Stored 35 Years: 1958 BMW Isetta 300

That’s a big storage unit for such a small car, I wish I had that much spare room. We have seen many Isettas on Barn Finds over the years and this is one of the most Barn Find’y ones that I remember seeing in a while. The seller has it listed here on eBay in McKinney, Texas and there is a $12,500 buy-it-now price listed or you can make an offer.

You can see that this BMW version of the Isetta is a project, but it sure appears to be complete, or mostly complete. The seller has done a fantastic job with the photos, there are a ton of them – well done! 2021 is looking up! (crickets) BMW was one of the carmakers who licensed the rights to produce the Isetta, which was designed originally by an Italian company named Iso which mainly made refrigerators before WWII.

In the spring of 1955, BMW produced its first Isetta and it was the best-selling single-cylinder car at the time with almost 162,000 of them eventually being sold when production ended in the spring of 1962. This example has always been in Texas since new and it was owned by a mechanic for 44 years until the seller bought it from their son. It has always been parked inside and you can see how solid it is in the photos.

This is a BMW Isetta 300 which was an upgrade from the previous 250 model and it had a “bigger” engine, a 298cc, but is still a single-cylinder. Sales dropped when these cars weren’t allowed on freeways and other reasons, and there are usually comments about how unsafe these tiny cars are, which they are. But, life is full of danger and they were never meant to drive on the freeway, they were meant for crowded cities, ease of parking and driving, being cheap on gas, etc.

The engine should be, as I mentioned, a 298cc single-cylinder with 13 horsepower. The seller tells us that this Isetta was parked 35 years ago due to aging tires and not any mechanical issues. Now there’ll be a lot of work to do from it sitting for so long and. That’s always unfortunate, but I get it, I’ve done the same thing myself. Have any of you owned or driven an Isetta?

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Comments

  1. RayT Member

    I’ve driven one, and it was a hoot! A lot of people worry about safety when looking at them, but for occasional use — they make lousy DDs — an Isetta is a million laughs. Maybe several million laughs.

    This one looks to need a full restoration, which shouldn’t be all that hard. People still sell parts for them, and the parts are both small and light.

    With the possible exception of a Messerschmitt KR, there is nothing more fun! Some might prefer the BMW 600, but that has always seemed too much like a Real Car for me.

    Like 7
    • chrlsful

      morgan, robin, metro, yes, 4 wheels are better than 3 (BMW 600).

  2. Bill Member

    My Dad bought one of these in 1957. I was five. I rode in the package shelf when we went somewhere in it. Dad loved it. He could just park head in to a curb, open the door and step out in to the sidewalk. He traded it for a 1958 VW Beetle to have room for my soon to be born younger brother. Then in 1960 a VW Bus. Guess he was in to really slow vehicles.

    Like 4
  3. Robert Winland Member

    It’s amazing to me that today’s basic lawn tractor has more horsepower. Like Scotty says, life is full of danger, but if one was choosy on how to use this car, things will be fine. Putter around the subdivision, run errands to the grocery store or bank (as long as you don’t have to be on a high-speed, heavily traveled road), park it in your driveway and let your friend who is running for mayor put his/her advertising sign on it. Fun.

    Like 4
  4. Mike Hawke

    Working a BMW 600 restoration now. It hasn’t been cheap and it hasn’t been simple. Parts are not cheap or readily available in many cases. Usual advice applies…buy the best example you can find and don’t buy the inexpensive local project.

    Like 4
    • Bill McCoskey

      MikeHawke,

      I did a resto on a 600 back in the early 1990s, for a German couple working in the Washington DC area. This was pre-internet, and back then parts were VERY hrd to get. I would not have taken on the job if not for having lived in Germany in the 1970s, and the car’s owners having connections to get parts in Europe.

      I will point out that the shifter on the 600 cars is problem prone, so do pay close attention to the shifter parts, as small amounts of play in the shifter can mean trouble.

      Like 1
  5. Lonnie Smith

    I have a 1957 sliding window motor coupe. I bought 2 of them in 1980 for$500. I sold one to a guy from Granada Missippi. The one that I kept was painted like a Old Milwaukee beer can and was mounted on a post for a liquor store. I mounted a 36 horse Volkswagen engine and transmission and rear-end in it. I have a clear title to it. It’s totally street legal. I am getting ready to restore it. It’s a lot of fun to drive and draws a lot attention.

    Like 3
    • Bill L McCoskey

      Lonnie Smith,

      WOW! I’d love to see how you squeezed that VW engine back there!

      Like 1
  6. randy willett

    It would fit in the shop no problem. Fun to restore , coffee & mail runs only.

  7. Thomas Abbott

    I had two Isettas back in the day. I had so much fun with them. And so many great events. They actually were my daily drivers. I would “nose in” between parallel parked cars at parking meters, open the front, jump out to go into a shop, come out, open up, back out and drive away. Another time I drive into deep water and flooded the engine. Used the starter motor to move the car to the high ground sidewalk until it dried out very shortly, then drove to work in the sidewalk. I loved them.

  8. Doc

    Why oh why didn’t a buy one when you could get a nicer example than this for 1/10th of the price?

    Like 2
    • Bill McCoskey

      Doc,

      I lived in central Germany in the early to mid 1970s. I was offered these cars, all running and reliable, for as cheap as 100DM, about $35. And they would pass the German TUV inspection!

      I didn’t buy any, because the shipping costs were in excess of $500 to the east coast of America.

      Like 1
  9. Gerard Frederick

    Back in ’64 my girlfriend Serena had one in San Francisco. Despite the hills, she had no problems running around the city in it. Even the occassional trip to her parents in Santa Rosa was doable, even if a bit hairy due to the mostly up hill nature of the freeway past the Golden Gate. Top end was around 50, but when encountering hilly stretches, that would easily be reduced to 30, deffinitely uncomfortable. But al in all, it was a fun car.

    Like 2
  10. Steve Clinton

    I could never own one of these…they remind me of Steve Urkel (Did I do that?) It’s hard to believe BMW ever built these!

    • Bill McCoskey

      Steve,

      It’s well known that if BMW had not bought the rights to build the Isetta, the company would have not survived. It was one of the best decisions the Quandt family made. [They owned controlling interest in BMW.]

      Up to that point the company had been building large cars, and losing money on every one built. Europe was desperate for large numbers of tiny, fuel sipping, cars for the masses. The Isetta allowed the company to slowly move up from the Isetta to the 600 and 700 series of small cars, and then make the daring leap to the all new 1600 series that most Americans know today as the 2002. These gradual upgrades to vehicle classes was right in line with the growing European success, 1950s to 1980s.

      Like 2
  11. Simon

    My neighbor and I had four of these, two to run, two for parts although we never used many parts. In England they were only three wheelers and were quite popular for a time and I wish I’d still got mine!

    Like 2
  12. Daniel Gavin

    !2 large for this?!!! Pass me that bottle of Jack will you please.

  13. JoeBob

    It looks like the price has come down to $10k. I drove one of these as a valet and wondered how you’d get out if the front got jammed.
    On the positive side, it’s a chance to own a vintage Beemer for $10K. :-)

  14. John

    Main frame rail looks like it may be rusted through where the floor meets it. Lots of other surface (?) rust visible. This will need a PPI or a leap of faith on the buyer’s part. Or a good haggler. I like it!

  15. Art Jacobs

    I had a BMW 600 w hen I was stationed in Puerto Rico .
    It was a fun little car,with the 600 BBW motorcycle twin in the back. Rubber donuts, for the half shaft U joints. Mechanical gas gauge for the gas tank in front of the dash ,and a motorcycle on,off,reserve,fuel shutoff under the dash. Best handling economic, I ever had.

  16. Jim

    That’s a big price tag for a car that will need a lot of very expensive parts and buckets of TLC! I saw Jay Leno interested? LOL

  17. Jerry

    In 1962 I worked at a pharmacy while attending technical school. The owner had bought an Isetta for a delivery vehicle. Shortly thereafter he parked it for some reason and the engine froze up from non use. Anyway he gave it to me. My father ran a used parts yard and we were able to free up the engine and I drove to school 25 miles to paint it. I was taking Auto Body and Fender Repair. Scariest ride of my life. Isetta wouldn’t run over 35 MPH and Hwy. 29 was a major north/south route back then . A tractor trailer would get on my bumper and I could see the cars behind , under it’s bumper. I treaded it for a go cart.

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