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BMW Isetta liberated from 50 years of storage

In the micro-cosmos of vintage small car collecting, the one name that bubbles to the top is always the Isetta. Micro-cars have sling-shotted in value in the last few years, easily finding a parking spot in many collectors’ garages. Short and stout, cute and cuddly, many people find the Isetta irresistible. Popular culture has embraced these little cars, and they appear in movies, advertisements, art, and TV shows (the Isetta was the preferred car of Steve Urkel).

Isetta
Isetta
Steve Natale
All original 1957 GBMW Isetta
Steve Natale

The Isetta was originally from Italy, the brain-child of Renzo Rivolta, who would later create sports cars. It was produced in Italy for a few years before Rivolta sold licensing agreements to other manufactures around the globe, most successfully to BMW in Germany in 1955. BMW built the Isetta until 1962, selling over 160,000 of the tiny cars in total, making it one of the most successful micro-cars ever produced. In 1957, BMW started selling the Isetta in the United States. The Isetta is unique is so many ways, but the single front door with tilt-away steering column is the most interesting. BMW advertised the fact that a tall person could drive one and be comfortable by having the press take photos of celebrities with Isettas to illustrate their point. The cost of a new Isetta was around $1,000 in 1957, and came with a 13 hp, air-cooled motor capable of propelling the 700lb fun-sized machine to speeds in excess of 50 mph.

The 1957 Isetta featured here was recently discovered in a shipping container in Fresno, CA. Last registered in 1961, it is completely original, still with its original license plates and tires. It has traveled only 14,000 mile since new. The second owner’s father purchased it in 1961, but never drove it on the street. The seller explained “My brother and I used to drive it around the back lot of my Dad’s business. Then we just quit using it and put it in storage” That was 50 years ago. The new owner has not tried to start the engine, or even clean the car, wanting to preserve and enjoy the pint-sized patina for now.