How the Isetta saved BMW from bankruptcy

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Iso Rivolta not only made refrigerators, but also mini-cars. There was a three-wheeled model called “Iso Isetta”, with a massive swinging door at the front that looked like a refrigerator door. BMW executives not only purchased the licensing rights for the Isetta, but also the production equipment. He began manufacturing the car immediately, with the first BWM Isetta 250s rolling off the production floor in April 1955, just a year after the auto show.

Until then, BWM was known for its luxury performance cars, but it was a very different kind of vehicle. Early models featured a modified 250cc four-stroke engine taken from his R25 motorcycle. This single cylinder was only capable of generating 12 horsepower. While the German company kept the original Italian name, they added a fourth tire to their version, with the rear wheels only 19 inches apart. This “microcar” was just 4.5 feet wide and 7.5 feet long, with a single door in the front for its two occupants – and only two occupants – to enter. The car was so small that people only needed a motorcycle license to drive it.

BMW sold 10,000 cars in the first year of production and that became just what the company needed to avoid financial ruin. A total of 161,728 Isettas were sold during its 8 years of operation, making it the best-selling single-cylinder car in the world.

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