As mainland Europe picked themselves up from the ravages of the Second World War, those members of the public who could afford to buy and run a new car were looking for something far away from the luxury class.

One of the more unusual vehicles to spring up during this austere and challenging period for the European car industry was the ISO SPA Isetta, reputedly Europe's first " microcar." 

Milan, Italy based ISO, who sprang to prominence in the pre-war years as manufacturers of refrigerators, had begun to experiment with motor scooters during the late Thirties.

Taking their experience in micro-engineering to the next level, in the late Forties, ISO released the Isetta microcar, or "bubble car" as it became rapidly known, which succeeded in creating tremendous interest.

Soon a number of  European manufacturers began to develop their own version of the bubble car, BMW included. However, none of them managed to hit the sales levels of the Isetta.

With demand for the Isetta spreading like wildfire throughout Western Europe, ISO took the inspired decision to license production to manufacturers across the continent, with BMW being their first choice in West Germany.

In 1954, ISO and BMW signed their licensing contract, with the West Germans taking the arrangement a step forward by snapping up ISO's tooling charts for the three-wheel micro mini.  BMW saw the release of the Isetta as filling a gap between their motorcycle range and the luxury 501 models. 

BMW made an immediate return on their investment by rapidly re-engineering the Isetta to much higher standards. The first step was to fit the Isetta with a  single-cylinder 250cc, four-stroke engine currently in use in their R25/3 motorcycle, linked up to an in-house designed drivetrain while the front suspension underwent a revamp.  

After this considerable revamp, especially for such a small and utilitarian vehicle,  the BMW Isetta 250 went on the market in April 1955, remaining in production in more or less the same format until 1962.

The Isetta 250 was an immediate success, with ten thousand sold within six months of launch. The public was particularly drawn by the bubble car's fuel economy-  with the car capable of providing 60mpg and even a top speed of 50mph, although driving at such speeds in the 250 for too long was not for the faint of heart.

One of the most popular misconceptions relating to the  BMW Isetta was that it was a fundamental three-wheeler, all the car ran on four wheels. 

In fact, the Isetta's was fitted with two front and rear wheels, although the back wheels were placed very close to each other, as the car was not equipped with a differential.

In 1956, the West  German government eventually began to pay attention to these thousands of bubble cars buzzing around their city streets and decided that it was time to reclassify them.

The upshot was that the Class IV license category, which the BMW Isetta 250 cc sat comfortably in, would only be used to class motorcycles and would no longer cover motor cars, especially those with an engine capacity of  250 cc or less or a maximum capacity of 300 cc.

Sensing an opportunity, BMW decided to give the Isetta a major revamp, which hastened the arrival of the 300cc engined Isetta in early 1956. 

For the BMW Isetta 300 the engineers simply enlarged the single cylinder to arrive at a displacement of exactly 298 cc; raising the engine power level to 10 kW (13 hp) at 5200 rpm.

>Later in 1956, BMW introduced the Moto Coupe DeLuxe,a sliding-windowed version of  Isetta.

`The iconic bubble windows were replaced by longer, sliding side windows, in the process, according to many Isetta followers of the time, causing the car to lose much of its charm.

The Isettas continued to be steady sellers throughout the Fifties till they were eventually usurped by the " Minis" that began to appear towards the end of the decade, in particular, the original Mini from  BMC, followed closely by the Fiat 500.

Going into the Sixties, with the European economy on the upturn, BMW  saw the writing on the wall for the Isetta era, winding down production in the summer of 1962.

The Isetta's part in BMWs history can only be described as fundamental, keeping their factories in operation, with the Munich plants producing over 160,000  versions of the extended micro car during a period that the company's fortunes were particularly unstable.

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