / hate relationship for some folks but i think an overall
      win 👍

  4. hugh crawford

    In NYC in the mid 1980s I had a friend who had an Isetta with a VW engine and transmission somehow installed. It was more fun than a monkey with a barrel of nitromethane, if not nearly as safe. It could pop wheelies at any time he wanted at any speed. Sometimes when he didn’t want to. He told me that he knew of a Corvair Isetta , but that was just silly in his opinion.

    10
    • Bob S

      That sounds like the kind of machine that would be just right. I have a friend that put a Chevy 350 into a Harley based tryke.
      Bob

  5. steve

    I saw (thankfully non-functional in a field) one of these with a rear-mounted Corvair engine and a (wait for it!) pusher propeller…….The engine was mounted up high on a luggage rack on the back so the prop didn’t hit the ground or the back of the car. With the engine weighing nearly as much as the rest of the car and that narrow track and the center of thrust and the torque effect and….Even after 30-something years having passed, I’m still sitting here blinking just pondering it…If anyone ever asks “What could be more dangerous than a stock Isetta?” I have the answer….I HAVE the answer….

    2
  6. Stilbo

    I’d never drive it in the city but I’d find an old wide lapel suit jacket, get my big fedora on and buzz around my scenic Southern Indiana backroads in it…

    And whistle the theme song from this.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=iTYUPuZGbes

  7. Romone Crosby

    Steve Urkel from Family Matters made the BMW Isetta his high school daily driver in the television series

    1
  8. 433jeff

    Hahahaha it looks like a briggs an Stratton under the ???? Whatever, this thing is so odd how could you not like it? If i had a choice in an accident between a ford galaxy and this i would choose the galaxy, so just make sure uou dont get in an accident, i read about the vw in one of these pulling wheelies, now that’s pretty special too

    1
  9. gene

    Very complete and chock full of options – USA (export) model, ashtray, dual sun visors, inside luggage rack, and of course Tropical (air) door.

    1
  10. Barry

    I owned one of these for 6 years when I lived in long beach CA.
    I drive it to work every day and my gas bill was around 75 cents
    A week.

    I made a few mods to the engine, enlarged the oil panto 4 quarts,
    Ported the intake and exhaust ports. Installed sodium cooled valves ,
    Put in double valve springs and milled the head. It was Going little car.
    Barry

    2
  11. Michael

    I read that book years ago and I believe he did have a paragraph or two suggesting ” foreign ” automobiles also had their shortcomings, of course that wasn’t within his realm to try and change…

  12. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    Ended:Oct 13, 2019 , 2:01PM
    Winning bid:US $5,655.00
    [ 8 bids ]

    1
  13. Richard Hollis

    My mother drove from Cleveland Heights to Mentor, which was no quick trip in those days, to see about trading in her 1955 Lincoln Capri Convertible on an Isetta. When my father asked how much they were going to give her on a trade, she said that the salesman told her, “Lady, I will give you three of these cars if you trade in that Lincoln”.

  14. Marshall

    I saw two unwrecked Isettas in a junkyard in Washington back in the 1970s.

  15. chrlsful Member

    “wheelie” w/2 up frnt/1 in rear would B interesting (to watch).

  16. treg forsyth

    Mmmm…. how can I fit a big block?

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