Great Classic Cars: 1957 BMW Isetta

Great Classic Cars: 1957 BMW Isetta

There are those rare classic cars that are total eye-catchers resulting in double-takes. You know the kind,…’55 Aston Martin DB3S, ’63 Shelby Cobra, and ’57 BMW Isetta. The last one, in case you’re not familiar with it, is rather unique, and happens to be locally owned by Marketplace creative director, Scott Westgate of Bethlehem.

Scott’s interest in cars started with his father. Regaled by his dad’s stories of a simpler time, including how he changed the transmission of his 1956 Bel Air by dropping it onto his chest and the countless adventures with his mother’s 1956 VW Beetle, Scott got the car bug. “I think genetically I got it from my Dad, although while he prefers German cars, I developed an affinity for small British and Italian cars,” Scott says.

When he was a teenager, Scott’s father took him to Quakertown’s annual car show, and there he saw an MG Midget in person: it was “love at first sight” for this car guy! Scott ended up buying one of his own when he was in college, and it became a father/son project over the next year to get it back on the road.

But we’re here to talk about Scott’s other classic car: the 1957 BMW Isetta. He was always been aware of the car, however, it wasn’t until he showed a documentary to his then girlfriend (now his wife) that she fell in love with it. “She is a toy designer and was taken by something that is essentially a life-sized toy car,” Scott shared.

BMW produced only 161,360 Isettas during its production run from 1953-1962. Of those, 8,500 were exported to the USA, and it is estimated only 1,000 of those still survive today. Interestingly, the Isetta is powered by a single-cylinder motorcycle engine and has a whopping 13 horsepower!

It took Scott six months of looking until he discovered one that fit the bill in Michigan. Keeping it a secret from his wife-to-be, he purchased it, sight unseen, and had it shipped to his home in Bethlehem. In October 2014, it arrived on a trailer, and it took Scott the next few months to get it safe and roadworthy, changing out the tires, rebuilding the brakes, fixing the horn, and some other odds and ends. The timing worked out, so Scott was able to complete the work before Christmas.

He shared, “I revealed the car to her on the Sunday morning before Christmas and took our first ride together in it to church.” He added: “She’s not into cars that much but she’s into this one!”


Want to dip your feet into the classic car scene? Follow these sure-fire suggestions to motor along like a champ!

Do your research! Check online forums specializing in the desired car to understand model and parts information on sites before placing bids, as well as pricing and values. There may be local car clubs that can provide beneficial resources too.

“Make sure they are still making parts for your car,” Scott says. If it’s a foreign car, there may be extra costs to import them. Even a classic car will need parts for routine maintenance and knowing the availability will avoid headaches.

Finally, Scott suggests keeping a local mechanic on speed dial for those times when you’re in over your head. He’s had to do that a few times! If the car you’re buying isn’t made anymore, you’re looking for a mechanic with specialized skills. Scott takes both of his classics to K&T Vintage Sports Cars in Bethlehem, whom he highly recommends.


It’s very small—so small you could even park perpendicular to the curb, if necessary! There is only one door, and it opens in the front along with the steering wheel swinging out of the way with it. Although BMW bought the rights to the design to manufacture it, it was initially designed by Iso, an Italian company, who made refrigerators at the time. So the door in the front made sense!

The shifter for the 4-speed manual transmission is on the left side of the driver, instead of the right. And the gears are in reverse order, with 1st gear down and to the right. So, not only do you have to use your left hand to shift, but it’s in a reversed shifting pattern! Also, there is no gas gauge. For that reason, Isettas were fitted with a “reserve” fuel supply that could be accessed via a lever inside the car.

Scott’s taken the Isetta to car shows, even winning Best in Show at the Quakertown Community Car Show a few years ago. One final item he wanted to mention: there is a Swiss company that is revitalizing the iconic Isetta design in electric form:

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