One of the joys of appreciating automobiles is the almost unending number of shapes, styles and designs that have been available. We now have the ability to look back on over 100 years of mass production of vehicles of all sizes and types. In that time, the Italian designed Isetta has carved out its own unique place.
The car was licensed for production in several countries; the Iso Isetta in Italy, the VELAM Isetta in France, and the De Carlo Isetta in Argentina. Brazil has its Romi-Isetta and for Germany and the UK, the BMW Isetta was licensed. BMW produced the Isetta from 1955 through 1962. Noted generally for its highly efficient rear engines and single front entry door, the unique vehicles have become extremely collectible and valuable. Where some view them as awkward and unseemly, others see them as cute, and even as works of art.
For 1962, the BMW Isetta 300 was produced for the last time, giving way to the more conventional BMW 700, which began production three years earlier. During its run, just over 161,000 BMW Isetta 300 vehicles were produced. Officially a “microcar”, the Isetta 300 was more affectionately known as a bubble car due to its rounded shape and windows.
The 1962 BMW Isetta 300 sports a 298 CC, single-cylinder, four-stroke engine. It is paired with a four-speed manual transmission with reverse. Generating only 13 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 13.6 lb.ft. of torque at 4600 rpm, the 1962 BMW Isetta 300 could practically be timed in the quarter mile with a sundial. In fact, its top speed is just 53 mph. But speed and power were never its forte. It was one of a kind styling and incredible gas mileage that brought it to center stage. It could get from 80 to 100 mpg on highways in the United States. Of course, this was at a time when gas was cheap and plentiful in the United States. While at the time the Volkswagen Beetle was shattering images of small European cars, the Isetta was breaking the mold.
The Isetta certainly has had its place in pop culture history. Some may recall it as Steve Urkel’s car in Family Matters and it is represented by an Italian model car in Disney’s animated “Cars”. While it was designed to help get Europeans back on the road affordably following World War II, today it is exceptionally valuable, especially when restored.
Will it ever make a comeback? Well, the Microlino, an electric version, is scheduled to go on sale in Switzerland and Western Europe in mid-2022. This will likely only boost the value of available original Isettas, when they can be found.
If you have the opportunity to take a closer look, take advantage of it. The 1962 BMW Isetta 300 holds a special place in bubble car and automotive history.