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BMW Isetta to showcase at Cincinnati's Art Museum - Cincinnati Auto Repair

May 17, 2014


After WW2, the European masses yearned to hit the open road. However, the war years impoverished many, and left raw materials and gasoline at a premium. However, several manufacturers filled the need with small cars that got great gas mileage, a need we can feel today.

BMW built a small car called the Isetta, a car it licensed from Iso, an Italian firm that built the car originally. Iso licensed the design to many manufacturers in different countries, but BMW's car came to represent all others, and over 160,000 were made. The first thing one notices about an Isetta is the front door. The whole front end of the car swings open, including the steering column and wheel, to allow access to the bench seat. There was a large canvas sunroof, which also doubled as an escape hatch in the event of a collision. The second thing that's noticed immediately is the appearance of one wheel in Bumper Repair the rear, which upon closer inspection is actually 2 rear wheels just set close together. The original cars did have one rear wheel, but they tended to roll over a lot.

BMW built it's own engine and drivetrain, most of it taken from motorcycles, and they were superior to Iso's as they were quieter and more powerful. The engines were enlarged to just short of the maximum allowed to stay in a motorcycle tax class, and in Germany a motorcycle license was all that was needed to operate the car. The cars were popular all over Europe, and BMW eventually built a 4 door car with a bigger motorcycle engine with 2 cylinders, but eventually succumbed to the popularity of Volkswagens.

The Cincinnati Art Museum is showing a 1957 BMW Isetta in Gallery 101 now through April 17th, 2011. The cars never made a hit in the US, as our situation was different then from the Europeans. Now however, with Mini Coopers and Smart Cars starting to crowd the roads, and even Fiat coming back to America, the Isetta is starting to look better and better.



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