I spent most of the '80s in South Dakota, the civic equivalent of a bowl of oatmeal. (A very beautiful bowl of oatmeal, mind you.)
Outside of the occasional tornado or gun accident, nothing much happened. Which is by chance why I recall so clearly the first time I saw a BMW Isetta 300. I was around six, looking across the street out of my father’s string-bean Lincoln Continental, when I saw a man get out the front of his car.
And “Hey, that guy just got out the front of his car!” is exactly what I exclaimed.
Isetta (6 images)
I had to know the story behind this sorcery, so, much to my father’s dismay and because I was kind of a little prick, I jumped out of the car and ran over to the fella. He told me that he had inherited it from a European relative and was driving to California to sell it, but also for one last hurrah. He let me open the front door and sit inside the microcar and turn the oddly placed, folding steering wheel back and forth.
The whole ordeal didn’t last long, as my father soon came over to make me apologize. I had also recently had a pretty gnarly stint of playing in my mother’s RX-7 and might have accidentally kicked it into reverse and rolled it backwards down the driveway and into a ditch. So my obsession with cars was at the time was more or less frowned upon.
But I would come to learn many years later that the Isetta was history-rich, in addition to its apparent novelty. They were designed for BMW by the Italian Iso Autoveicoli, a former refrigerator maker, to aid an economically stressed Germany at the time. The engine came from a motorcycle and all in, she was good for about 52 mph.
Nearly 162,000 were produced, making it quite a success story despite the cartoonish aesthetic. And while it might not be the one I saw when I could barely clear the window, a cherry Isetta is coming up for sale with Bonhams this October 28th. A 1960 iteration, the model will cross block in Padua, Italy.
And for around $30,000, you can bet that I’m more than considering adding this screwball beauty to the collection.