Car: Isetta (buble) BMW, 1953

Bubble cars were a European fad in the 1950s. These tiny, cramped contraptions offered minimal motoring and a meager thirst for fuel in the guise of a brand new car. The nickname came from the cars’ commonly characteristic ovular shape.

1953 model car Isetta (buble) BMW
The Isetta’s entire front panel swung open to give access to the “bubble” car’s interior, while the rear wheels were set a mere 20in (51cm) apart.
1953 model car Isetta (buble) BMW
1953 model car Isetta (buble) BMW

The Isetta set the trend for bubble cars, but it was later followed by other makers, including Fuldamobil, Heinkel, Messerschmitt, and Scootacar. The concept came from an Italian refrigerator manufacturer called Isotherm. The main idea was for a “cabin scooter,” a blend of the thrift of Italy’s Vespa, but with weather protection and accommodation for a young family. It was devised as a four-wheeler, but the rear wheels were just 20in (51cm) apart. The only door was at the front, where the entire snub-fronted nose swung outward, taking the cleverly articulated steering column with it.

1953 Isetta (buble) BMW
1953 Isetta (buble) BMW
1953 Isetta (buble) BMW
1953 Isetta (buble) BMW

The tiny, twin-cylinder engine was at the back, while the driver sat on the left, to counterbalance it. Italian drivers were none too keen on the Iso Isetta, and the company stopped making it after two years. But BMW took out a licence to make the car in Munich with larger capacity engines. With later improvements, it proved amazingly successful among German buyers. The little car is widely said to have “saved” BMW from financial ruin.

“The noise level is closely related to the speed and throttle opening… a strong headwind has a pronounced effect on performance, and the noise rises accordingly.”

The motor magazine road test, 1957

Video model car Isetta (buble)

Specification model car Isetta (buble)

PLACE OF ORIGIN: Milan, Italy, and Munich, Germany
HISTORICAL STATUS: production car
ENGINE: flat-two-cylinder, 14ci (236cc) and single-cylinder, 15–18ci (247–298cc)
MAXIMUM POWER: 13bhp (298cc/18ci)
LAYOUT: rear-mounted engine driving the rear wheels
BODYWORK: single-door, four-seater sedan
TOP SPEED: 50mph (80kph)