Rare UK-Built 3-wheel Isetta with Extremely Nice Restoration.
1960 BMW Isetta 300
Blue with Green Tartan Interior
Throughout history, car companies have developed a wide range of economical cars to suit different uses and markets. Shortly after WWII, many small companies jumped into the fray, offering a new class of “Microcars” – economically minded cars with small displacement engines (often no larger than scooter engines), yet with the capacity to hold driver and passengers, offering automotive style without big pricetags. These thrifty cars were sought after in a number of countries, but in Italy it was the brilliant engineer and industrialist Renzo Rivolta (later of Iso Grifo fame) who would pioneer the wonderful egg-shaped Isetta to a war torn Italy. Sales in Italy were moderate but the big break for the Isetta would come in the form of partner BMW who on production, launching the delightful Isetta to near cult status throughout Europe and eventually in the USA.
Weighing in at a svelte 770 pounds, the Isetta was powered by a four-stroke single cylinder 298 cc air-cooled engine, taken from the BMW motorcycle lineup. Although the thrifty 13 hp engine was challenged in power to weight, the Isetta could victoriously achieve speeds of 50 mph, providing a downhill advantage and brisk tail wind was at hand. But top speed was hardly the goal for Rivolta or BMW. Service and general ownership costs were at a minimum and parking was no problem for the perky Isetta and its clever front exit door. Both four and three wheel variants were produced with the three-wheel version considered more desirable today due to rarity in number. With a total overall length under 8 ft, and just over 4 feet wide, the Isetta happily solves one of the most persistent issues for car collectors – garage space. Today, collectors all over the world continue to admire these delightful cars for their rarity, 45 mpg fuel consumption, captivating novelty, and delightful character.
This particular three-wheel Isetta 300 was built in the United Kingdom as a left hand drive example. Due to taxation laws, domestic market UK-built Isettas had three wheels so they could be categorized not as cars but as cycle cars, which brought significant tax savings. This example spent the first several decades of its life in the UK, where an enthusiastic owner living in Birmingham bought it in 1980. He restored the car in its entirety in the late 80s, retaining it until 1997 or 1998, when he sold it to another UK keeper.
The car eventually made its way to the collection of renowned litigation attorney and world-class car collector John O’Quinn. Prior to the passing of Mr. O’Quinn in 2009, the O’Quinn Collection assembled hundreds of the finest examples of automotive excellence. The car was sold from the collection in 2006 and has since been serviced and maintained using experts familiar with Isettas, installing a new rear wheel brake cylinder in 2013, general servicing, and rebuilding the carburetor in 2017. Over the past few years, the car has been stored indoors but driven regularly, with all systems having been recently checked and properly tended to as needed.
The car currently presents very nicely with nice older paint exhibiting consistent gloss throughout. The front door shuts firmly against the opening with smooth operation of the articulating forward steering column and steering gear. The only other panel opening, the engine shroud, fits nicely against the body and is easily removed for access to the air-cooled engine. The chrome trim is in nice condition with consistent gloss on all parts, with some evidence of minor pitting on the forward bumpers. Glass is in very nice condition as are the gaskets and various rubber surrounding trim. When closed, the retractable roof fits tightly to the body showing no significant wear. The remaining trim and exterior features are all in presentable condition with good tread on all three tires, and nicely finished European license plates.
The interior has been properly restored with good quality materials showing tidy fit and finish with proper attention to originality. Having mellowed slightly over time, the finishes are still nice and consistent in presentation. The dashboard is in particularly nice condition with a central speedometer that appears original to the car. The soft tan canvas top is finished in the proper material and is easily folded back, revealing open air driving. The rear of the car features a metal package tray housing a spare tire, behind the front bench seat. In all the interior packaging is a novel series of clever engineering and delightful features one will only find in an Isetta.
Removing the side panel, the engine compartment reveals a nicely restored BMW 300 cc engine with correct components and proper air-cooling shroud, hardware, and fittings. The undercarriage is solid and dry with some evidence of use since the restoration was completed, exhibiting no structural issues or compromise to the floor pan.
The car starts quickly and easily, delivering a raspy rumble and “can do” attitude as it progressively warms up. Shifting is managed from a floor selector gearshift that slips easily into gear. From there, the car operates much like any standard shift automobile, accelerating smoothly into higher revs. Driving the Isetta, you learn to use momentum as much as acceleration, which becomes part of the driving experience. Sitting up front over the front axles, your tall, upright position gives you a clear view of approaching apexes, encouraging just a hint of body lean in your posture when cornering. Steering and suspension are rather appropriate for the period but surprisingly responsive under demand. Braking benefits from the diminutive size and weight, but here again surprisingly good. In all, with the roof pulled back and side glass opened, the wind and sounds of open driving are sure to bring a smile to driver, passenger, and passers by. The car comes with an original brochure, original price and options list, 1958 specifications list, a period “Fact Sheet” from J.V. Connelly, New York based importers of the Isetta, and various service documents from the past few years.
Capable of delighting automotive enthusiasts and mavens of popular culture, while capturing the admiration of all ages, this beautiful Isetta 300 features well-sorted mechanicals, a quality restoration, and the unmistakable charm of one of the most memorable European open cars ever built.
The above vehicle information is complete and accurate to the best of our knowledge at the time it is posted to this website. Corrections or additional information is always appreciated. All advertised prices exclude government fees and taxes, any finance charges, any dealer document preparation charge, and any emission testing charge. Vehicles are subject to prior sale. All advertised to be true but not guaranteed. We assume no liability for errors or omissions.
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