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My First Car: Small was beautiful for my Isetta – a lovable bubble car

PUBLISHED: 12:27 29 October 2015 | UPDATED: 12:27 29 October 2015

BMW Isetta.

BMW Isetta.

Archant

It was only small but Helen Armstrong’s Isetta bubble car was a huge hit with her young niece and nephew.

My first car was a ‘bubble car’ – nickname given to them in this country.

It was an Isetta, made by BMW – so I later told people that my first car was a BMW to impress!

It was made even more distinctive because this mondel had four wheels – the rear ones were close together – whereas the usual models were three-wheelers. The four-wheeler version was more stable, so I was advised, but the disadvantage was that it had full road tax, rather than the much cheaper tax on three-wheelers.

This was in about 1957, after I had been on holiday in Germany and Austria where they were all the rage – not only Isettas, but Heinkels and Messerschmitts as well – all bubble cars.

The latter two models had few sales over here, as they of course were the names of makes of German aircraft and wartime memories were still vivid.

I loved my Isetta – the registration was WBJ 213 or 216. It could carry two adult passengers – just – but it was most popular with my young nephew and niece, Katie and Simon, one of whom usually sat on the back shelf. The pictures show how we fitted in and could carry stuff too.

This was in London and the bubble car was easy to park as you simply drove frontwards up to the pavement opened the door in front of you and out you stepped as the length of them was the same as the width of a conventional car.

I used to drive home to my family in Suffolk at weekends, going the backway by Epping, Dunmow, Sudbury and Hadleigh and it would take under three hours or so. I think it took less than two gallons of petrol to do the round trip.

Bubble cars were hideously dangerous of course – hard to see among traffic, slower and there was nothing except a thin door to protect your legs and body if you collided with anything. I would be terrified to drive one now but I’m 85 now and gave up driving four years ago.

Tell us about your first car – email your first car memories, with a picture, to motoring@archant.co.uk

2 comments

  • I bought a 1957 Heinkel 175cc bubble car in 1963, as I wasn't getting much joy with the opposite sex with my AJS 650cc motorcycle. Trouble was that it broke down on several occasions and it took ages for the parts to come through, so it didn't really help my situation. I once had five people in it on a trip from Felixstowe to Ipswich - 3 in the front including me and two crouched on the engine cover behind us. When the battery went flat, I'd push start it in reverse gear, with the front door open and then have to jump on board when the engine fired! Mad or what! My dear mother asked for a lift into Ipswich one day and was terrified by the huge bus that I followed rather too closely. She never asked again. I sold it to a mate at work who, despite my warnings, would rev the engine in first and second gears, with the inevitable result that the crankshaft broke up and FPV was no more.

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    RhondaK

    Thursday, October 22, 2015

  • my first car was a Trojan bubble car.[ about 1964]I still drive a reliant robin and go to devon on holiday every year [ used to go to cornwall as well , but have now got lazy driving legs]I am nearly 82 years old.

    Report this comment

    TERENCE MANNING

    Thursday, October 22, 2015

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