STIGZA Car Profile : BMW Isetta
The Isetta is an Italian-designed microcar built under licence in a number of different countries, including Spain, Belgium, France, Brazil, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The car originated with the Italian firm of Iso SpA. In the early 1950s the company was building refrigerators, motor scooters and small three-wheeled trucks. Iso's owner, Renzo Rivolta, decided he would like to build a small car for mass distribution. By 1952 the engineers had designed a small car that used the motorcycle engine of the Iso Moto 200 and named it Isetta—an Italian diminutive meaning little ISO.
The Isetta caused a sensation when it was introduced to the motoring press in Turin in November 1953, it was unlike anything seen before. Small (only 7.5 ft) long by 4.5 ft wide and it was egg shaped, with bubble-type windows, the entire front end of the car hinged outwards to allow entry. In the event of a crash, the driver and passenger were to exit through the canvas sunroof. The steering wheel and instrument panel swung out with the single door, as this made access to the single bench seat simpler. The seat provided reasonable comfort for two occupants, and perhaps a small child. Behind the seat was a large parcel shelf with a spare wheel located below. A heater was optional, and ventilation was provided by opening the fabric sunroof.
Power came from a 236 cc 9.5 hp motorcycle engine. A manual gearbox provided four forward speeds and reverse. A chain drive connected the gearbox to a solid rear axle with a pair of closely spaced 10 inch rear wheels. The first prototypes had one wheel at the rear, but having a single rear wheel made the car prone to roll-overs, so the rear wheel layout was changed to two wheels. The Isetta took over 30 seconds to reach 31 mph. Top speed was 47 mph. The fuel tank held only 3.4 gallons but it got about 50 mpg.
BMW began talking with Rivolta in mid-1954 and bought not just a licence but the complete Isetta body tooling as well. After constructing some 1,000 units, production of the Italian built cars ceased in 1955, although Iso continued to build the Isetta in Spain until 1958.
The BMW Isetta was in 1955 the world's first mass-production 3L car. It was the top-selling single-cylinder car in the world, with 161,728 units sold.
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