The Isetta is Italian-designed microcar built in a number of different countries, including Spain, Belgium, France, Brazil, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Produced in the post-World War II years, a time when cheap short-distance transportation was most needed, it became one of the most successful and influential city cars ever created. Because of its egg shape and bubble-like windows, it became known as a bubble car, a name later given to other similar vehicles, including the AMC Pacer. The BMW Isetta was in 1955 the world's first mass-production 3-liter car. Its low-friction 1-cylinder engine and low weight gave it a fuel efficiency of 3.3 litres per 100 kilometres (86 mpg-imp; 71 mpg-US) (manufacturer information). It is the top-selling one cylinder car in the world, with 161,728 units sold.
BMW made the Isetta its own. They redesigned the powerplant around a BMW one-cylinder, four-stroke, 247 cc motorcycle engine which generated 10 kW (13 hp). Although the major elements of the Italian design remained intact, BMW re-engineered much of the car, so much so that none of the parts between a BMW Isetta Moto Coupe and an Iso Isetta are interchangeable. The first BMW Isetta appeared in April 1955.
1955 BMW Isetta 250, BMW Museum, Munich, Germany. In May 1962, three years after launching the conventionally modern-looking BMW 700, BMW ceased production of Isettas. A total of 161,728 units had been built.
Also called BMW Isetta
Production 1956-62 161,360 produced
Predecessor BMW 250
Successor BMW 600
Layout RR layout
Engine(s) 298cc cc single cylinder 4-stroke (53 mph (85 km/h) top speed)
Transmission(s) 4 speed manual
The now defunct British firm Tri-Tech, under the model name "Zetta", sold a kit car or even an assembled complete BMW Isetta lookalike replica from modern parts, including Honda CN 250 cc single-cylinder water-cooled engines with automatic transmission (standard) or Kawasaki 500 GPS two-cylinder water-cooled motorcycle engines with optional manual transmission. Some parts, new or used, were from "donor" vehicles. Front suspension and steering were from (General Motors) Bedford (later sold under the Vauxhall name) "Rascal" or the original and almost identical Suzuki "Supercarry" light duty van or pick-up trucks. Drum brakes and wheels were from Morris and the subsequent British Leyland Motor Corporation "Mini". Prices ranged from c. £2650 for the kit up to c. £9450 for a complete version. It could be legally registered for use under British laws. Tri-Tech also supplied some body parts which can be used for running non-exact restorations of BMW Isettas.
A new version of the BMW Motorrad Isetta has been rumoured since 2007. Currently (December 2010), this is thought to be the concept vehicle for the BMW Mega City Vehicle project.