Car of the Month – October

1957 BMW Isetta

Specs

  • Engine – 236cc single-cylinder 4-stroke
  • Horsepower – 12 hp @ 5200 rpm, 10 ft-lbs of torque @ 4600 rpm
  • Transmission – 4-speed manual
  • Curb weight -1,047 lbs
  • 0-30 time – 30 seconds
  • Top speed – 53 mph
  • Number built – 161,728 (BMW)
  • MSRP price – $607.00

Description

The 1950’s-era BMW Isetta is likely one of the most forward-thinking cars of its time. Powered by a 298cc single-cylinder BMW motorcycle engine with a 4-speed manual transmission, the Isetta was the first mass-production car to achieve 78 miles per gallon.

The Isetta was the brainchild of Renzo Rivolta, owner of Iso Autoveicoli S.p.A., an Italian company that manufactured refrigerators, scooters and three-wheeled utility trucks. Rivolta decided the world needed an affordable vehicle that was both easy and inexpensive to maintain; would avoid the large taxation on full size cars; would prove infinitely easy to drive even in the most congested of cities; and be easy to produce. The name Isetta translated to “Little Iso”, and the car sent a shockwave through the world when it was introduced in 1953; it was like nothing anyone had ever seen. It measured a tiny 7.5’ long and 4.5’ wide.

The Isetta was produced in a number of countries by a number of companies, though most notably it was BMW who marketed the Isetta very intelligently and aggressively.

The Isetta saved BMW from financial ruin after WWII. The company’s factories had been heavily damaged, and the German and European economies were in shambles. The Isetta was a small, inexpensive, fuel-efficient car that could fit two people and navigate narrow European streets. BMW sold 161,728 Isettas between 1955 and 1962.