Fancy Fishbowl: 1958 BMW Isetta 300 Cabriolet – Sold?

by | Nov 2021 | Classifinds, Topless Thursday

December 9, 2021 Update – We just confirmed the listing for this “Classifind” expired, so with no replacement found we’re assuming this ride “Sold?” While this one got away, please reach out either by email or call us directly if you’d like to be informed when we come across something similar.

November 13, 2021 Update – Not sure about the motivation to do so, but the private seller just updated their asking price from $25,000 to $27,500.

Take a survey of what was the strangest car BMW ever produced and the overwhelming majority will likely list the Isetta Microcar.  The Isetta with its single, front-opening door, remains an iconic microcar from the 1950s.  On rare occasions when we come across one for sale, they are usually the much more common glass rear window models, many of which feature a canvas sunroof. This 1958 Isettta 300 originally listed in November 2021 on Craigslist in Poestenkill, NY (Troy) is not only the much rarer convertible version, but this example is reported to be only one of 300 equipped with an automatic transmission.

A driver quality example featuring a twenty-three-year-old restoration, the current caretaker just listed their 1958 BMW Isetta 300 Cabriolet for a revised price of $27,500 (the original ask was $25,000).  Checking the Hagerty Insurance Online Valuation Tool confirms this private seller has his Isetta between this guide’s #4 “Fair” (Daily Driver) estimate of $17,800 and its #3 “Good” appraisal of $28,200. We note Hagerty’s value is based on the much more common Coupe version only.  As a second data point, the  Collector Car Market Review Online Tool reveals the private seller has his Isetta priced right at the #3 “Good” estimate of $25,050 for Cabrio models.

Hagerty Insurance provides a nice overview of the Isetta in their valuation guide for these cars:

“Renzo Rivolta was an early adopter of the inventive bubble car style in 1953. The Iso refrigerator magnate created an odd four-wheeled, two-seat Isetta that was powered by a 236-cc, two-stroke twin-cylinder engine. The car was cute and quirky, with a steering wheel that hinged outwards with the front-opening door (a la a refrigerator, naturally).

In 1954, Rivolta sold the whole works – tooling and all –to BMW, who was looking for an economical car with mass appeal to combat the company’s bleak financial picture. Out went the two-stroke twin and in went a 250-cc motorcycle engine. In 1956, the first full year of production, BMW sold 22,000 Isettas. Encouraged by the results, the engine was bumped up to a 297-cc four-stroke single, which turned the car into reliable transportation that was capable of 50 mpg at 50 mph. By 1962, BMW had built 161,728 Isettas, with 41,000 more constructed under license in other countries. BMW soon altered the window arrangement to permit sliding side windows and reduce the goldfish bowl effect of sunshine.

Originally designed with rear wheels 20 inches apart to obviate the need for a differential, tax laws in various countries gave a break to a three-wheeled version, and sales of those units predictably soared. British-built Isettas added a pickup version and a full convertible. All Isettas have a sliding sunroof, supposedly so occupants could get out if the front door jammed. Most Isettas are left-hand drive, as moving the wheel to the right side meant that driver and engine were on the same side of the car, impractically necessitating ballast on the left.

Most BMW Isettas sold in the U.S. survive. For many years BMW was embarrassed at such humble origins and did not manufacture spares, stranding survivors. That situation has been corrected, and though parts may not be cheap, they are at least available. Urban practicality and concerns about the price of gas – plus the cute quotient – have made Isetta a somewhat recent darling. Fully restored examples have topped $40,000 as high-line auctions, but driver-quality cars can still be found at entry-level prices. The Isetta remains a fundamentally sound design, and looks especially attractive in “Easter egg” colors. Unsurprisingly. Isettas must be considered the unlikeliest Mille Miglia entrant, competing twice, in 1954 and 1955, so add event eligibility to the car’s list of attributes.”

This video created by the Blackhawk Museum provides a nice history of the BMW Isetta 300 as well as some modern shots of what it’s like to drive a similar example:

If you’re into Microcars and prefer a version you can actually drive versus an overrestored version better suited to just be admired sitting in your collection, then this may be the Isetta for you.

Here’s the seller’s description:

“Isetta 300 1958 Cabriolet super runner & driver painted 23 years ago has the original title from 1959 other manuals rare auto with only 366 total cars built out of 180,000 all-glass & latches-hinges lights good shape convertible top has a small tear in right rear bottom great investment car always appreciating in value I’ve seen some sell for 77000 by the big auction houses car is located in Troy NY but I will be going to Daytona For Thanksgiving & can deliver if secure payment is made no scammers or texting to your email Phone calls only Call Chuck for more info

Show or go: what would you do with this restored 1958 BMW Isetta 300 Cabrio?  Comment below and let us know!

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