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BMW Isetta: The Iconic Bubble Car is The World’s First Microcar

BMW Isetta — a rare, egg-shaped cruiser with rounded, bubble-like windows. a sensation when first issued, the entire front end of the Isetta is on a hinge — drivers and passengers hop inside via a single, swinging front door.

The Isetta only has a top speed of 53 mph. But achieves an impressive 80 mpg. The most iconic feature of course… The “refrigerator door.” BMW’s Isetta was built on a license from an Italian automaker. Today, it’s the most popular microcar to collect. BMW produced over 160,000 Isettas from 1955 to 1962.

An original advertisement of the Iso Isetta (the catchphrase says “the small automobile for everyone”)

original advertisement bmw iso isetta mini car

The early Fifties were a truly unique period in the history of automotive design. Europe was eager to leave the tragedy of the Second World War behind and to celebrate, also though new individual forms of mobility, its newfound peace.

Time was ripe; the rebuilding of cities and productive infrastructures was slowly improving people’s economic conditions, thus paving the way for the mushrooming of the private mobility that will mark the following decades.

Among the industrialists who saw opportunities in that situation, there was also an Italian engineer, Renzo Rivolta, – whose company, Iso Rivolta Spa, was manufacturing scooters and motorcycles – who thought it was time to produce a new type of automobile as small as possible.

An advertising picture showing the peculiar door and steering wheel swinging system of the Iso Isetta.

bmw iso isetta mini car

BMW Isetta 250

bmw isetta 250 mini car

It’s commonly known as the tiny and rotund ‘bubble car’, as-built between 1955 and 1962. At one time, the BMW Isetta was the best-selling single-cylinder engined car in the world, with 161,728 examples sold overall, and the model is the first British-built BMW ever made (in Brighton), from 1957 onwards.

The Isetta (almost) fulfilled a need in post-war mainland Europe for minimalist and affordable transportation, with Italian domestic white goods maker Renzo Rivolta’s ISO business creating the Isetta, and building it between 1953-58.

An advertising picture of the BMW Isetta 250 

an advertising bmw isetta mini car

Cary Grant on the Isetta

Cary Grant with bmw isetta mini car

A cutout drawing of the BMW Isetta 250

bmw isetta cutout drawing mini car

bmw isetta cutout drawing

Despite its small size, in the Fifties, the Isetta was intended as a family car

family car bmw isetta

bmw isetta mini

man stand bmw isetta car

wedding car bmw isetta

couple bmw isetta mini car

BMW  (unsuccessfully) tried to sell the Isetta also in the United States

bmw isetta mini car

BMW produced the Isetta in various versions, from standard to deluxe, with two engines (a 250 cc initially and, since 1956, a 300 cc), and in 45 different colors.

bmw isetta 1960

bmw isetta 1958

bmw isetta car

bmw isetta

yellow white bmw isetta minicar

blue white bmw isetta minicar

bmw isetta mini car

green bmw isetta mini car

bmw isetta mini car 1955

As well as industrialist Rivolta cannily selling the production license for his inexpensive Isetta bubble car around the world, including Velam in France, De Carlo in Argentina and Romi-Isetta in Brazil, ISO sold its largest manufacturing rights agreement for the model to the cash-starved and ailing BMW in Munich.

VELAM: The French Isetta with a couple of sporting twists

French Isetta velam

Isetta velam mini car

white French Isetta velam mini car

French Isetta velam sport version

De Carlo Minicar, Argentina

De Carlo Argentina Minicar

De Carlo Argentina

Green De Carlo

Romi-Isetta Brazil

romi isetta brazil 1956

romi isetta brazil

romi isetta brazil green yellow minicar

Surprisingly, the BMW Isetta was an immediate success; over 160,000 units were made from 1955 to 1962, including a longer a more powerful 4-seat version (the BMW 600) until the competition with the much larger Volkswagen Beetle and BMW 700 put an end to its commercial success.

bmw isetta 600 advertise

bmw isetta 600 red mini car

bmw isetta 600 red minicar inside

bmw isetta 600 mini car

bmw isetta 600 blue minicar

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