The Isetta Saga, Chapter 23: The Isetta Enters Its First Public Car Show

As mentioned in the Isetta Saga Chapter 6, it was at a car show in Ohio in 1992 when I was introduced to the national Microcar & Minicar Club. I became a member, and greatly enjoyed their club newsletter, “Minutia”. The club held an annual convention every year, and the summer of 2000 was the first time since I had joined the club that the convention would be convenient to home.

 

Official show poster. It’s melancholic to see Twin Towers.

The show was planned for Sunday August 12, 2000, at a hotel in Park Ridge NJ, just an hour’s drive from my home in Morristown. I registered for the event, and on the appointed day, got the car on the trailer and the trailer attached to the tow vehicle. During the car’s restoration, I trailered the bare body to and from the body shop; I had also trailered the chassis to several different locales. But I had never trailered the completed car, or any car for that matter! At the Carlisle flea market several years prior, I purchased trailer tie-downs, each rated for 3,000 pounds (a complete Isetta weighs about 770 pounds). I wanted triple assurance that this car wasn’t going anywhere. The straps were wrapped around the chassis both front and rear, and secured to D-rings I had bolted to the trailer floor. With the trailer hooked to the Aerostar, and a final check of functioning trailer lights, we were off.

Newly acquired tow vehicle and trailer

Shades of 1978! As I motored north on Route 287, staying in the right lane, cars and trucks approaching me in the center and left lanes would slow down and match my speed as they caught up to me. The passengers in these other cars would point, wave, smile, laugh, and in some cases, act completely bewildered. The worst was when a driver would become so distracted by the shiny red object that the driver’s vehicle would begin to drift into my lane. I stayed calm, and would acknowledge their attention with a slight smile or wave, but I felt so nervous about my cargo that it was the two-hand death grip and eyes straight ahead almost without exception during the drive.

Looking for a parking spot (photo courtesy of Carol Ladd Hansen)

 

Piloting the machine (photo courtesy of Carol Ladd Hansen)

 

I arrived at the hotel parking lot and got the car off the trailer. It seemed that I was a little late. Almost every spot dedicated to show cars was filled. The organizers put my car in an aisle along with a few others. I decided to walk the show and see what else was on the ground.

Margaretanne and I demonstrate the ample interior room for the crowd

It had been a while since I last attended a microcar show, and I was overwhelmed at the large number of Isettas in attendance. Actually, Isettas looked like the normal cars there compared to the much more unusual microcars on display. There were Messerschmitts, Lloyds, Heinkels, and a couple of miniature woodie wagons. Everyone was very complimentary about my car, and perhaps I was a bit too apologetic about it, exclaiming that it was its first public outing. (A photo of my car made it to the club’s website with the caption “newly restored”.) We stayed for the banquet dinner, made some new friends, and headed home.

 

It’s not an Isetta; it’s a Heinkel Trojan

 

 

Velorex (fabric covered body)

 

 

Lloyd Alexander

 

Morris woody wagon

 

Austin 7 woody wagon (my car directly in front of it)

 

 

Messerschmitt (when your car is barely bigger than your baby stroller)

 

It was a rush to finally show my car in a public setting. It was the kind of event that made the efforts of the previous ten years worthwhile. I was interested in more, and had already taken care of that. Labor Day Weekend was approaching, and that meant the annual Lime Rock Vintage Fall Festival. My car was registered for the Sunday show, and I couldn’t wait.

Flanked by my mom (L) and Aunt Rita (R). Yes, we’re all standing on the same level ground.

 

 

All photographs copyright © 2020 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

The Isetta Saga, Chapter 22: It’s Almost Showtime

The Isetta Saga is back! You didn’t think it was done, did you? In honor of chassis number 509090 returning to the auction stage later this year, the story picks up where it left off. The new owner (and there will be a new owner, as this car is being sold at No Reserve) deserves to have the complete story at hand, so here we go!

With the over-the-top Bubble Party behind me in October of 1995, I was exhausted. It’s not an exaggeration to state that the majority of my free time during the five preceding years was spent on this car’s restoration. Having achieved the mission (“The Isetta Will Drive in ‘95”), I needed to step back for a while. Little did I realize that a while would be A WHILE.

My personal life suffered a momentous setback: I got divorced. This blog is not about sharing those details, but I must acknowledge that it happened. My wife and I separated, we both moved elsewhere, the house we shared was sold, and the Isetta was put into storage. I had no physical or emotional energy to resume work on it, which is a shame because there was so little left to do!

During this time, I continued my membership in the Microcar & Minicar Club, the national organization which supported all small cars with engines of less than 1,000cc (one could fuse together 3 Isetta engines and still be a member). The Club published a great newsletter, full of technical articles and other interesting features, and there still was an annual National Meet, each year held in a different part of the country, but never in the Northeast.

Until 2000.

Sometime in 1999, the M&M Club announced that the “2000 North American International Microcar Rally” would be held in August 2000 in Park Ridge NJ. The town of Park Ridge was less than an hour’s ride from my then-domicile in Morristown NJ. This was the kick in the pants I needed. I would finish the Isetta’s restoration and bring it to its first public show.

Front & rear glass installed, waiting on side glass, sunroof, & bumpers

What was left to do? The Bubble Party video shows a car missing all its glass, its fabric sunroof, and the front bumper horns. With about nine months’ time before the August show, the remaining work didn’t seem overwhelming. The first items to tackle were the front bumpers. One bumper had a tiny dent in an inconspicuous spot, but both bumpers had weak chrome. I dropped them off at a replating service facility in Hillside NJ, which charged $130 to rechrome the pair. They looked great.

Margaretanne washes the egg. Still no sunroof, so be careful with that hose! Note peeking Sunbeam Tiger.

The windshield and rear glass were designed to fit into the rubber seals the old-fashioned way: the glass sat in a groove in the rubber, and the ‘rope trick’ was employed to get them back into place. Using lots of detergent as a lubricant, a rope was placed inside the rubber seal. With the glass placed against the outside of the seal and a second person pushing in on the glass, the rope was gently pulled outward, which lifted the seal’s outer lip up and over the edge of the glass. It was tricky, and it took time and effort, but both glass pieces were reinstalled without breakage.

Proudly I pose as we prep the car for showtime

The side glass was another matter altogether. My Isetta body style is called the sliding-window model specifically because of the way the side windows operate. There are two pieces of glass on each side: the rearmost piece is fixed in place; the front piece slides horizontally. When pushed fully rearward, the front and rear pieces overlap by about 50%. It’s crude in practice, but on a hot day, you need all the ventilation you can get. The entire assembly is held in place by a metal trim piece along the bottom, riveted to the body. The trick, like the front and rear glass, is to enlist another set of hands or two, as the glass, the rubber weatherstripping, the metal trim, and the rivets all need to be aligned and held in place before the first rivet is driven home.

For the sunroof, professional help was again sought. A local convertible top installer was given the original but very worn black vinyl sunroof to use as a pattern. In one of the few deviations from stock, I requested beige Haartz cloth material. They returned the completed sunroof assembly to me, and I installed it on the car, again using the rivet gun to fasten to rear edge to the existing holes in the roof.

The sunroof in the process of being reinstalled

The hubcaps I owned were problematic. They were dented, dull, and I only had three! A set of new reproduction hubcaps was purchased from a domestic Isetta parts supplier, but they didn’t fit my rims. While a set of hubcaps would finish the exterior look, the lack of them wasn’t going to be a dealbreaker for the show.

Finally, I needed a tow vehicle and a trailer. (I had sold the previous trailer when I moved in 1996.)  An Isetta weighs about 770 lbs. if its 3-gallon fuel tank is full, and a 10-ft. open landscape trailer comes in around 300 lbs., so I didn’t need or want a full-size body-on-frame truck for towing duty. At the time, the only other car I owned was the Miata; my daily driver was a Volvo company car, and I usually had little choice of body style. I reasoned that something with some carrying capacity would be handy to have, even when I wasn’t towing anything. An ad in the classified section of the Newark Star-Ledger caught my eye (online ads weren’t a big thing yet): “For sale: 1992 Ford Aerostar van. Original owner. 92,000 miles. $3,900.” I saw it, I test drove it, and I bought it, rationalizing that its RWD powertrain would make it more capable of pulling a trailer (which also made it impossible to drive in the snow). Next, a 5×10 open deck landscape trailer was purchased. A local repair shop installed a hitch on the Aerostar, and I was ready. The Isetta would soon be in attendance at its first car show.

OMG! Someone parked an Isetta on top of a gargantuan statue of one!

 

All photographs copyright © 2020 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

My Old Isetta is Going Back on the Block

In the almost seven years since I sold my Isetta at an RM auction in October of 2013, I occasionally scan the automotive classifieds, both in print and online, wondering if I will come across my former car for sale. Up until a few weeks ago, that search had turned up blank.

My Isetta at the Oct. ’13 RM auction in Hershey PA. Note suitcase on package shelf.

Checking out an email I received for an upcoming RM Sotheby’s auction, I was drawn to what appeared to be an outstanding collection of Italian cars: the expected Ferraris and Alfas but also Autobianchis, Isos, and some rarely-seen Fiats. That’s when I saw it.

An all-red BMW Isetta was part of the sale. Clicking on the photos, I looked for tell-tale signs, the kinds of things that I, having owned the beast for 35 years, would recognize. (I’m fond of an expression picked up from a hobbyist friend, who says of his own car: “I know where the bodies are buried”.) Checking the chassis number was the final proof. I called my wife into the room and showed her the photos.

Wife: “How do you know it’s yours?”

Me: “509090.”

Wife: “Huh?”

Me: “It’s the chassis number. I have it memorized.” (Oh, and still on the package shelf is the ‘50s-era suitcase covered in travel decals which I picked up in an antique store for $10.)

The auction, billed by RM Sotheby’s as “The Elkhart Collection”, is scheduled to take place on October 23 & 24 of 2020. Those are the rescheduled dates; initially the auction was supposed to run in May, and it’s presumed that the coronavirus was the proximate cause of the postponement. At this writing, it’s listed as a “live” auction, however, all RM Sotheby auctions since the global shutdown have been online only. While I’m long out of the business of predicting the future, I would venture to guess without too much risk that this one will revert to the online-only format soon enough.

Here’s how the RM Sotheby’s website describes the collection:

OVER 240 CARS AND WIDE SELECTION OF COLLECTIBLES OFFERED ALMOST ENTIRELY WITHOUT RESERVE

The result of decades of judicious and targeted collecting, The Elkhart Collection – Offered Almost Entirely Without Reserve comprises the most exceptional marques and models in automotive history. The focus is at once broad but highly selective from sporting British and Italian cars to microcars, classics, supercars, modern sports cars, ‘50s convertibles and coachbuilt icons. Stay tuned for the digital catalogue coming soon. To view lot listing, click here

It didn’t take much snooping to get the rest of the story. This is from AutoWeek:

Damn, This Accused Fraudster Has Excellent Taste in Cars

There’s something for everyone in the RM Sotheby’s Elkhart Collection catalog—and with the sale moved to October, you’ve got plenty of time to browse it.

The gist of the AutoWeek story is that this 240+ car collection was amassed by one person, an Indiana businessman named Najeeb Khan, who has now been accused of fraud, although the author is also quick to note that he has not been charged with a crime. But his collection is being liquidated so that he can pay back his creditors.

Personally, I don’t really care about this guy’s personal problems. He has excellent taste in cars, especially of the Italian variety, although the remainder of the collection is also worth a gander. I’ve asked myself if Mr. Khan is the person who purchased my car at the 2013 Hershey auction. While it’s impossible to make that determination from the auction company’s website, I checked the mileage on my car on the date that I sold it, and the mileage shown in the current listing. The Isetta has been driven exactly one mile in the previous 6.5 years. Which is a shame, really, because the car runs well and it’s a blast to drive!

To the new owner, whoever you are: get some new tires. I bought those Michelins in the early ‘90s.

There’s more to discuss about the Elkart Collection Auction in future posts. The discovery of my old car will also spur me to resume the Isetta Saga. There’s lots more to share, and I want all those bidders to have the entire story!

All photographs copyright © 2020 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

 

The Isetta Saga, Chapter 21: The Bubble Party

The Bubble Party was intended to serve as a grand celebration of a singular automobile. The Bubble Party was meant to be a culmination of many years’ effort. The Bubble Party was an excuse to smile, and laugh, and cheer, and have fun. The Bubble Party was a (gentle) poke in the eye to those who thought that the concept of restoring a 13 horsepower car was a silly exercise. The Bubble Party was an excuse to have a party.

The Bubble Party was all this and more.

For once, it wasn’t about the car; well, of course it was about the car, but really it was about the human endeavor. Sometimes I thought that a celebration centered on reaching the finish line was selfish, and egotistical, and boastful, and perhaps there were elements of that. There was honest effort, though, to take the focus away from me, and away from the fact that “the Isetta did drive in ‘95”.

What I knew then, and what I know more than ever now, is that this could not be accomplished by one person. There were so many people, individuals who were already friends, and those who became friends through my dealings with them, who needed to be counted among the co-achievers. And not all of them necessarily touched the car. My father, to name one significant example, had been a lifelong inspiration to me, and helped me in uncountable ways with my technical knowledge and understanding.

So we spent most of September in planning mode. The house was cleaned; the yard was trimmed. Food and drink aplenty were brought in. Bubble Party invitations were sent. We invited everyone: neighbors, co-workers, relatives, friends. We made a point of ensuring that children were included. The town agreed to close the street for the afternoon. The car was set on the front lawn, and covered with a red cloth.

We asked for a beautiful day, and we were given that too. The car was unveiled, and it was the children, more than the adults, who oohed and aahed (after all, it’s sized like a kid’s plaything). I was more than happy to let the parents watch while I offered rides to every child in attendance. I can only hope that some of them remember, and perhaps some of them grew to appreciate old machinery.

This 3-minute video highlights the moment the Isetta was revealed to the crowd:

Then it was over. And autumn arrived, and I was exhausted from the mental effort of getting the Isetta to this point. It wasn’t finished, but it certainly was close. By the end of 1995, I had accomplished what I set out to accomplish.

 

After the Bubble Party, the car was not touched for four years. Final restoration work began anew in 1999, and the car was entered into its first shows in 2000. We will resume the Isetta Saga later this year.
In the meantime, with spring literally a few days away, Richard’s Car Blog will turn its attention to what promises to be a very busy 2019 show season. The next blog post will be a technical treatise on the Alfa Romeo valve adjustment procedure. Stay tuned!

 

All photographs and video recordings copyright © 2019 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

The Isetta Saga, Chapter 20: Prepping for a Party

With its initial drive event behind me, further work on the Isetta slowed. The notebook I kept to track my progress has very few entries for September 1995. The notes which are there make scant reference to exterior lighting and door adjustments. My time and effort was directed to planning a party.

Every milestone of the Isetta’s progress had been marked with a celebration: the first running of the engine, and the body and chassis wedding, to cite two examples. This time, the festivities would be on a much larger scale. The car was as ready as it was going to be for its public unveiling, known as The Bubble Party. The date was set: Sunday, October 1, 1995. We went so far as to petition the town to close our street to vehicular traffic so that the bright red Bubble Machine could be buzzed from one corner to the next without interference. The mayor agreed (I think a small donation helped).

I did take the car out for several more reconnaissance runs, and my ear-to-ear grin gave it away every time: I never imagined that a 13 horsepower car could be so much fun to drive. The only variable not in our control, the weather, was simply ignored. The Isetta was ready, and we would be too.

 

 

All photographs and video recordings copyright © 2019 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

The Isetta Saga, Chapter 19: The Isetta Drives in ’95

The time span between October 21, 1978 and September 4, 1995 is quite long. Very long. It is 16 years, 10 months, and 14 days. The former date represents the day I purchased my BMW Isetta. The latter date represents the day I first drove it.

When I bought the car, I did not think that it would take just shy of 17 years to get to this point. But it did. As I promised myself, the Isetta did drive in ’95.

The video of the first drive was recently unearthed after being hidden away in a closet for many years. Along with the videos posted earlier, I had forgotten I had this, and it has been fun to rediscover it. No further words are necessary. Click on the YouTube link below and enjoy the clip taken on what was a beautiful late summer day.

 

 

 

All photographs and video recordings copyright © 2019 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

The Isetta Saga, Chapter 18: Making the Final Connections

It had been some wedding! The body and chassis were reunited. Now the party was over. The guests had departed. It was time to get back to work and make the reunion more permanent. The upcoming week was a vacation week for me so that I could fully apply myself. It felt as though I were days away from actually driving the creature.

First item on the to-do list: install new sound-deadening material to the interior. The commercially-available products seen in every old car magazine were one choice (Dynamat is one well-known brand). However, they are pricey, even for a car as small as an Isetta. Another issue was my desire to adhere as closely as possible to the original treatment, which resembled tar paper. (The new-fangled stuff is thick and shiny and more appropriate for a drafty ‘50s British roadster or a noisy ‘60s muscle car.)

When conveying my indecision to my neighbor, he gave me a great suggestion: a visit to Home Depot would likely yield a roll of black roofing material which could be purchased for a reasonable number. For $9.97, I bought a roll which could have completed multiple Isettas! The measuring and the cutting began.

 

“30 LB FELT”, a deal at $9.97 (plus tax of course)

 

The wiring harnesses were next. The Isetta has two: a front main harness, and a rear harness. I had earlier disassembled, cleaned, and re-sheathed them, and they were ready to be put back into place. This was a clear case of my earlier photography coming to the rescue, as it was the photos taken during disassembly which portrayed the exact locations and connections for the wiring.

The electrical system of the vehicle is as simple as it gets: front and rear exterior lights, dashboard warning lights, and the starting/charging system. No power seats, no climate control. The test-firing of the engine way back in March of that year meant that I had the battery, Dynastart, and voltage regulator connections down, so with the body resting on top of the chassis, I only needed to bring those wires to their permanent spots.

The ignition switch was a trouble spot. I had an original one, but no key for it. There was a key code on the outside of the cylinder, but efforts to find someone who could create a working key for it were futile. One gent at the local auto parts store was very patient with me as I sought solutions to a car for which he had no listings. We tried several aftermarket ignition switches, but the first few were physically too large to fit within the minuscule dash pod. Finally, he found a switch that fit. He got to know me, and came to be of great assistance on several other small universal parts I needed.

The seat as found

The seat had been sent out to a local upholstery shop. Here, I purposely deviated from original, as American-market Isettas used a patterned vinyl upholstery, and I did not want to sit on vinyl. Instead, I chose a beige corduroy with off-white piping. The beige seat came close to matching the beige fabric sunroof, and since I always like red & beige on Ferraris, I thought “why not?”

Back from the upholstery shop

The steering wheel, column, dashboard, and pedals are a major subassembly unto themselves, and these were bolted into place, with pedals connected to the undercar linkages. To the left of the steering wheel, the shifter was joined to the rear-mounted transmission. Once I readjusted the clutch, I was able to shift into all four forward gears and reverse gear.

Ready for the seat (towels protect inner fender paint)

All the work recounted here took two weeks, bringing me to Labor Day weekend. That Sunday night, September 3, 1995, I discovered that the car’s battery was flat from sitting. I put it on trickle charge overnight. The next day was Labor Day. In the morning, I would attempt to start the Isetta, put it into gear, and be behind the wheel when it would move under its own power for the first time under my 17 years of ownership.

 

All photographs copyright © 2019 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

The Isetta Saga, Chapter 17: The Body & Chassis “Wedding”

During the restoration of the Isetta, a frequent question presented to me was “what motivates you to keep going?” Of course, I wanted to see the project reach a successful conclusion, but setbacks, and there were a few, can be demotivating. There were times I questioned my own sanity, as in, “why am I spending so much time, money and effort to restore a 13-horsepower bubble car from the 1950s that most people have never heard of?” With everyday life (job, family, house) swirling around me, I was occasionally tempted to quit the whole deal.

One of my mantras during this 5+ year stretch was “celebrate your successes”. Reaching certain milestones not only feels great, but the achievement can be shared with others, which then inspires you to keep moving forward.

In August of 1995, I was ready for such a celebration: the Isetta body shell, freshly painted and just back from “The Shop”, was about to be reunited with the mechanically-restored chassis. In a traditional automobile assembly plant, the moment of “marrying” the up-until-then separate body and chassis is called the marriage point. So, in honor of that event’s facsimile, we decided to host a wedding. Before, um, consummating this union, since the shiny and clean chassis was about to be covered up again, a final set of photographs was taken to document its return to as-new glory.

The wedding was scheduled for Sunday, August 20, 1995, and since a wedding must have guests, a small ensemble was invited. (Memory doesn’t recall whether any of the invitees were tipped off that there was work to be done before food and beverages would be served.) The chassis was staged in the driveway just beyond the garage doors, with the body patiently hanging out in the garage on four jack stands.

Five intrepid groomspeople (Chris Beyer, John Maggio, Dennis & Ann Marie Nash, and Don Dahringer) vaulted the body back into the daylight. Spotters were assigned to eyeball the body’s descent so that nothing was injured. It took a few moments to clear all the obstacles, but the (re)union was a success.

A video camera (thanks, John) was rolling to capture the event. You can view a 12-minute excerpt at this YouTube clip here:

Whew! My nervous excitement is palatable to me as I watch myself nervously pace back and forth and around the car. In all seriousness, having a group of friends around me helped alleviate my worries. Once I knew the body shell was resting on the chassis rails, we popped the champagne, ate some BBQ, and of course, shared dessert in the form of a wedding cake:

The end of the push to make “The Isetta Drive in ‘95” was close, really, truly close. The steering, pedals, wiring harness, ignition, and seat all needed to be installed and connected. The motivation was the knowledge that I was perhaps a few short weeks away from driving my Isetta for the first time since buying it as a disassembled heap in 1978.

It almost looks ready to drive. Almost.

 

(Special thanks to my Creative Team pals Cody, Eslam, and Greg for their video-editing assistance. You guys are the DUDES.)

 

All photographs copyright © 2019 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

The Isetta Saga, Chapter 16: The Painted Body Comes Home

Jody Fitzpatrick, proprietor of “The Shop” in Maplewood NJ, had my Isetta in his possession for one day shy of five weeks. His work was completed, done, finished. I breathed a huge sigh of relief if only for his ability to accurately predict his work timeline, originally estimated at “3 to 4 weeks”. This was close enough. There wouldn’t be any restoration shop horror stories in my future.

Chris Beyer, work colleague, neighbor, and friend, had accompanied me when I dropped off the Isetta body. When I told him that it was ready for pick-up, he was ready and willing to join me again.

The date was Friday July 28, 1995. Nothing in my notes or my memory explains how Chris and I both happened to be off from work that day; but we were. It was a sweltering humid day, hotter than the previous days had been during what was already an oppressive summer. Cranking the A/C in my Volvo 850 wagon did little help; nothing was going to cool me enough to dissipate my nervous excitement over seeing the painted shell.

 

Jody’s 2nd and final statement

 

At our arrival, Jody strolled out to greet us, looking and acting nonchalant. “How come HE’S so cool?” I asked no one. Perhaps because he does this every day, and, it’s not his car, and, he just wants to get paid, replied the voice in my head. The body shell, of course, looked perfect, almost too much so. I was afraid to touch it, but with Jody and Chris’s help, we got the same 2x4s bolted back to its underside, and then to the trailer floor.

 

The red 850, ready to tow home the red Isetta (note dolly and plywood in lower right of photo)

 

From ugly duckling to gorgeous swan (obviously, beauty is in the eye of the beholder)

 

Chris and I pose in parking lot of The Shop

 

Jody got his check, I got my receipt and my obligatory photos, and we were on our way. I must have glanced in the rear view mirror about every 12 seconds to make sure the body was still there. At a red light on the way home, several male teens yelled out “hey, it’s the Urkel-mobile!” Oh My God, I thought, am I going to be hearing this for the duration of my ownership of this thing? (The short answer to that question is “yes”.)

 

Back home after a 5-week vacation

 

Soon to be reunited

 

Leaving the 2x4s in place for now, we carried the body into the garage, and back onto my makeshift dolly. I posed it next to the completed chassis, fully aware that in a few days, five years of mechanical work would be covered forever (or at least until the car is re-restored in 2095).

Light buckets and other externals at the ready

What work was remaining before reuniting the body and chassis? The body’s hand-painted underside now had primer overspray on it, so that got yet another coat of gloss red. The headlight and tail light buckets were bolted on. The fuel tank, which had earlier been restored by coating it with Bill Hirsch’s GasTank Sealer, was secured in place. The 2x4s were finally removed, and the body was placed onto 4 jack stands.

Gas tank bolted into place (note fuel tap in upper left)

In an auto assembly plant, the moment when the car’s body, on one conveyor, is lowered onto a complete chassis, arriving on another conveyor, is called “the marriage point”. The Isetta’s 17-year courtship was coming to an end. It was time to host a wedding party and consummate this marriage.

The Groom

 

All photographs copyright © 2019 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

The Isetta Saga, Chapter 15: Documenting the Body Restoration Progress

Jody Fitzpatrick, proprietor of “The Shop” in Maplewood NJ, was my choice to oversee the body restoration of the Isetta for many reasons: he was personally recommended, the business was nearby my residence, his pricing was fair, we had a mutual understanding of what “done” looked like, and his estimated timeframe was reasonable. Another reason is that Jody assured me that I could visit and observe the progress whenever I desired (sort of like conjugal visits for the incarcerated).

Having read more than one “restoration shop horror story” (the car gets pushed to the back, 6 months pass with no progress, the shop demands more upfront money, they lose your car keys, or worst, they close the business and lock the doors with your car inside), having visitation rights was refreshing.

So visit I did.

Three times during that hot July of 1995, I stopped in to have a peek and to snap a few snaps. Jody was always very accommodating and genuinely happy to see me, and gave me free rein to walk around my car and chat up the crew doing the actual labor.

During the first visit, employees were using homemade scrapers to remove the paint. They had decided against chemical dipping or media blasting, fearful of inflicting further damage. They also hammered out any dents and other rough spots, in preparation for some minor welding and an eventual skim coat of putty in spots. (From my own research, I had come to learn that any talk of body repair that doesn’t involve some small use of plastic filler is fantasy.)

THE SHELL IN THE PROCESS OF PAINT BEING REMOVED:

During this visit, Jody and I also finalized the choice of paint color. There was no known “official 1957 BMW Isetta paint code chart” we could refer to, so we did the next best thing. Sampling the unfaded paint we found under the BMW roundel on the door, we matched that to the closest shade among the modern paint code charts in Jody’s possession. We both agreed that the 1995 Ford Mustang shade of “Performance Red” was it. Jody stressed another advantage: should the car need touch-up or repair in the future, the correct paint would be readily available.

Just a week later, I saw the body with all the original paint gone, and the metal work beginning. I had given Jody a recommendation from John Jensen’s Isetta Restoration book for a method to reinforce the rearmost body panel at the tail lights and rear bumper. This section of the shell was not directly attached to the chassis, and was a known weak spot. Jody stated he would use the printed suggestion to add some additional metal in places.

HAND-SANDING THE FILLER AND THE GUIDE COAT:

During this 2nd visit, I pointed out a number of drilled holes which needed to be filled. These included where the dealer-installed mud flaps and luggage rack had been, neither of which were to be reinstalled. (I would later discover one which I missed, requiring the purchase of a somewhat pricey accessory in order to cover it!) Jody’s suggestion of grinding down the visible factory welds at the body panel joints was rejected by me, as I had every desire to keep to an original look.

Like a proud papa, I posed alongside the work-in-progress:

The third visit found the body in full primer. With the metal work done and its flanks as smooth as new, it was not difficult to visualize a freshly painted body shell. Jody had the door and all the other exterior pieces at The Shop, but he also generously offered to hang and align the door for me, something that was not part of our initial negotiation. I brought the freshly-plated door hinges with me so that he could do just that.

THE BODY IN FULL PRIMER, JUST PRIOR TO COLOR COAT:

Perhaps the most exciting aspect was that the work was closely adhering to the originally estimated timeframe. Jody said that it might take a week longer than he hoped, but everything looked to be on track for a final pick-up by the end of July. And there were no “pricing surprises” either. Jody had gotten a $2,000 down payment upon drop-off, and he said that all I owed him at completion was the $2,000 balance plus NJ state sales tax.

A few days later I got the call. “It’s ready whenever you are.” That Saturday, I hooked up the trailer to the car and grabbed my checkbook. We were on our way.

 

All photographs copyright © 2019 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.