Little legend: BMW Isetta

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Life wasn't exactly monotonous in 1955. That was the year of "Lolita," a play that reflected Vladimir Nabokov's personal point of view on generational conflict, the year of James Dean's tragic death, and the long-awaited homecoming. of the 9.626 German POWs still in the Soviet Union.

Daily life in Germany recovered an almost forgotten sense of normality and the economic difficulties suffered until then began to be overcome. The increase in rents demanded more comfortable ways of traveling and the dream of circulating through the new Federal Republic, and even going out on vacation in a vehicle protected from the rigors of the weather, swept the entire country.

That year had a very special surprise in store for the 12.911 drivers and owners of the first BMW designed for the budget conscious. The Isetta was an egg-shaped “Motocoupé” with “two and a half seats”, powered by a nimble 12hp engine installed at the rear.

Its only door opened frontally to the driver and front passenger, and the distance between the two rear wheels was not even half that which separated the front wheels - no BMW produced before or after this model has ever been able to boast of Such an idiosyncratic appeal.

Certainly not content with this unorthodox front-opening mechanism, the door also integrated the steering wheel and dashboard. The driver changed gears using a small lever installed on the ground, to his left, which was reminiscent of the system used by racing cars of that time.

The Isetta had arrived; BMW had hit the nail on the head describing its new model as "the ideal solution for all those looking for an agile and light car with minimal maintenance costs and easy to park or store in the garage". In addition to its technical qualities, the Isetta also offered great economic advantages. The price of just 2.550 marks was good news for German workers, who earned an average of 90 marks a week. The compulsory third party insurance was 95 marks, while the road tax was reduced to 44 - "less than the price of a dachshund", as the advertising at the time said.


BMW's "egg car" remained a regular on the roads in the 60s, boosting holiday traffic. Its top speed of 85 km / h was best enjoyed on a trip to Italy, the origin of the Isetta, through the Alps.

It was at the 1954 Geneva Motor Show that a BMW agent discovered what was then a diamond in the rough. The Munich-based manufacturer acquired the license to build the Isetta from Italy's Iso, using a new engine from a single-cylinder BMW motorcycle and restyling its Italian “apparel”, before introducing this new car to the market a year later.

But not only Germany fell under the spell of the "rolling egg". The BMW Isetta was delivered to customers beyond its borders and even crossed the ocean "with special protection against fungal and termite attack." Elvis was photographed with one of these cars shipped to the United States. The “King” preferred the more regal setting of a BMW 507 sports car but, according to legend, he bought an Isetta as a gift for his manager.

Everyone wanted to be seen with the exciting new motorcycle, and celebrities and personalities lined up to share a camera with the smallest member of the BMW family. And even the postwar German film industry would have lost a star without this handsome character.

Sales figures refused to fall after the surprising success of 1955 despite the prophecies of some and, in 1956, BMW added new models to the range. A more powerful 250cc 300hp engine was added to the original 13cc Isetta, and both versions were offered in a more complete export model using top-hinged side windows and an improved chassis. BMW also added a range of optional extras, including a right-hand drive instead of a left-hand drive, a flexible top, and a removable cargo bed with a capacity of 200 kg, complemented by a reinforced suspension.


In Germany, only the Glas Goggomobil rivaled the Isetta in this category. In 1957 - the year in which the motorcycle reached its zenith - BMW sold almost 40.000 Isettas, before the trend towards slightly larger models with four seats and the status of "real" cars tipped the balance to the detriment of microcars. BMW responded to this market evolution with the introduction of the 600, a larger version of the Isetta with a rear-mounted two-cylinder Boxer engine.

However, this four-seater was only manufactured until 1959, the year in which it was replaced by the BMW 700, notably more advanced and whose “pontoon” bodywork was consolidated by incorporating, for the first time, the self-supporting structure. The Isetta, meanwhile, continued to be produced and enjoyed great popularity, especially outside of Germany.

The last of its 161.728 units left the assembly line in 1962.



Automundo is the blog about news from the automotive industry, motorsport and the culture of the region. Director: Diego Durruty.

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