1959 BMW Isetta 300

Highlights


• South African import now in UK with all paperwork done
• Four-wheel model, extremely rare in RHD
• Rot-free from dry climate 
• Runs and drives brilliantly


The Background


Fuel economy is king these days, but the idea of a car capable of almost 100mpg isn’t a new thing.

Introduced in 1953, the Isetta ‘Bubble Car’ was capable of an incredible 94mpg yet cost pennies to buy. It was, for a sort time, a revolution in motoring. 

The car was the brainchild of sports car maker ISO - famous for the V8-engined Grifo – so was a bit different to the company’s norm. 

It was considered so different that it attracted attention from across the car industry, with several manufacturers asking Iso to build it under licence. Velam in France and De Carlo in Aregntina were two of them, but the biggest name to get involved was BMW, which in 1955 began making Isettas of its own, powered not by the original two-stroke engine, but by a 247cc BMW motorcycle engine that gave it surprisingly eager performance. 

In the UK, all Isettas sold were three-wheelers, which made them eligible for motorcycle tax and allowed them to be driven on a provisional driving licence – a strong marketing ploy. Elsewhere in the world, though, a slightly more stable four-wheeler was offered and that makes the car we have here a huge rarity. Supplied new in Johannesburg, South Africa, it’s both a four-wheeled Isetta and a right-hand-drive one. Only a handful were ever made in that combination. 

The History


Until it arrived in the UK last month, the Isetta had spent its entire life in and around Johannesburg, where the dry climate has done wonders for its survival. 

It has been repainted in its original black and mechanically overhauled, and is now in the UK awaiting registration by its new owner. 

The Paperwork


There isn’t much in the way of service history with the Isetta, largely because it isn’t South African custom to retain bills and receipts in the same way that UK owners often do. 

There is a copy of the South African registration document and a few other minor documents, though.

The vendor specialises in importing vehicles from the country having lived there for many years, and knows the process inside-out. The cars he brings in are sourced via classic car contacts he has in ZA and are imported with all of the duties paid and NOVA paperwork (port notifications) complete. 

All that’s left is to complete an application for first registration – something the owner is happy to help with and which is a very straightforward process. 

The Exterior


The Isetta was overhauled before it left South Africa and was repainted in its original black, to a very high standard. 

It looks amazing, the only minor faults being a missing badge for the new owner to source and some scuffs and marks on the original chrome hubcaps. 

It’s a peculiar but very charming little ting, with a side-hinged front door and a full-length fabric sunroof – though in this case full-length doesn’t mean especially long…

The engine, meanwhile, is accessed via a detachable side panel. 

There’s no rust to be seen anywhere, and the sills and underside appear to be in excellent order. 

The Interior


Getting in and out of an Isetta isn’t something you do gracefully – at least not until you’ve got it down to a fine art. 

The front door hinges away sidewards, taking the dashboard and steering column with it. You then have to sort of back yourself into it, and plop yourself down on the springy seat, before closing the door like the safety bar on a fairground ride. 

It’s a snug fit, ad everything is a little weird. The gear lever, for example, is on your right, incorporated into the car’s side panel. The handbrake is behind your right ankle, the steering wheel is a weird tilt. It’s an ergonomic nightmare – and an absolute barrel of laughs. 

It’s in great condition inside, the tartan bench seat really setting off the black exterior nicely. The only fault is a small nick in the seat fabric on the passenger side, though when we say ‘passenger’ please not that this will need to be someone you’re extremely familiar with and comfortable around, as the car is like a mobile cuddle chair. 

The Mechanics


The Isetta had a mechanical check-over and minor overhaul in South Africa and is in great running order, with no known faults. 

It started immediately after three months at sea and the vendor reports that it drives well in its own weird and wonderful way, though he does advise that it ‘takes a bit of getting used to’. 

The Appeal


Bubble Cars have a collector appeal all of their very own, and this one is bound to attract the attentions of Isetta aficionados thanks to its astonishing rarity – four-wheel Isettas are rare in the UK as it is, but to find a right-hand-drive one is a veritable needle in a haystack. 

It’s a fascinating and fabulous car, complete with its own dinky BMW ‘kidney grille’ for added charm. A far cry from the fast lane where you’ll find most BMWs of today, but all the more endearing for it. 



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Vehicle specification
  • Year 1959
  • Make Isetta
  • Model Bubble Car
  • Colour Black
  • Odometer 720 Kilometers
  • Engine size 247
  • Location Norfolk
  • Country United Kingdom
Bidding history
21 bids
  • silvers•••• £16,750 17/01/22
  • elf63 £16,250 17/01/22
  • elf63 £15,750 17/01/22
  • silvers•••• £15,500 17/01/22
  • elf63 £15,250 17/01/22
  • silvers•••• £15,000 17/01/22
  • philipm•••• £14,750 17/01/22
  • silvers•••• £14,500 17/01/22
  • Roger19•••• £13,995 17/01/22
  • silvers•••• £13,050 17/01/22

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