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Developed by Renzo Rivolta’s Iso works in Italy as an efficient and affordable form of motorized transportation following World War II, the Isetta was also licensed by BMW for manufacture in Germany. Introduced by BMW in 1955, the Isetta’s unusual ovoid shape brought about the whimsical nickname, “das rollende Ei” – the rolling egg.
The Isetta debuted in 1955 at the Frankfurt Auto Show alongside a giant BMW 505 Pullman Limousine, which must have created quite a scene at the BMW stand. While the Isetta sold quite poorly in Italy, the timing for BMW was perfect, as the little cars quickly became fashionable, and the Bundespost (federal postal service) used them extensively as well. The Isetta also achieved cult status in the United States, and was featured on a number of variety shows.
It was powered by a four-stroke, single-cylinder 298 cc air-cooled engine that was borrowed from BMW’s motorcycle line. With a weight of only 770 pounds, this powerplant was capable of propelling the Isetta to speeds of over 50 miles per hour, while achieving 40 to 45 miles per gallon.
Isettas are only seven feet, nine inches long, including their chrome-plated bar bumpers, and only four and a half feet wide; in all, they are barely larger than a standard sheet of plywood. Owners of these diminutive automobiles were never at a loss for a parking space, contributing to their strong popularity among city dwellers.