This is an article I wrote for the Microcar&Minicar
Club Newsletter several years ago. It is a very "basic" introduction of what to look for when buying your first isetta when
you've never seen one in person and have no clue what you are looking at or what it should have. Prices have gone up since
it was written and the article is for reference only.
by Isetta John Wetzel
published in MINUTIA vol 6 #2 Spring 1997 by the Microcar & Minicar Club )
As the popularity of the Isetta has
grown in the last two years or so, I've heard several horror stories of people paying too much for too little.
time buyers have limited knowledge of what they should look for and what they typically should pay.
I hope to shed a little
insight here and have to remind you that these opinions are strictly my own.
Nothing here is cast in stone and prices will
vary with time, location, and demand.
What do I look for?
A first overview of the exterior should determine
anything missing or broken. Is this car to be a daily driver or will you do a body off restoration? Body rust is usually found
in the lower front fender edges.
Check inside the car where the wheel housing meets the floor and look at the battery box
under the seat. You can fabricate patch panels or buy replacement parts up to a complete floor for severely rusted cars.
problem area is the lower portion of the front door, especially on cars that have sat outdoors for an extended time.
this is a bubble window model check, all window glass. Cars with missing or broken glass on this model is almost impossible
to obtain spares. Don't bother to look for NOS pieces, as extra windows were never imported to Isetta dealers. Only as a special
order was glass shipped and that was 40 years ago. These windows are tempered glass and not the safety glass we are using
today. A rear window on a bubble will run $400-800, if you can find one and the owner probably won't want to ship it. A Plexiglas
replacement is available for the rear, but not the side windows.
On the sliding window model you have a much easier search.
The only problem you may find is locating the fixed non-sliding windows on the cabriolet model. The windshield is the same
on all models and new replacement glass can be purchased.
The bumpers are reproduced except for the front tube bars. Re-chrome
your old ones or find better used ones.
Most all rubber trim parts have been reproduced as well as headlight - taillight
rings, emblems, window seals, hubcaps, and tires.
All Isettas had a sunroof. Some people will advertise this as a convertible.
A true convertible was not made and the cabriolet had the rear window section fold down much like a baby carriage. Check to
see that all bows and latches are intact. The sunroof should have a center bow that slips into the fabric. A bubble window
should have two of different lengths.
The car serial number ID plate is located on the passenger wheel well.
the Isettas I have found usually have:
1. No title
2. No keys
3. Broken windshield
This may be cause to scare
off first time buyers.
Don't be alarmed, for most title services can supply you with a legal title in the $l00-150 price
range. Your larger key shops should have the old key codes in their computer so they can make a key without taking your lock
New windshields are currently being made and will cost a little over $300 with shipping dependent on your location.
these problems are solved easily, it is the simple missing pieces that replacement costs may surprise you.
Looking at the engine a miniature
ignition coil and bracket assembly is bolted in the two o'clock position.
Just to the left of that the engine number is
stamped. Does this match the body number? An original engine will, but do not worry if it doesn't. Matching number cars haven't
changed Isetta values much.
What this does tell you is an engine swap had been made at some time and you really don't know
the condition or mileage of this motor. If this is a non-running car, try to turn the engine by hand. A free turning engine
can usually be made to run. With a slight rocking motion back and forth, listen for any noticeable knocking or tapping noises.
This may indicate a worn connecting rod or loose timing chain. If the engine has stuck or frozen, it's better to assume the
worst that a complete rebuild is in order. Always keep in mind this is a 40 year old car and most have their original 40 year
old parts. Seals are hard and non-functional, rubber is dry rotted, and bearings may be rusty or pitted with non-use.
the cooling fins on the cylinder barrel and head is a two piece set of metal shrouding fitting together like clam shells.
These are costly and hard to find if missing.
The original carburetor is a one barrel BING model 1/22/98. You may find
someone has tried to adapt something else. All the parts to rebuild the BING are available.
These engines do not have
a filter system for the oil. As a result, regular maintenance was basically ignored and people ran these motors until they
quit. A complete rebuilding will set you back $500-1200, depending on what is needed and how much work you can do yourself.
AND REAR DRIVE
A motorcycle type transmission is bolted to the back of the engine and supported by two rubber mounts.
have found either the transmission works fine or there is a major problem. Most always work fine and just need new seals.
the transmission to the rear chaincase is a pair of rubber drive couplings with a short driveshaft in between the couplings.
that the driveshaft is still there and couplings intact. Any sign of cracking or dry rotting of the rubber is good cause for
Original type couplings are still in production. Cost-under $100 for the pair.
The rear is an enclosed
chain drive with a solid axle similar to a go-cart. This is the reason for the narrow spaced rear wheels.
Not much goes
wrong here other than a broken chain. Again bearings and seals may need replacement.
There are two different
front suspensions on Isettas.
The bubble window model has a horizontal mounted shock style front end, while the sliding
window has a more conventional vertical spring coil over type.
These are not interchangeable between the two models.
bushings in the steering arm, left steering knuckle, and tie rod ends should be checked.
These are rubber encased in metal
with a center metal sleeve. A new set of four-somewhere around $50.
This will take care of most all front-end shimmy. A
new pair of nylon steering column bushings should take care of the rest.
The interior is quite simple
and plain textured cardboard panels cover the inside door, sides, and rear parcel shelf.
A two passenger bench seat and
a rubber floor mat complete the inside.
The dash has one gauge, a speedometer. Three warning lights, an ignition switch,
and a headlight switch is all that remains on the dash.
Your headlight hi-beam switch and directional switch mount on the
The handbrake assembly is mounted on the drivers fender well.
On top of that wheel well is the choke
and heater control levers mounted forward of the shifter.
OPTIONS AND DIFFERENCES
Some of the cars that
you will look at may have a few of the options that were offered.
Inside, outside luggage racks, ash tray, duel sunvisors,
and a grab handle are most common.
There were also rubber pedal pads, wheel trim rings, front and rear mud guards, polished
stone shields, locking gas cap, and a metal cover to protect the pedal linkage.
Hard to find is an original tool kit and
jack with handle.
Don't bother looking for a radio, roof rack or factory tow bar.
Isettas came with either single or
For some reason most all cars imported on the East Coast have a single wiper while the West Coast cars have
duel wipers as standard.
A bubble window Isetta only had a single wiper and never had the fresh air grills in the door.
door grills were another option and the door is different. It is physically interchangeable but has different interior panels
and air vents in it.
Cars may have solid wheels or split two piece rims. Either is correct in a matching set.
in mind all Isettas imported to the United States that you may find will be German BMW Isettas.
The British also made an
Isetta under license but imported them to Canada. British cars will have Lucas electric's and Girling brake components. German
cars will have Bosch electric's and ATE brake parts. They are not interchangeable nor are the parking-directional lights,
bumpers, switches, and other trim.
The engine and some mechanical parts were used by both.
If you live in the U.S.,
the German made BMW Isetta will be relatively easy to find parts for either new or reproduction.
The British Isetta will
most likely have to source out European contacts.
This can become time consuming and expensive.
Parts orders can
take weeks or months and are usually paid in that countries currency.
This is an extra fee from your bank coupled with
shipping costs and customs duty.
You will also find that some foreign suppliers will not ship certain parts to U.S. customers.
Americans are known to be "sue happy", they are subject to extra insurance premiums to cover themselves should a lawsuit arise.
even if a part may be offered for sale, you may not be able to purchase it.
What is it worth?
This is always the age-old
question that buyers and sellers can never agree.
Recently someone bought an Isetta from a family estate sale for $300
while at a Christie's auction, someone else just paid over $33,000.
I'm sure both buyers were happy with their purchase
and both sellers thought it was a bargain.
I think this represents the extremes of the price range.
On a normal scale
for what seems to be realistic here in 1997, I have found this to be a fair guideline:
An Isetta that bas been sitting
for many years, not running, needs a complete restoration,
but is restorable with no major components missing should be
in the $500-1800 range.
An original car that is a daily driver, it runs and drives, needs Cosmetics and upgrades- $2500-5000
restoration with major mechanical rebuilds, new paint and trim in excellent condition but not perfect, $6000-l0,000
finally a frame off professionally done car is pushing the $12,000-14,000 price range.
As you can see I do not overlap
the prices leaving room at either end of the range.
Actual condition, location, and desperation of either party will always
change the prices in any given group.
Remember as new buyer to this type of car don't jump at the first one you find.
You may have only seen these in pictures before and think you'll never find another one again.
A little research will turn
up more examples but don't think they will just fall in your lap.
Join the Microcar & Mini car Club if you are not
already a member, talk to local car club members to see what they may have found or heard of, and don't forget restoration
shops. These people may know of cars they have no interest in. Be sure to check with any Isetta parts suppliers before you
make a purchase to see just what that missing part or rebuild may cost you.
Micro cars are addictive but be forewarned:
fever-catch it and you may become ill!
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