Although it has Italian roots, the funky Isetta is inexorably linked to BMW. The German company produced the vast majority of the diminutive bubble cars with single cylinder 250- and 300-cc engines that produced a whopping 12 and 13 horsepower, respectively. They are certainly not the “Ultimate Driving Machine” sport sedans on which BMW later built its reputation, yet the Isetta developed a loyal following because it so well fulfilled its role as an economical city car.
For collectors, the Isetta offers an iconic, quirky classic that, while not cheap, does offer a different sort of value. After all, how many other cars can fit three to a parking spot without a lift?
If you’re a fan of the strange Italian/Bavarian microcar but need a bit more gusto than 13 horses can provide, here are three examples of Isettas that toss originality aside. Engine swaps here mean far more power, not that the bar was terribly high.
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Years ago Werner Hartman, a bodyman friend in Cincinnati, stuffed a Crosley engine into an Isetta 300. It would lay two black rubber strips (kept the original two wheels with a very narrow track in back). But he never could figure out a cooling system- it would overheat in a few minutes. He was an odd person anyway. He had a wooden leg. When strangers would come into his shop he would sit and talk while crosslegged. He would keep pulling up the sock on his wooden leg and finally grab a hammer and nail the sock to the leg, freaking out the visitor. My father had one of the first Isettas in town. His trick was to nose into the curb in front of the bar and walk straight out of the front of the Isetta into the bar.
No discussion of engine-swapped Isettas can be complete without mentioning Dave Major’s collection. One of his has a 1942 435ci Lycoming 6 cyl mounted with a giant wooden propeller. He’s well known in artcar circles.
Back in the day, 1982... I saw a four wheel, stock looking Isetta at the Pomona car swap meet in California that was powered by a Honda 750 cc single cam motorcycle engine.
The older gentleman that drove it in the swap meet that did the engine swap was a engineer at Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank, Ca.
At the time I was a Lockheed employee in Palmdale, Ca., as we talked, he told me that he did it in about six months, and was regularly driving it in the So Cal area.
That thing looked almost stock, and when he rev’d it up, it sounded pretty wild !
Growing up in the 60s our young church paster returned from his tour of duty (as a military chaplain) in Germany, accompanied by his yyoung beautiful German wife, along with their imported Isetta car. He always squeezed it into a half space in front of the church. Young vibrant couple with an attention getting vehicle. Cream and pastel green colors. When they had a baby they traded in the Isetta for a VW bug! Perfect sense!
Contrary to popular belief, the Isetta in the US had two rear wheels, with a narrower track than the two front. The UK version had one rear wheel, with no reverse gear. That way it could be registered as a motorcycle, and not a car.
did no more than a glance'n scroll on the Whatadrag. Just saw the green frog on BAT. That and the Corsetta seem more interesting. But as a lill too thoughtful community elder even those 2 are over the top for me. No room, $, time, need for them (well - 1 several min drive ona safe st or course) I just cross out of mind. More usable vehicles (commute, work or a combo of each) are what I seek. I look at some amazing craftsmanship and customizing on these types of vehicles (more conservative, more practical - beauty as form of function, not the other way around) and appreciate. Just a different take on the whole. Thnx for the opportunity~