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Stuck in the Shore: Lake-Find BMW Isetta


Despite knowing how much havoc moisture can wreck on a car – especially one enshrouded in vintage tin – I’m always fascinated by cars and trucks discovered in the water. Dive sites, shipwrecks, and insurance fraud all describe scenarios whereby a sunken automobile might be found. I credit my curiosity to finding an old Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon nose-down in the mud in the creekbed of a stream my Dad and I went to fish in. I was awestruck by the rusting hulk, which would have towered over this pile of BMW Isetta parts found by Barn Finds reader John B. here on eBay. The best part is you could own an Isetta (or what’s left of it) for 99 cents!


I deeply appreciate listings like this one. Not only for the seller’s humor, which reveals he thinks this pile of crunchy Bubble bits is as much of a joke as the rest of us do, but also because of the pictures showing the lake-find Isetta before it was moved. My mind races and wanders, wondering how it got there. Was there a flood? A teenage drive gone wrong? A dumb-witted criminal who gave up on a fast getaway? Or simply one repair too many, resulting in a previous owner sending the Isetta for a wild final ride down a nearby slope? Who knows, but I would love to know the story behind the baby Bimmer’s final resting spot. We’ve seen finds over the years where historic vehicles have been removed from watery graves to either be auctioned off or restored, but those vehicles were significant for one reason or another. Unfortunately, this Isetta is only significant for being the subject of one of the best eBay ads I’ve seen in a while!


Sometimes I think joining a local clean-up crew would make sense, not only for the benefit to the environment and my own personal satisfaction, but because they likely stumble upon the weird and the abandoned time and again. Looking at the photos of the Isetta in its as-found location, I’m truly impressed that the luggage rack survived the ravages of time. That’s another aspect of vehicles found in rivers and oceans that fascinates me – the random bits and pieces that seemingly age naturally in these environments. At this point, I’m sure the rack is ready to snap in half – but I’m still impressed it hung on for all of these years, long after the shock mounts and door hinges surrendered to Mother Nature.



Looking back, that old Ford wagon left me with as many questions as this Isetta-on-a-pallet does. I’ve often wondered how it got there, and how someone managed to get the nose end in so deep that the rear end stood up virtually straight in the air. Likewise, I’m sure someone out there knows how this iconic bubble car somehow made it down a muddy slope to rest ever-so-delicately against a tree in the DesPlaines River. What did it look like when it first went into the drink? Perhaps it still had its front door, a steering wheel and a seat!   Would you drag this conversation piece home for a buck? Let us know in the comments below!


  1. Stuart

    Sure, its going to need some body work. Engine will probably need a rebuild, we’d probably recommend a new wiring harness. But these were relatively simple cars, this is a project that a good Isetta-isti will jump at the chance for. Or not…

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  2. Rob

    I’m guessing that it got swept away in a heavy downpour and ended up here, snagged on the tree.

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  3. Chris in WNC

    classic eBay fun.
    I always admire the creativity of such postings……

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  4. Barry Thomas

    Jeff, great way to start Tuesday morning with a good laugh. Here is a car(?) that the shipping will cost more than what you paid. Honestly, what could you ever do with this pile?
    Barry Thomas’ “Wheel to Wheel” blog

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  5. Scott Allison

    Stick a lamp post through the middle with a plastic skeleton or the grimm reaper, and set it out front for halloween. Otherwise…. Rust in Peace

    Oh yeah… the River Otter wants his house back!

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  6. marc

    If this was a Porsche 911S it would be considered a restorable barn-find project.

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  7. Art Fink

    Best of all……..A Matching Numbers Car !!!!!!

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  8. julian

    The plywood looks good. Must be external grade.
    Not to sure about the engine. It seems to be transparent.

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  9. Bobby D

    Great patina, ran when parked

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  10. Jeff Lavery Staff

    Ha! Great comments here, guys. I recall a Porsche 356 was pulled out a lakebed at one point and actually sold for real money. The Isetta, on the other hand, will bring more $ as some artist’s yard sculpture creation. Add a birdbath and you can sell it at a crafts fair.

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  11. Catfishphil

    Must be a slow news day…

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  12. Jim

    Seller here.
    I found this on FLICKR several years ago when a local kayaker posted a pic of it on the river’s edge in a very remote spot. After contacting the guy who took the pic and getting a vague idea of where it was, I made several trips on foot to try and locate it (don’t have a small boat).
    Eventually I located it and on that same day I encountered the “Riverkeeper” who was responsible for keeping that section of the river clean. He told me that the record low water levels that year had brought all sorts of things up to the surface and even with the record lows, only the front bumper was sticking up out of the water.
    He winched it to the river bank so it wasn’t a hazard and I documented it where it sat.

    A few months later I got an email from the Riverkeeper that they had a big cleanup scheduled and they were told to get rid of the Isetta carcass. I thought it would be great to get it out in one piece and put in my garden. Unfortunately it was raining on cleanup day and we found the Isetta was really stuck in the mud. The body metal was paper-thin and the tube steel frame would crumble if you squeezed it. Eventually we gave up trying to get it out in one piece as this was their domain and they had a job to do. I would have liked to have had a crane but even if I did, there was no easy way to get it to the site. The site was about a mile through the woods and down a trail from where a vehicle could be staged.

    As it is, I brought 2 garden carts and a plywood “stretcher” to carry the thing out as I never expected it to be structurally sound and also we were to leave as little of a “footprint” in the surrounding area as possible.

    I was told that lots of crap gets dumped in the river. People just drive up over a bridge, stop and throw all sorts of stuff in. This Isetta had already been stripped of its engine and then probably pushed in the river from an embankment someplace.

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    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Thanks for sharing Jim! Sounds like this find turned out to be quite an adventure.

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  13. Jim

    another pic of how much stiction was there after the body was removed.

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    • Boggs52

      Great restorable project car. It will only need 99.9% in replacemant parts. LOL

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    • Jeff Lavery Staff

      Thanks for sharing, Jim. Great photos and story. I’m glad you saved it either way – if for no other reason than posterity’s sake.

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    • DT

      Jim; Well done,You cleaned up the river and got a very rare car,it didnt pan out as it was too rusty,but now its going to give a small amount of money to a good cause,I am impressed.

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    • Jim

      I keep getting a lot of questions about the how it got in the River in the first place.
      I don’t know the answer but I did short video of it when I found it:

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  14. Richard Lewis

    Having restored a BMX Isetta I can tell you that there is just nothing here that is worth 50 cents. This looks like a slider window hardtop (not a convertible) model with the coil spring/shock front suspension. There is nothing to see here…

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  15. Brian

    A sad, slow ending for this little car, but I sure hope that nobody was injured when the car landed it the drink! Seeing this reminds me of an article I read several years ago about 2 high school girls that were last seen driving a ’60 Studebaker Lark to a graduation party in the spring of 1971. A few years ago, someone spotted the Studebaker, on its top, in a large creek or small river. Upon investigating, authorities found the two girls remains inside. It appeared that the girl driving somehow got confused and missed the bridge, driving the car into the water. The crash site was rural and the car was never discovered until a few years ago, when the water level went down and the tires broke through the surface. Sadly, one of the girl’s father spent all of his spare time trying to track down what happened to them; he died just before they were discovered. Very sad story! When the Studebaker, what little was left of it after 40 years in the water, was dredged out the remains looked very much like this little BMW.

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  16. austin alfa

    that’ll buff right out. How hard could it be?

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  17. maserati

    Just ask him if he split’s a $ 100.00 Bid with Charity 50/50.Thomas ,German Motors Inc,Florida.

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    • Jim

      I never thought anyone would bid on it, but since people are: 100% of the Final Sale Price will now go to a project at http://www.DonorsChoose.org
      I will also make sure that at LEAST $100 goes there even if the bidding does not.
      Thanks for the great idea!

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      • maserati

        Jim ,my $ 100.00 Bid is in…and even I don’t get bid out,you will get my full $100.00 via paypal. Come on Guy’s it’s Christmas Time,I will see some Bid’s here.

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      • Neil

        This really made my day. I usually browse through the comments made here by hugely experienced folks and, occasionally, I can offer my (usually inaccurate) comments on the odd car that I have some associated history with.

        However.. this.. this is something I know *everything* about. Living in the UK I can testify that most of the British Leyland classics I have ever owned have never been in as good condition as this particular find. Indeed, the average Brit would be delighted with something that had *half* the rust your Isetta has or, indeed, the same number of working parts. Based on the photographs I think I can safely say that, from an electrical and wiring loom perspective, this car is in better shape than my old Rover SD1 when it was new.

        I am delighted to see that the original patina has been retained without that awful colour shifting respray that so many classics are subjected to and that, finally.. for once… someone hasn’t stanced or lowered this beautiful car* or fitted those awful airbags**.

        Kind regards from the UK

        * Other than into the water.
        ** Other than to raise it from said water.

        (Seriously – would you be able to furnish BF readers with a Paypal address for us to donate? As said above, it is Christmas and looking through the amazing and yet affordable projects your chosen charity sponsors, I would like to lend my support and my vote for Barn Find of the Year goes to you for your humour and charitable nature. We could bid, but then only one donation goes through.)

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  18. Clay Bryant

    I got in on the bidding and went to 3 “really biiiiiig ones” and just slumped in my chair when I saw I was outbid.I may be close to 70 but I still think I have the time and I could have brought this baby back.
    This car would make a great short movie.Go into a bar,sit down next to a drunk,pull out an auction result of a 35-40k and say,”You know.I’m going thru a divorce and I’d sell my wife’s Isetta for a hundred bucks,delivered.Even buy ya’ a couple more drinks while my buddy delivers it…just say where”.

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  19. sir mike

    really would like to know how it got there and how long ago…funny..but sad story.

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  20. marc

    It reminds me of the Wisconsin lake find some years ago…

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  21. David

    This reminds me of a time back in the mid seventies (I think it was 1974) when my town’s river flooded after a severe storm. My best friend had a tiny red Vespa that he rode to school everyday. After the storm was over, it was nowhere to be found. 3 days later, when the river started to go down, we saw a little tire sticking out of the water. After a quick investigation, we concluded it was indeed the Vespa. When we were able to reach it we found that there was a tree shaped like a “y”, and it caught the handlebars and it held on to it. It looked like a sloth, hanging from a tree, I’ll never forget how funny seeing that was.

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  22. Don Barzini

    The best part of this clever ad was the questions & answers. It’s a funny parody of so many eBay ads.

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  23. DT

    Finally, a car I could afford to have shipped

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  24. maserati

    Just ask’d Jim that anybody has Jay Leno’s Email,this might get BIG !

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  25. delboy

    That’ll buff out. Easy

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  26. Brad

    I know one of the Riverkeepers who found this – they’re a tireless group of volunteers, endlessly cleaning up the waterways of northern Illinois, and racking up good karma in the process. Hats off to everyone involved here, including the seller for donating the winning bid to charity!

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  27. Jim

    Thanks to everyone who was interested in this whether you bid or not.
    Auction is done and $250 raised, high bidder paid immediately.
    I’ve already donated to one project at DonorsChoose.org and still have some money left for another one which I am looking at. Here is my donation page so far:

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