February 19, 2017

Tales from the attic: The Isetta

Sam Smith - The one vehicle with which I am more familiar than, say, Rich DeGrandpre of the sainted R&D Automotive, is the Isetta I drove as a reporter for WWDC & Deadline News Service in Washington in the late 1950s. The Isetta, an Italian import, was far smaller than any car on the road today, and powered by a motor scooter engine. It had four wheels, but they were tiny and the two in back were almost adjacent to each other. You sat in what amounted to little more than a cockpit with barely enough room for a 210-pound reporter and a radio telephone. The door doubled as the entire front end, with the steering wheel swinging out of the way for entrance and egress. More than once I pulled up to a wall or post only to remember that I had blocked my own departure. As Wikipedia notes: “The Isetta caused a sensation when it was introduced to the motoring press in Turin in November 1953; it was unlike anything seen before. Small (only 7.5 ft long by 4.5 ft wide and egg-shaped, the entire front end of the car hinged outwards to allow entry. In the event of a crash, the driver and passenger were to exit through the canvas sunroof. The steering wheel and instrument panel swung out with the single door, as this made access to the single bench seat simpler. The seat provided reasonable comfort for two occupants, and perhaps a small child. Behind the seat was a large parcel shelf with a spare wheel located below. A heater was optional, and ventilation was provided by opening the fabric sunroof.”

The car was only produced for about nine years.

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