Lifestyle

BMW's Beetle


To survive in the post-war European market, BMW needed its own VW Bug. It got one in the 1958 Isetta 600

Germans in the 1950s weren't concerned with having "the ultimate driving machine," they were just happy not to be walking or pedaling. With a limited market for cars like the spectacular and expensive 507 roadster, BMW needed a volume model to survive. They understood the needs of the post-war European market and decided the best niche to exploit was the sub-VW Beetle class of microcars that had become popular with Germans who had not yet fully recovered from the ravages of the Second World War.

Appliance maker Renzo Rivolta's little Isetta seemed tailor-made for someone of limited means who wanted something more than a scooter or a motorcycle with a sidecar. A deal was struck to license and produce the 250-cc Italian microcar that became known in Germany as das rollende Ei, or "rolling egg," for obvious reasons.

In the first half of 1955, BMW sold about 10,000 Isettas on its way to a total production of over 160,000 by 1962. BMW replaced Rivolta's 250-cc, two-stroke twin with a 300-cc air-cooled single, which was half its motorcycle engine. It was therefore easy to use the whole BMW 600-cc twin in the rare jumbo-sized version of the Isetta. Listed in BMW catalogs of the day as a "limousine," the BMW 600 could seat four in relative comfort.

This particular 600 was a ground-up restoration on a solid original car that still sported its original paint and showed a genuine 25,662 miles on the odometer. With just one mile on the freshly rebuilt engine, four-speed transmission and clutch, a new interior, and gleaming salmon and white paintwork, this example of a rare microcar is ready to enjoy and turn heads everywhere.

The SCM Analysis

This car sold for $44,000 at Barrett-Jackson, Scottsdale, AZ, in January of 2007, likely a record by a factor of two for this model.

The 600, catalogued as the "limousine" version of the Isetta, was a triumph in clever packaging much like the later BMC Mini. At just over nine feet, the 600 could hold two adults and three children. A slightly more conventional car than an Isetta, the 600 boasted a 20-hp BMW motorcycle-derived flat-twin motor and a four-speed geabox. A semi-automatic transmission by Saxomat was available.

DROPPED AFTER 35,000 MADE

Sales of the 600 were initially buoyed by the Suez crisis and the resulting fuel shortages. However, it was simply not competitive with the Volkswagen and at a price of several hundred Deutsche Marks higher, it made little sense for any but the most fuel-economy obsessed. It was dropped after about 35,000 examples were produced.

Giovanni Michelotti was rumored to have been involved in the design of the body. But the only discernable Michelotti cue, a sharp-edged, highly stylized front bumper, is not present on this car. The car card noted it was an early production car, so perhaps the bumper this one sports--a chrome tubular affair similar to an Isetta bumper--is correct.

Looking essentially like a stretched Isetta with a side door, the 600 was a much more sophisticated car, which actually pioneered the semi-trailing arm rear suspension found in everything from the 2002 to the Z3.

Long-time 600 owner and Portlander David Adams compares the handling to an early BMC Mini and maintains that a good 600 can break 70 mph, although he allows that the 80 mph speedometer has a shaded band that starts at 60 mph and should be marked "certain death."

ONLY THE SECOND TO BE SOLD HERE

The car card noted this was only the second 600 to ever appear at Barrett-Jackson. It is almost certainly the best one to ever appear at that event. The coral and white paintwork was done to a nice standard with proper gaps and good prep work evident. Chrome was also to an excellent driver standard, with only some minor pitting on the front badge.

The interior was very well done and in the correct materials. Although less expensive to restore than a 21-window Microbus, simply by virtue of its size, the materials used in a 600 were of good quality and are not cheap.

At $44,000, it's difficult to see an upside for the buyer any time soon. On the other hand, the seller may have made out fine. While many people go underwater restoring cars, tiny cars can cost less to restore simply because there's less to restore. I know several people who have restored Fiat Jollys and actually made a few bucks at sale time.

The only other concern here is the fact that this thing has turned nary a wheel since its completion. The new owner will inevitably have some sorting to do. Once done, however, his ride will attract more attention than a new M6.

Years Produced: 195759

Number Produced: 34,813

Original List Price: $1,598

SCM Valuation: $10,000$14,000 (at time of print)

Tune-up Cost: $150

Distributor Caps: $39

Chassis #: 125271

Chassis # Location: On rail by front door; inside engine compartment on right bulkhead

Engine # Location: Right side of block below carburetor

Club Info: Isetta Club e.V., Brunhilde Reimann Schapener, Straße 12, 38162 Cremlingen

Web Site: http://www.isetta-club.de

Alternatives: 195761 Fiat Multipla, 195967 Austin Mini, 195562 BMW Isetta 250/300

Investment Grade: D

Provided by Sports Car Market—The Insider's Guide to Collecting, Investing, Values and Trends

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