1958 BMW Isetta (British built)
Isettas are pretty much the '57 Chevy of the American Microcar world. over 160,000 were made in the 50's and quite a few were exported and sold in the US. Allthough the largest producer was BMW in Germany, who bought the licenses from ISO, the developer and initial manufacturer, they were also built in France (Velam), Brittain (Isetta) and Brazil (Romi).
Where the US market imported their Isetta's straight from Germany, the Canadians, whom had retained a closer connection with Great Brittain ever 1776, were cursed with the Queens model. In a show of nationalist pride, the britts had modified their Isetta to omit all the good German parts and build them with Lucas Electronics and Girling brakes instead.
Of course, my Isetta is one of those. Like most of my toys, it was bought on impulse for no good reason other than that I liked it. I had just dropped off the Amphicar in the middle of Canada when my buddy Ralph mentioned he had to take an Isetta in pieces out of his trailer so he could take a running car to Gould's annual Boston chin-dig. The princess gently tried to avoid the inevittable but never said "No". She later explained she thought it would have been futile anyway, so by the next morning the car transplant between trailers was complete. Now his trailer was empty and ours was filled with a shell of a car and a bunch of crates with parts. In my weak defence, we did have an empty trailer to drag back to Ohio and there was going to be a hole in the toybox where the Amphicar sat anyway.
The Beemer trailer transplant was a success. It was now officially mine. All the parts came in a number of boxes
When we got it back home, it was time to take a closer look at the car. This is going to be a fascinating project. The vehicle was completely taken apart and it almost looks as if the frame was powdercoated. All the parts are clean, painted, buffed or even chromed and look like they're ready to go together. The body had seen some pretty extensive repairs as well but I think that was a while ago.
This looks like one of those projects someone started on and then moved to the next person. somewhere along the way, someone tried to start reassembly. They did not get much further than the right front wheel wich had been put together incorrectly, allong with items on a number of other parts, we started refering to that era as "a number of weekends gone horribly wrong".
The paintscheme was interesting. The car looked like some kind of demented police cruiser. Thankfully, it must have served as a storage rack since then, judging by the dents and gauges. This made the decision to repaint much easier. Looking through the treasures at the bodyshop, we found a gallon of smurf/dumpster blue paint, a leftover from an earlier project, that looked like it would fit this car well.
With summer here, the Isetta, no matter its size, was taking up valuable real-estate in the area needed to keep the other toys going. The shell was lifted off the body and brought to Sam for the repaint. The boxes were put away till winter and the frame was mounted against the wall behind the Segway
7-27-2010: It did not take Sam very long to turn the shell into a more rudimentary canvas. I had not expected to see this much
progress in a while but Sam was pretty anxious to find out what was hidden under the paint. although cars like the Isetta, Bond Bug or Messerschmitt seem to be trading at ever increasing prices now, they were once cheap and unwanted. If they survived that period, they could be expected to be in a pretty horrid shape with work performed to keep them running to be sub-standard and requiring a lot of work to correct.
Although I thought the bodywork had been done well, Sam disagreed and started rebuilding. massive amount of bodyfiller have been removed and previous body repairs have been redone, especially around the fenders and the floor. One item I learned was that lifting these cars by the bumpers, a popular activity when these things were new, really did a lot of damage to them
With the body making steady progress, it came time to take all the parts from the shelves and start working on the Chassis in earnest. Other than some obvious parts that are not needed for a while, like the seat and windows, All the boxes were taken down and the parts were laid out and sorted based on what our impression was where they should go (Body or Frame) and re-boxed accordingly. All the loose screws, nuts and springs that came from the bottom of the boxes were put in a pile on the work bench.
Even though at first glance most of the big parts seem to be there, one thing that stood out was that the pile of bolts turned out to be a lot smaller than expected. Actually, I'm pretty well convinced there is not nearly enough to put the car back together. Luckily, most seems to be uncomplicated but metric hardware
At this point in the rebuilt, our knowledge of Isettas is limited to being able to point one out at a show. The fun part of the project will be to try and figure out where everything belongs
The Chassis itself is simple but well thought out. Most of the time is spent finding parts and fitting or fixing them. The engine is hanging in its mounts for now but will have to come off again for transmission repairs.
The gear shifter is connected to two levers on the transmission. One was broken off and replacing it required the transmission to come apart. the oil had been drained from the box a long time ago and what had remained had turned into a form of gunk that kept all the parts from moving. Great fun. Apart from a couple of small parts, all it needed was a good cleaning. what better reason to take something completely apart do you need anyway.
7-23-10 Alex helped lift the body off. Not hard, since it was not bolted down 12-20-10, Bodywork done and in Primer
1-13: Starting to fit and refit pieces to the frame 1-20: Getting better at it
1-27: Engine off again. Taking the transmission apart 2-2: The Drivetrain is back in place
2-6: the engine has been started and the brakes work. All we need now is the body
2-12 The Bottom is getting ready for a coat of paint and the chassis is done. I wish I would have taken a better look at the homemade floor at this stage. even a cursory glance at the firewall on this picture shows that it is bowed to the front of the vehicle. Hindsight is wonderful.
picture from 2-28. First coat
The Shell is painted and looks fantastic. In order the avoid any risk to the bodywork that took almost 10 months to complete, Sam suggested putting it on the chassis before moving it back to the toybox so with the help of Rick and Alex, we did just that
The body weighs not much more than 100 pounds with the door removed. putting it on did not take a lot of effort eventhough it did not really seem to fit, before too long, the whole thing was on it's way back home
Unfortunately, by the time we got back to the toybox and tried to bolt the body down in earnest, it became clear that whomever replaced the floor many years ago failed to take measurements to where it bolts onto the frame. the floor from the front to the back is about 1.5 inches (4cm) too short. Winter is also a thing of the past by now so the project is, once again, pushed out of the way until the hangar door closes again for the winter
With the weather starting to cool down and after about 2 weeks of solid rain, the Isetta started to come back to the forefront. Some little items had found their way onto the car during the summer but the biggest stumbling block remained the floor and the need to redo it without any damage to the paint on the shell.
The back end is fairly complete at this stage and the front is also coming along. I finally found the courage to cut across the enitre width of the freshly painted floor and push the firewall back to where it needed to be to support the rest ot the chassis. the next step is to weld in strips of metal to fill the gap and make it all strong again. Since the body is still completely loose on the frame, items like front bumpers and pedals can not yet be mounted
10-9-11: I got to spend some quality time with a welding machine. Welding is not a strong suit for me but I truly enjoyed the experience and a grinder can make even my welds look pretty. before the weekend was over, a number of people had been over to help in lifting the body back off in order to clean and repaint the bottom and put it back on the next day. The event was a success. all the bolts fit beautifully
weekend of the 16th weekend of the 23rd
10-23-11; With the Body in place, it was time to start putting all the remaining stuff back in it. Of all that was left to do, mounting the side windows was probably the one I dreaded the most. Thankfully, Terry in Vermillion was kind enough to let me crawl all over his Isetta and figure out where all the parts were supposed to go. After all was said and done, it was the kind of job I truly hope not to have to do again. Rick came over and helped with the other side. I think he agrees as well. At least the window slides easier on the side he did.
As the vehicle is starting to hold more parts, shelf space has noticably increased as the many boxes holding parts have been reduced to some miscelaneous stuff on the work bench. After the door was installed, the electrical system is next in line.
11-2-11. The lights, including the brake light, work. The steering mechanism is complete and the charging system is working. It was time to mount the remaining wheels, put the ratty seat in and, for the first time in at least 20 years, take it out for a spin. The engine spun to life with very little effort and ran smoothly. Because darkness had completely set in by the time we got this far, we really could not go very far until the lights were adjusted but as soon as that was done, we found ourselves flying down the road at ever increasing speeds. What a delight. The little car runs smooth and holds the road very well. the only real problem was the horsehair stuffing in the seat. due to its age, it has really deteriorated and is leaving a mess of dust fitfully circulated by the air coming into the vehicle untill it coats everything including eyeballs. After some small adjustments it was ready to go on an uneventful tour of the Ambulance service area the next day.
The evolution of a beemer
The Isetta brings some interesting reactions