Underground For 40 Years? 1957 Borgward Isabella

You’re probably asking, “A 1957 who?” Well, that was my first reaction too. The seller sums it up perfectly, “This Is For Real a rare car, this is not a “Very rare Corvette” or something that everybody knows, car people didn’t even know about this German gem and most probably you clicked in the add because you never heard about a Borgward.” Now, that we know that, we just have to take a closer look. Located Vancouver, British Columbia Canada, and available here on craigslist for $4,200 is this 1957 Borgward Isabella. Thanks to Ron for this tip!

Borgward was formed in Breman, Germany by Carl Borgward in 1946 after the merger of several companies. Borgward had been involved in car design and manufacturing long before that time but the postwar economy offered him the opportunity to become a full-fledged automobile manufacturer. The Isabella, such as this example, was introduced in 1954 and remained in production until Borgward’s bankruptcy driven cessation of operations in 1961. And the Isabella ended up being quite successful with total production reaching over 20oK copies. Body styles included a two-door saloon, a cabriolet, a station wagon, and a pickup variant among others.

This is really a tale of two Borgwards. There is the one you see in the images and then a very rusty, parts car, not pictured, that has a trove of useable items. The seller states that this Isabella was stored underground, I’m not sure if that means literally or in a bunker, cave, etc., he doesn’t elaborate. The car is showing surface rust in places but the seller confirms that the rust is minimal for what is typical in the case of an Isabella. He claims the floors are solid too except in one small place. The body panels look straight and pretty well aligned – good to know because I doubt your local pick-a-part has a Borgward fender in stock. That said, the seller adds, “I have a full roof from another car in the case is needed and a whole complete rear from another car that I saved so I can cut and paste and make the repairs faster since no fabrication is needed.” It sounds as if there is enough here to work with in terms of being able to build a complete, useable car.

The reverse side of the coin is the engine, however. The seller states that the 75 HP, in-line, four-cylinder 1.5-liter engine is seized. Not to worry, however, he has a spare engine that he claims is in “incredible condition”. You can even hot rot this baby as there is a dual-port, machined cylinder head with dual-port carburetors available, who’d a thought it, a sleeper Borgward? The transmission in place is a four-speed manual, no word on its operational capability.

The interior is an attention-getter as the seller states, “The seats on this car are in incredible condition, no one believes that those seats are 62 years olds.” I would have to put myself in that category as they look new, as in very new. He also advises that he has a spare seat too. Other than the seats, the interior is pretty worn looking though the instrument panel is attractive in a ’50s European sort of way. The steering wheel is supposedly rare and once again, the seller has a spare, along with another set of gauges that he’ll include with the sale.

As for parts, the seller advises that he has about $4K worth of additional items with $2.5K having been purchased recently from Germany. The images are extensive, there’s probably even a Schnitzel Gruben in there somewhere.

Our Barn Finds picklist had “Borgward” listed so it would seem one has been covered here before. It is honestly a new one on me as I had no familiarity with Mr. Borgward, his company, or his cars. The business side of the equation, regarding the company’s 1961 insolvency, honestly sounds interesting (as interesting as those things can be), a story of some intrigue. This Borgward, with its industrial shade of gray, just screams post-war European auto industry. Considering the sheer number of examples produced, it’s really not that rare a car and there is certainly quite a bit here with which to work. Still, it will be an undertaking for the next owner but he or she can take solace in knowing that they’ll probably be the only one for miles around with a Borgward Isabella, don’t you think?


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  1. Rex Kahrs Member

    Whether going forward or backward, go Borgward!

    Like 18
  2. Rex Kahrs Member

    It’s gold Jerry, gold I tell ya!

    Like 9
  3. Steve Bush Member

    Never heard of these and have no idea if this is a viable project but guessing someone here has owned at least one. Nice to see a seller who is including a bunch of spare parts, even a parts car and seemingly isn’t asking an outrageous price. What a contrast to some recent sellers here who want big bucks for questionable cars but won’t bother to fix a clutch or include a working carb as well as the clown who didn’t include a nice set of rallys in his $15k asking.

    Like 6
  4. Marky

    They are really neat cars. The cabriolet is good looking. 4 on the tree. The preacher of the church I grew up in was an avid collector. Had more than 50 of them. My borthers and I had use of one of his. Tough little car that took on 3 teenaged boys and survived! I think it shares some engine parts like bearings with Mercedes and other germal cars of the same era. They arent huge money money, but one of those quirky cars tou’d grow to love

    Like 4
    • princeofprussia

      Marky, you misspelled “gerbal cars.” LOL!

      Like 2
  5. Fred W

    I’m actually familiar with these. Why? Because as a kid, there was a junkyard a few blocks from my home that had a couple of Isabellas. Fascinating car when you are used to seeing only American iron.

    Like 11
    • Riccardo Scav

      We owned that Isabella and Isabella Coupe in the 60s and I learnt how to drive on an Arabella De Lux we owned in 68. Reliable cars. Off course they were more common in Europe parts n service readily available Fond memories.

      Like 2
  6. ken tilly UK Member

    I have owned two Borgwards, an ordinary Isabella and an Isabella TS, both of which were excellent, very well built, fast cars. A friend also had a TS when I had a 1957 Studebaker Silver Hawk. We were going on a 110 mile business trip so I told him that I would follow him so he can set the pace as my Stude was much faster than his Borgward. Just as we were setting off I received a phone call. I got away less than 10 minutes later, put the boot in and sat on 100 mph whenever possible, but never saw him again until I arrived at our destination where he had already sat down to a cup of tea! I was so impressed that the first time a Borgward was offered to me I bought it. Being a 2 door car I didn’t keep it very long, however, many years later another one came up for sale so I quickly bought it and kept it for a couple of years before buying my 1951 Buick Super. If you ever buy a Borgward Isabella you won’t be sorry.

    Like 14
  7. Howard A Member

    When I was a kid ( early 60’s) our family doctor, Dr. Zubatsky, made house calls ( remember those?) and he drove a Borgward. I realize the irony of a Jewish doctor driving a German car, but he loved them. My brother and I made fun of the name, and that front end, coming out right at the peak of horror movies, gave me nightmares. Like most of these European cars, got to be tough as nails. The extra parts are a plus, but when done, you’ll have a ’57 Borgward that may or may not be capable for todays driving. Top speed is 81mph ( claimed by factory, always optimistic) which takes a whopping 65 seconds to achieve and 1/4 mile times on par with a VW bug.( 21.8@ 61 mph) Performance aside, cool find, for sure.

    Like 5
    • Bellingham Fred

      I think you made a typo on the quarter mile times. I ran the 440 (1/4 mile) quicker than that when I was on my high school track team. I’m curious to know the actual ET. As always I enjoy reading your comments, you and everyone else stay safe out there.

      Like 2
      • Paolo

        You ran 1/4 mile in 21.8 seconds?

        Like 1
      • Bellingham Fred

        Ha Ha Paolo, I wish. No I ran the 440 in less than 65 seconds.

    • princeofprussia

      Ha! My pediatrician was Jewish and drove a black VW Beetle to our housecalls. I was one of six kids, so he and his Beetle knew the way to our house quite well.

      Like 2
      • Stevieg

        A former boss, the lady who got me into the used car business decades ago before I had my own lot (which itself has been closed 12 years…time sure flies) had a Jewish Dad & German Mom. They met during WW2, here in Milwaukee.
        Her Dad owned the first Toyota dealership in Milwaukee, and he also sold Checker brand cars.
        I guess the dealership was called Indoor Motors, or Indoor Auto Sales (something like that…it was Indoor something) & was located in the “prestigious” suburb of West Milwaukee. Maybe HowardA remembers the place. I don’t.
        The building still stands, it is an old quonset hut. It is a dealership of some sort again, but had been many different things over the years.

      • Little_Cars

        @Stevieg…now Indoor Motor Sports is an online site dedicated to scale slot car racing…..


      • Stevieg

        Hey Little Cars, I don’t think that is the same place, but you have my interest piqued. I am going to drive past there on my way to work this morning. I will let you know whether or not I am wrong…could be, I am not always right lol.

      • Little_Cars

        Meh. Why bother? This looks like strictly an online presence for fans of the bigger scale slot cars, depicting oval track race cars. Click on the highlighted links on their front page and they go to all sorts of other places. I doubt Indoor Motor Sports is even located in your city.

      • Stevieg

        Fair enough. I actually doubt it is even the same business anyhow.
        The Toyota franchise is still in business under a different name & different owner. I was basically just wondering if anyone who is local to the area remembers that operation. But now we are getting way off base from the feature car anyhow lol. Have a great day you all!

  8. local_sheriff

    For those of us located on the other side of the pond it’s not unusual at all to stumble upon a Borgward now and then. In its time the Isabella was regarded as one of the prettiest European car designs and a quality product with good handling and speed. Those times I’ve heard or read stories from people or families that owned one I get the notion they’re describing a European Packard.

    As I also have a decades-long fascination for WW2 history and AFVs I’ll point out that Borgward was involved in production of fully tracked demolition charge layers but also the more commonly known SdKfz 251 half-track

    Like 7
  9. Bob_in_TN Bob_in_TN Member

    The cumulative experience of Barn Finds readers never ceases to amaze me. I’ve heard of Borgward but don’t think I have ever seen one. With my midwestern USA roots I guess that is not surprising. Yet, as Steve Bush predicted, not only are several here who are familiar with them, even some have owned one.

    Interesting car, another example of an attention-getter at the car show.

    Informative write-up Jim, thanks.

    Like 11
  10. N S Gray

    Growing up in Van Nuys (Calif) a neighbor who went by the nickname “Pinky” had one of these. He ran a janitorial service. (He also owned a 1963 Corvair panel van for his company.) As a kid, I always thought the column-mounted transmission shifter was misplaced! (Everything had to be a 4-on-the-floor to make me happy.) Pinky loved his Isabella and still had it when I moved away from the neighborhood in the 70s.

    Like 2
  11. Paul

    Interestingly, the brand name Borgward is owned I believe by a Chinese car manufacturer who was planning to relaunch the brand in Germany with an SUV. I understand they displayed the vehicle at several auto shows in Europe. Unfortunately the project seems to have fallen through, a pity as it would be nice to see the brand revived.

    Like 3
  12. ken tilly UK Member

    Info from “Automobile Catalogue.”
    How fast is this car ? Top speed: 130 km/h (81 mph) (declared by factory);

    Accelerations: 0- 60 mph 19© s; 0- 100 km/h 20.6© s (simulation ©automobile-catalog.com); 1/4 mile drag time (402 m) 21.3© s (simulation ©automobile-catalog.com)

    Like 5
  13. Mark Holmstrand

    My first car was a 1961 Borgward Isabella Combi (station wagon). It was a very dependable car. I rolled it a few years later when I swerved to miss a squirrel in Yosemite National Park. It still worked fine, but I eventually gave it a friend in the park.

    The Borgward brand was born-again in 2008 by Christian Borgward, the grandson of the original founder, Carl Borgward, who died in 1963. The current cars have the same emblem as the old cars. Borgward is planning to become a premier electric car manufacturer.

    Like 2
  14. Chuck

    Ok, I’m a little off. I think of a Borgward and I smile. Kinda goes along with the Volvo 544’s. I smile a little. Cute little utilitarian cars for the off kilter crowd. :)

    Like 2
  15. Paolo

    My former next door neighbor had an Isabella convertible. Her father adapted a Subaru engine to fit when the original engine died. Don’t ask me how because I do not know.

    Like 3
  16. Bill Cawley

    As a young yout in the late 60’s, I saw my first Borgward on a lift, it had independant rear suspension, that facinated me, and was my first exposure to it, seeing or reading. Been a fan of Borgward ever since, have never owned on though.

    Would a fan explane the engine valveing, is it a hemi with off center plugs?

    Like 2
    • princeofprussia

      In the words of the immortal Fred Gwynn, “What’s a YOUT?”

      Like 3
      • Bill Cawley

        Youth, with a little humor.

  17. gerardfrederick

    Carl F. Borgward was a genius who started designing cars in theveraly 1920´s. By 1939 he was well established and displayed a large sedan at the Berlin motor show. During the war he produced extraordinary half-track vehicles as well as 4 wheel drive trucks. His company was competitive with the best of the times. His company was totally destroyed during an air raid. After the war he was arrested, severely maltreated and robbed of his personal belongings, such as his wrist watch by an american GI. As to why he was arrested and put into a labor camp has never been disclosed. After his release he immediately set upon rebuilding his factory with the unpaid help of dozens of former empolyees. He formed a corporation consisting of 1) Lloyd, 2) Goliath, 3) Hansa and 4) Borgward. His products were first class on every level. He designed everything himself, 2-stroke engines, 4-stroke, in line, boxer, air cooled, water cooled and Diesels. The borgward Isabella sport coupe was one of the most beautiful cars of the 1950´s and gave the Mercedes 190SL a run for the money. In fact, he was a major competitor to Mercedes with his heavy duty trucks, large sedans and military vehicles. His Goliath GP 700 sports coupe was stunning albeit too costly. His Borgward Arabella was a major hit and its engine formed the basis for the Subaru boxer configurated engines of today. His bankruptcy was a murky affair. He was forced into it by the machinations of Mercedes Benz — a sad awful story of behind the scenes perfidiousness at its worst. In fact, he died a broken man because of the drama a short time afterward. His name should rank together with Ferdinand Porsche alas——.

    Like 13
    • Harit Trivedi

      I was told that after the company was wound up, and everyone paid their dues, there was cash left over which was given to Mr. Borgward. Apparently they were not really insolvent, they were just removed by a competitor. And apparently politicians of that state abetted this scam. And some ex-Borgward plant is now building Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

  18. Jasper

    I’d read that there was coercion between Mercedes Benz and influential financial officials to put the screws to Borgward. Too bad. They were a fairly sophisticated car. More cutting edge than BMW or MB at the time. I’d say something more like a German Lancia. I’ll hold out for a Borgward 2300!

    Like 4
    • ken tilly UK Member

      @Jasper. I should think that finding a 2300 is as near as impossible as you can get. There used to be one in Southern Rhodesia that parked outside my Mother’s flat and another in South Africa but don’t know if it’s still there.

  19. John L.

    Till I was 8 or 9 my father had one of the wagons and it was his every day car. It was bought in the dealer in Mt. Kisco NY where we lived at the time. The only reason he sold it was that we had moved to Vermont and started skiing and he felt it would not climb the hills. But much to his surprise years later he broke down on the way to ski and what picked him up but his old car! I bet the only thing that killed that car was the Vermont roads.

    Like 4
  20. CaCarDude

    Back in ’65 when I was just 17 yrs young I was working for my father’s public parking facility, and I was driving and parking just about any and every car known to man at the time. I will never forget driving one of these 4 on the tree strange cars. Not a car I would ever want to personally own, but I know there will be a gearhead out there that will want to take this on. I wish them good luck and happy motoring!

    Like 3
  21. hatofpork

    Borgward fan here. Wish it were a wagon. My favorite year is the ’54.

    Like 1
  22. K.B.Roadsend

    For the Prince and Fred Gwynn
    Likend to (synonymous) a jaybird ,punkinhead ,teenie bopper,older than a rug rat but not old enough to know as much as they think they know.Now days I think called Gen Z
    Might be short for youth

    Like 3
  23. Wayne

    I knew a couple of people that owned these. They never had a derogatory word about them. One owned a wagon that he claimed was stronger than a tank! They always had glowing stories about how reliable and bullet proof they were.

    Like 1
  24. Little_Cars

    Now we know that Nash influenced even some German designs. Didn’t Borgward also create the Lloyd automobile? We’ve featured a number of them on Barn Finds over the years.

    Like 1
    • ken tilly UK Member

      Yep. Lloyd, Hansa and Goliath were all manufactured by Borgward.

      Like 2
    • gerardfrederick

      Read my post about Borgward to find out a little bit about this once iconic company.

  25. chrlsful

    glad the MB connection was brought up. These were the poor mans MB but in some ways better, MB is sorta the 1st car maker and corporate sabatoce is not a new thing (1st corps were in that geg area in about 850 ad).

    Glad 2 hear the name is akin a come back, wish them luck!

    • gerardfrederick

      The poor man´s Mercedes? I don´t know what planet you live on, but here on earth, back in the middle 50´s, Mercedes had NOTHING in their line up to compare to the Isabella, much less the Isabella Sports Coupe. The Borgward 2000 was miles ahead of Mercedes in terms os styling and their 4-wheel drive trucks gave Mercesdes headaches. Had it not been for Chancellor Adenauer, the big Borgward wpuld habeen chosen the official car for the head of the government, but he overruled his advisors.

      Like 2
  26. Joe Lauterborn

    I owned 3 of them ! Great Cars , Would love to have another ! My father commuted in one for years ! 35 miles per gallon, very peppy and handled like a dream ! Lots of interesting features also !!

  27. George Lehto

    An old fashion Doctor in Camden, ME used to have a Borgward Isabella that had about 600,000 when the engine got rebuilt by the Taylor brothers and he used it until he retired from doing house calls in the late 50’s or early 60’s.

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