The Isetta Saga, Chapter 12: The Engine Starts for the First Time

Dear Readers,

Those of you who have followed this Isetta Saga have endured 11 chapters of a story that has covered parts of three decades. You’ve read about the initial discovery of these tiny cars, first in a magazine ad, then in a Vermont barn. You learned that I’m very good at letting a few years (like, ten) go by without any work transpiring. You saw that getting my own garage gave me the work space I longed for. My pictures illustrated progress with dismantling and restoring major components such as the chassis, engine, and rear axle.

At what point, dear readers, did you ask yourselves:

WHEN IS THIS THING GOING TO RESEMBLE A CAR?

Can’t say as I blame you. If you didn’t know better (and I have yet to prove that you will), you might conclude that the freshly-painted engine is destined for a museum display cabinet. And “rolling chassis”? Please. The cynics out there (I know who you are) are thinking “just throw a sheet of plywood on it and use it as a garden cart”.

But are we any closer to actually taking it for a drive? Let’s recap the two most recent chapters. Chapter 10 included the story of the combo starter-generator known as the Dynastart. Its renewed wiring was complete, even if it was yet to be reinstalled onto the crank nose. And Chapter 11 displayed photos of a Dynastart-less engine bolted to the chassis, with a complete transmission and final drive axle right behind it. The next steps were to install the Dynastart, obtain a voltage regulator and battery, and pick up a quart of fuel at the local gas station. Oh, and then try to start it.

Any book about the internal combustion engine will tell you that provided your internals are mechanically sound, only three things are needed to start an engine: air, fuel, and spark.

I made a checklist.

  • Air: check. (My backyard had an abundance of it, and there were no obstructions in front of the carb.)
  • Fuel: check. (The Isetta has no fuel pump. Someone just needed to hold a funnel higher than the carb, and pour fuel into it while a hose ran to the carb.)
  • Spark: check. (If I was correctly reading John Jensen’s Isetta Restoration, touching certain wires from the Dynastart and the voltage regulator to a 12 volt source would crank the engine and deliver spark to the plug.)

 

Heavy red cable feeds Dynastart; voltage regulator is temporarily clamped to chassis

 

On Sunday, March 26, 1995, I rolled the chassis out of the garage and into the backyard. Enlisting the help of my friend John M and his 10-year-old son Nick, we poured fuel into the funnel, and touched wires to the battery.

John not only lent the services of his son, perched as he was on a step stool for this grand experiment; John also had a video camera set up, ready to record the scene live as it happened.

This long-hidden VHS tape was recently rediscovered and transferred to DVD. Please click on the YouTube link below so that you may verify the results with your own eyes:

I assure you that these moments were not rehearsed. Once I remembered to supply sufficient fuel to the carburetor, the engine actually started on the first try. The fist-pumping at the end was a spontaneous display of exuberance, a reflexive reaction to the sheer joy of the moment. The feeling was indescribable; it certainly energized me to keep pushing myself to complete the car in the few short months I had remaining to meet my own self-imposed deadline.

 

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

The next chapter in the Isetta Saga starts the hunt for an affordable repair shop to take on the body and paint restoration. Note I said “affordable”.

 

 

 

One thought on “The Isetta Saga, Chapter 12: The Engine Starts for the First Time

  1. […] In Chapter 12, it was early spring 1995, and the blog post contained video evidence which proved that the “thumper”, as one-cylinder engines are sometimes called, would start and run. You could say that this completed the mechanical portion of the restoration. Of course, there were “mechanical” elements to be addressed once the body and chassis were reunited, such as pedal and shifter linkages, gauges, lights, and so on, but, the running chassis was essentially done. […]

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