The BMW Isetta Saga, Chapter 1: Finding your car in the Road & Track ads

Happy New Year! January 2018 brings us near the completion of three years of Richard’s Car Blog. Post #1 was February 2015, and we’ve managed to publish 144 more since then. Thanks to all of you for your readership, and your comments, whether sent to the site, to my email, or delivered to me in person. The support is greatly appreciated.
All my blog posts relate to either my automotive career, or my immersion in the car hobby (which really started as an obsessed two-year-old). I’ve gone back to reflect on my dad’s cars, and I’ve posted rally and auction results within days of participation.
There is one vehicle, a car that I owned for 30 years, which has yet to be the subject of a blog post (although it has been mentioned in passing). Many of you know that I owned and restored a 1957 BMW Isetta. Unlike what you see on TV, the restoration didn’t take 60 minutes. In my case, 17 years elapsed between purchase and my first drive.
So we’ll kick off 2018 by launching the Isetta Saga. Memory-triggering is helped by my photo collection (plus the fact that I’m, like, really smart). Chapter 1 will be followed by umpteen more, taking us through much of this winter, as we patiently await for Spring Carlisle in April. Thanks again for reading along.

In October of 1978, I was 24 years old, living at home with my parents, and was all of two months into my job as an apprentice mechanic at Autosport, a Volvo/Honda/Alfa Romeo dealership in Somerville, NJ. I had become fast friends with a parts counterperson named Don Krech, whom I met when I started working there in August. Don and I were the same age, and shared similar interests in cars and music.

One day that month, the November issue of Road & Track magazine, to which I subscribed, arrived in the mail. I noticed an ad in MARKET PLACE, their classified ad section:

R&T, Nov. ’78. Look in the 2nd column, 3rd ad.

I brought the magazine to work and showed it to Don. The ad had neither a phone number nor street address (only a PO Box), yet we almost immediately decided to make the 8-hour one-way drive together, on the presumption that we would figure it out when we got there. Our plan was to depart late that Friday in order to arrive in Moscow VT early on Saturday morning.

Don played guitar in a band, and he had a gig that Friday. After the gig, I met Don at the dealership and, leaving my VW Rabbit there, climbed into his yellow Toyota Corolla SR-5 Liftback. We departed central New Jersey around 1 a.m. on the morning of Saturday October 21, 1978, headed for Moscow Vermont. We had paper maps, a bunch of music cassettes, some money, and precious little else with us.

Don did most of the driving. Even though I had caught a few hours shut-eye after getting home from work, I was tired, and I typically don’t do well when challenged to stay awake all night. We kept each other going by blasting The Cars’ first album on the Toyota’s stereo.

We arrived in the hamlet of Moscow, just outside the better-known ski resort of Stowe, around 9 a.m., groggy from lack of sleep, and convinced that we should have no trouble finding a Mr. “W. Turner” in a town so tiny. But first we found coffee.

We stopped several people on the street and inquired “do you know a W. Turner?” By the time we asked the fifth person, we got a semi-intelligent answer: “oh yeah, he lives in that corner house with the Honda on the front lawn”. Sure enough, on our way into town, we had driven past a Honda 600 up on jack stands, and joked that this must be his place. It was.

We knocked. An older gentleman answered the door, and responded in the affirmative to the question “Are you W. Turner?” When we told him that we were there in response to the Isetta ad, he was shocked. But he shrugged his shoulders, told us the cars were in a barn a mile away, and instructed that we should follow him in his Toyota pickup truck.

Wes Turner emerging from his Toyota. We are about to see the Isettas for the first time.

The barn door yawned wide, allowing daylight to hit its inner surfaces for the first time in who knows how long. What little light there was revealed a number of Isettas scattered about on the dirt floor, none of which was completely assembled. Some had all their glass, some did not. Various Isetta-ish-looking parts were on the cars’ floors. We sort of made out an engine or two. One Isetta had a Vermont license plate. From 1965.

What we saw in that barn should have sent us scurrying back to New Jersey.

But it did not. As two naïve 24-year-olds, all we saw was potential: here were three BMW Isettas, plus an extra body without a chassis, as the ad described. We weren’t horrified! We were delighted. They were small; they were cute; and they certainly gave the impression of being easy to restore.

We didn’t ask if he had titles (he didn’t); we didn’t ask if there was any wiggle room on the $650 asking price; we forked over a deposit of $100 (amazed in retrospect that we had that much cash between us), and told Wesley D. Turner that we’d be back up “in a few weeks” to drag our new treasures home.

This signed deposit receipt was the only proof we had that we bought Wes’ Isettas

 

 

Wes was always an enigma to us; he gave us this card, but we still didn’t have his number

We departed Moscow around 12 noon to head home. At no point during the 8-hour return trip did Don and I A) talk about exactly how we would “divide” the spoils among us; or B) try to figure out exactly how we would drag these admittedly tiny vehicles back south.

Here’s the entirety of what we knew: it was already late October, and if we were going to bring any of it home in 1978, it had better be before winter weather hit.

Don got me back to the dealership and my car around 8pm. I made the 45-minute drive home and went straight to bed, knowing I’d see Don at work on Monday, when we would resume our plans.

Stay tuned for Chapter Two: Fetching Your Isettas in Several Easy 16-Hour Round Trips

 

All photographs copyright © 2018 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

FUN FACT OF THE WEEK

The Isetta was not a BMW design, but originated in Italy, brought to market by a company called Iso. The original Iso Isetta was a commercial flop. (The name Isetta is Italian for “Little Iso”.) Iso had better success in the 1960s with the Iso Rivolta and Iso Griffo, hybrids with Italian design and American V8 muscle.

3 thoughts on “The BMW Isetta Saga, Chapter 1: Finding your car in the Road & Track ads

    • Hi Bob, indeed, the entire idea of this “adventure” sounds overwhelming to me today. Thank goodness for youthful exuberance. However, I often reflect on how different my life would have been had I not made the purchase and restored that car! (Although hindsight has me wondering why I didn’t hunt down a Fiat Dino Spider….)
      Regards, Richard
      PS I thought that you of all people would have commented on the “joke” in paragraph 4 of the preamble….

      Like

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