The Isetta Saga, Chapter 30: Two Events in 2009

It turned out to be an eventful year, 2009, which in retrospect was no surprise at all. It started with me (again) telling my bosses at Volvo that I had every intention of taking voluntary retirement in December, to which they continued to react with disbelief. My recent promotion to Manager of Technical Engineering kept me busy, and my own work ethic wanted to ensure that I would depart without leaving unfinished assignments for others to clean up. I was informed that there would be at least one more business trip to Sweden, likely my last. Finally, I would be turning 55 in March, not a major milestone in my mind, but one that still deserved some reckoning.

I still had the ’68 Mustang, and I still had the Isetta, both tucked safely away in the garage. I had toyed with the idea of selling the Isetta, and even ran a few print ads, which got zero response. Since participation in the New England 1000 classic car rally seemed to be on hiatus for now (we last drove in it in 2007, and wouldn’t again until 2013), I continued to search for new opportunities to show the Isetta. The first such opportunity of the year came about when I saw an ad for the Readington Township Memorial Day parade: the parade organizers were looking for “old cars”.

Various old clunkers are staged before the parade’s start

My entry was accepted, and we trailered the car to the assembly area, a local strip mall. (In fact, we live in Readington Township which is quite large. I considered driving the car there but it would have meant crossing several major thoroughfares.) The variety of vehicles in the parade confirmed for me that there were no limits to vehicle type, as long as the cars were “old”. Volunteers handed us the obligatory red, white & blue accoutrements, and we were off.

Yes, a VW Beetle IS larger than a certain BMW

 

The King and Queen of the parade pose for a pic

 

 

Appropriately attired, we’re about to take off

 

You can’t be an introvert and ride in an Isetta during a parade

 

The challenge with driving an old car in a parade is maintaining an appropriate speed. Too fast, and you’ll zoom by spectators who’ll barely get to see their reflections in your shiny chrome. Too slow, and you might overheat, or, if you’re driving a stick, you may find yourself slipping the clutch. This parade was S-L-O-W. I had trouble maintaining a steady pace of, oh, about 2.5 mph. More than once I would pop it into neutral and coast, even if that meant leaving a greater distance between my car and the car in front of me. Nevertheless, it was a delightful parade, with Main Street lined with the cheering residents of Readington. The tortoise-like pace, though, bored me, until I got the bright idea to throw the door open while driving. The car can still be steered, however, the door opens both outward AND upward, which blocked my forward view. It was worth it, though, because the crowd (ok, just the kids) went wild with screams and laughter every time I did that.

A different kind of horsepower

Later that summer, I dragged the little red bubble to the Boonton Cruise Night, a Friday tradition in northern NJ. Boonton’s affair is possibly typical for a suburban cruise night, set in the large parking lot of a strip mall anchored by a WalMart, so there’s plenty of regular traffic along with that generated by the car nuts. A pizzeria kept us nourished with food and caffeine, and a few friends showed up. This September outing was the second and final one for the Isetta in 2009. In December, as promised, I retired from Volvo Cars of North America after 23 years of employment. I had no idea what I would do in 2010, but I certainly hoped to have more free time to play with cars.

Two red cars, one just slightly more powerful – note the Isetta Jeopardy board on display

 

The view from the folding chair

 

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

The Isetta Saga, Chapter 27: The Metuchen NJ Cruise Night, Aug. 2006

The collector car hobby experienced tremendous growth during the latter part of the 20th and early years of the 21st centuries, a good part of which was fueled by small town “cruise nights”. The name is certainly a misnomer: participants aren’t cruising anywhere except into the town or lot where the evening show is being held. Each owner finds a parking spot while the general public wanders among the vehicles. It’s a nice way to spend a warm summer evening.

Compared to larger and more formal car shows, cruise nights have proven to be simpler to organize and run. Vehicles are usually not limited by make, model, or age; spectators do not pay a fee for the privilege of attending; weekday evening time slots makes it family-friendly and possible to sample while still arriving home at a reasonable time; and maybe best of all, local towns have benefited as restaurants, bars, and retail stores stay open during cruise night hours to service the increased foot traffic.

Sometime during the summer of 2006, my friend Richard Sweeney let me know that his hometown, Metuchen NJ, was hosting a monthly cruise night on the first Wednesday of each month, and he suggested that the Isetta would be a hit there. I had become friendly with Richard because his wife and my wife worked together for many years. Richard and I got along, but I would never describe him as a “car guy”. Yet, he knew about my Isetta, and from our conversations, I sensed that he was more interested in the public’s reactions to my car than he was interested in the car itself. Wednesday would be somewhat difficult, as Metuchen is 45 minutes from my house, and I didn’t relish getting home too late with work the next day, but I agreed, really for Richard’s sake, as he was genuinely excited at the prospect.

On the appointed night, my wife and I drove to Metuchen. Like the Friday night Somerville cruise night, Metuchen cordoned off its downtown Main St. and reserved street parking for show cars. After parking the tow rig and trailer and unloading the Isetta, I drove the Isetta along Main St., snagging one of the last available parking spaces.

Women practically lined up to pose with the car and me

 

This event was also the debut of a board game I created called Isetta Jeopardy. At every previous showing of this car, I was struck how show-goers repeatedly asked the same questions. I found myself reciting the same answers so often that I wondered if I should make up a sign with all the answers preprinted. This gave birth to the idea of a game whereby, when a question was asked, I would point to a board which would have a dozen different numbers on it. I would then challenge the questioner to guess which number correctly answered their question. The numbered “answer” would then be raised to reveal the “question”, a la the real Jeopardy game.

The Isetta Jeopardy board game

A few weeks before the cruise night, I revealed the Jeopardy game to Richard, and not only did he enjoy it, he committed all the answers to memory (a brilliant man, he was the Chief Librarian at NJIT, the New Jersey Institute of Technology), and, he volunteered to be the one to work the crowd that night! I made sure to pack a folding table so we had somewhere to place the game.

Richard Sweeney (in blue shirt) about to reveal an answer

 

Richard patiently awaits the audience’s best guess

Of course, the crowd loved the Isetta, and the usual questions arose. “How much did this cost new?” “How many were sold in the U.S.?” “What does it weigh?” Although I had known Richard for years and had always observed him to be mild-mannered, he was a different animal that night. Overhearing the crowd’s questions, he practically pulled people over to the Isetta Jeopardy display and dared them to pick the right answer. I’m not sure which Richard was having more fun.

From this angle, it appears that the tandem bike’s wheelbase is longer than my car’s

The cruise night continued well past sunset, and it was shortly after dark when a Corbin Sparrow pulled in behind me. The Corbin was a one-passenger all electric “commuter car”, and the owner, an enthusiastic young man, told me he was driving by when he saw the Isetta and had to stop. The Corbin was within 3 inches of the Isetta’s total length, and while the electric Corbin beat my little bubble for efficiency, I must point out that the Sparrow is strictly a one-passenger vehicle, while my Isetta, at least in a pinch, could fit three people (provided they really liked each other).

Corbin Swallow parked behind my Isetta – note motorcycle license plate

Some cruise nights have awards, and if they do, it’s “People’s Choice”. Well, the Isetta won. “We” got the proverbial blue ribbon, and I really wanted Richard to have it because of his relentless enthusiasm. But he wouldn’t hear of it. Richard Sweeney, the non-car guy, got full immersion into the sociological impact that a BMW microcar can have on the public. This was the first, but would not be the last time that Richard would join me and the Isetta at an automotive event.

The Blue Ribbon Award!

 

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

 

 

 

 

The Isetta Saga, Chapter 26: A Return to Form in 2004

After two consecutive years of successfully showing the Isetta at several shows, two of which involved a lengthy drive to Connecticut, I was ready to take some time off from the circuit. A glance through my photo archives reveals little participation in automotive events of any kind for the years 2002 and 2003. In the autumn of ’03, I purchased the 1968 Mustang California Special, which made me feel like I was cheating on the Isetta. Now I had to divide my attention between two cars, and the Mustang beckoned, not only because it was newer, but also because a trailer was not required. The medium-term plan was to drive the Mustang in an upcoming New England 1000 rally, a task that the Isetta was sadly not up to.

Before I knew it, it was 2004, and three years had passed since showing the little red car at Greenwich in 2001. Concours rules said “a vehicle displayed at Greenwich is eligible for showing every three years”, so I applied and was accepted.

Rain or shine, it was car show time

 

My Isetta with its BMW brethren

This time, my BMW was correctly placed in the same display circle as the other BMWs. But that was about the only happy element of the event. It was a day of miserable weather, with a steady cool rain which kept spectators away. My wife and I were dressed for the occasion, and worked to make the best of it.

My wife Margaretanne was a trooper for tolerating the weather

Parked directly next to my car was a BMW 600 (often incorrectly referred to as an “Isetta 600” –its officially name is “BMW 600 Limousine”). From the front, most people mistake it for an Isetta. It does share its front-hinged door and pivoting steering column with its little brother. Built on a slightly longer wheelbase, the 600 included a 2nd row of seats, one side door for access to that row, and most importantly, a two-cylinder boxer engine displacing about 600 cc.

The differences between the 600 (L) and 300 (R) are obvious here

The 600 is an interesting vehicle in BMW’s history. With the runaway success of the Isetta on a global scale (ultimately, 160,000 units produced, which made it BMW’s largest-volume model to date), company management wanted that success to be a springboard to a larger model, presumably to attract a bigger audience. Unlike the Isetta which was designed by the Italian firm Iso, the BMW 600 was designed in-house. Complaints that the Isetta was too small, underpowered, and lacked passenger room were all addressed in this larger model. Alas, the public did not respond in kind. Produced from 1957 to 1959, only 35,000 units were sold. The silver lining is that the 600 begat the “normal looking” BMW 700, which begat the Neue Klasse cars, and the rest, as several million people before me have said, is history.

The BMW 600, which some feel is less cute than the 300

Back to the car at the show: the young woman who piloted the 600 there was not the owner. She claimed that the car was owned by her boss, and he asked her to bring it to the show. Yet she seemed to be well-versed in its history. She had no issue with the idea that she would be driving her boss’s 600 back in the rain!

She was more than happy to display her boss’s 600

Awards were announced, and what’s this? No award for the Isetta this year? Hey Bruce, what gives? I was getting used to the accolades. Oh well, I told myself, I’m not here for the trophy, I’m here for the experience.

A few months later, I decided to bring the Isetta to the Somerville (NJ) Cruise Night, held every Friday between Memorial Day and Labor Day (and weather permitting, extended for as long as cars show up). This time, my stepson accompanied me, and assisted with trailer duties and photography. Like many cruise nights, there is no pre-registration, and parking on the street is on a first-come, first-served basis. We parked the trailer several blocks away, and got to drive the Isetta on some local streets through town. Luckily, as soon as I turned onto Main St., the show’s location, a parking spot appeared.

Stepson John takes first known photo from inside my moving Isetta

 

Just another red car out for a cruise

 

Managing to avoid Dodge Durango while turning onto Main St.

 

Blowby from tractor-trailer threatened to flip Isetta

It’s one thing to look at the Isetta and say “that thing is small”. It’s another thing to park it adjacent to other vehicles and see how truly tiny it is.

Isetta’s length matches hood of Torino behind it

As has been the trend, I spent much of the evening answering what seemed to be the same half-dozen questions:

  • Is this thing street-legal? (Sure, I drove it here)
  • How much horsepower does it have? (Thirteen, but a healthy 12-year-old boy on a bicycle can outdrag me)
  • What the top speed? (50 mph, downhill with a tailwind)
  • What kind of gas mileage does it get? (60 miles per gallon, so the 3-gallon tank gives me a cruising range of 180 miles)
  • How many people can you fit in there? (Two, but they really have to like each other)

 

The Isetta was proving to be a consistent attraction

The repetition was encouraging me to shoot back the same zany answers every time. By 9 p.m., it was time to get the Isetta back on the trailer. At least home was only eight miles away.

Later that year, while attending Hershey, I saw a beautiful yellow Isetta at the show. This was the germination of an idea: perhaps I could look into entering my Isetta at a future AACA event….

Taken at AACA Hershey 2004

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

 

Boonton NJ Cruise Night, August 10, 2018

The Boonton (NJ) cruise night has been a Friday night tradition in that town’s WalMart parking lot for at least a decade. Known for its ability to draw upwards of 300 cars, the show on Friday August 10th of this year was well below capacity, possibly in part due to vacation season, but more likely a result of a sudden change in the afternoon’s weather from sunny and hot to cloudy and threatening.

This was my first time back to Boonton in several years, and I enjoyed the smaller number of cars and trucks as well as the lighter crowds. It made for a very relaxing evening. Oh, and it sprinkled for about 5 seconds, causing a small number of drivers to jump in their rides and split. It was their loss, as the evening stayed dry.

Cruise nights in general have a greater variety of vehicles on display. By that I am referring to a large mix of pre- & post-war, stock & custom, and original & restored. It provides a chance to look over cars that I otherwise might not go out of my way to see. If there was one ‘class’ of vehicle lacking, it would be imports. I could count on one hand the number of non-domestic vehicles on display. That made the few there all the more interesting.

The pictures below are displayed in random order, which is how the vehicles are parked, unless family members or friends arrive together. (Although if you didn’t know better, you’d think that the night’s festivities were sponsored by the local Buick club.) Enjoy the photo-documentation of this classic NJ cruise night.

1941 Buick Roadmaster sedan

 

1948 Pontiac Silver Streak

 

1965 Buick Gran Sport

 

1967 Buick Gran Sport

 

1968 Buick Gran Sport

 

1958 Dodge Coronet

 

1967 Ford Mustang

 

Buick Reatta convertible

 

1953 Chevrolet

 

1966 Chevrolet Corvair

 

His-&-her C1 Corvettes, ’62 on left and ’58 on right

 

2nd generation AMC AMX

 

1963 Corvette with steelies, dog dish caps, and redwalls

 

Ford Pinto Runabout

 

Naming a car after a cartoon character was a huge success for Plymouth

 

1962 Chevy Impala big block, claimed barn find

 

Ford F-1 pickup truck

 

Triumph TR-8

 

1963 Corvette split-window

 

1973 Buick Riviera boat tail

 

A pair of Chevy Novas

 

1956 Ford Crown Victoria

 

 

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

 

 

AUGUST 2016: ALFAS INVADE SOMERVILLE CRUISE NIGHT

The Alfas proudly line up for their show
The Alfas proudly line up for their show

 

The Friday tradition known as the Somerville NJ cruise night took place as expected on August 26, 2016. However, the usual swarm of domestic muscle cars and old-school hot rods was invaded by members from the NJ Region of the Alfa Romeo Owners Club (AROC). In total, there were 9 Alfa Romeos present, which was an excellent showing for this sweltering late summer evening.

The club had reached out to the cruise night organizers to request a group parking spot. As has been done in the past for other clubs, the spaces in front of the Somerset County Courthouse were reserved for us. The first Alfa was in place before 5pm, with the majority of cars claiming their spots by 6pm. Based on the steady flow of foot traffic parading past our cars, we can presume that the audience enjoyed the rather unexpected gathering of Italian machinery.

There was great model diversity, with Alfetta GTs, Spiders, a 164, two 4Cs, and your scribe’s GT 1300 Junior. The Junior was the sole vehicle from the 1960s, but we had great representation from the ‘70s and ‘80s.

The 4Cs were the surprise of the evening, with one privately-owned car in attendance, as well as a brand new one from the local dealer, Fullerton Fiat-Alfa (thanks, Dave!).

Old friends got reacquainted, new friends were made, and with darkness arriving by 8pm, most of us were back on the road by then. It was an enjoyable way to spend an evening with like-minded people, and we hold out hope that our local Alfa club can find its way to organize one more gathering before the cars are stored for the winter.

Spider in obligatory red
Spider in obligatory red

 

1993 Spider
1993 Spider looking sharp in black

 

 

Earliest Alfettas put tach in front of driver; speedo pushed to center
Earliest Alfettas put tach in front of driver, with speedo pushed to center

 

 

My 1967 GT 1300 Junior
My 1967 GT 1300 Junior

 

A V6-equipped '80s GT Coupe
A V6-equipped ’80s GT Coupe

 

Sixty years later, Alfa still using manual release in door jamb to open trunk
Sixty years later, Alfa still using manual release in 4C’s door jamb to open trunk

 

arrivederci
Arrivederci

 

All photographs copyright © 2016 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

Boonton NJ Cruise Night, June 10, 2016

DSC03787

The Boonton NJ cruise night, held on Fridays in the WalMart shopping Plaza, had its first show of the 2016 season on June 10. This year’s festivities were scheduled to start on June 3, but that show was cancelled due to inclement weather.

The cruise night, sponsored by the Starlight Cruisers car club, began in 2007 and has proven to be one of the better attended events of its kind in northern Jersey. The parking lot is roped off to allow parking for up to 250 cars. Because of the show’s popularity, vehicles are limited to those with QQ (NJ antique automobile) plates, or those which are at least 25 years old. The club provides music and door prizes.

The weather on the 10th was perfect – sunny, warm, cloudless, with low humidity, which brought out the crowds. The show cars were 99% domestic product, with a large percentage of them easily defined as “modified” – everything from bolt-ons to full customs in the old-school sense. GM vehicles from the 50s and 60s dominated, but there was also enough variety to keep things interesting for those who seek the unusual. There was a smattering of pre-war iron, including a lovely 1940 LaSalle convertible. Original owner and/or unrestored cars were present, such as a 1967 AMC Marlin whose owner has had it since 1971. And some imports dared to show up among all the Chevys and Fords, including an Opel GT, a Saab 93, and your author’s Alfa.

 

AMC products are rare sightings at any car event. This cruise night featured a number of them, including this Rebel “The Machine”, and this 1978 Concord AMX.

 

This 1967 Marlin was striking in several ways, most notably because its owner told us that this was his first car when he bought it in 1971. His daughter was dutifully deployed to attend to polishing duties. When asked about the missing fuel door, he replied that the door has been shipped to Sweden (!) for color-matching. We were left unclear as to why.

 

The number of Corvettes in attendance easily reached several dozen. What was especially impressive was the large number of C1 and C2 cars.

These C2s lined up their beautiful rear ends
These C2s lined up their beautiful rear ends

 

It is often stated that American car styling reached its bizarre peak in the late 1950s. While that may be true, what is sometimes missed is that interior styling also captured some of that strange creativity, and that included functional items such as transmission controls. This 1958 Edsel and 1960 Plymouth both used unusual solutions for transmission control placement. (Note that the Edsel has a floor shifter as part of a complete drivetrain swap.)

 

 

Studebaker’s history began 50 years before the dawn of the motorized vehicle, when the Studebaker brothers manufactured covered wagons. By the 1950s, they struggled to compete with the Big Three. “Daring to be different” was a strategy employed by them (as well as by AMC), as borne out by this Hawk and Avanti.

 

Despite the dominance of 50s-60s muscle, a few cars from an earlier time were also on the show field. None was more striking than this 1940 LaSalle. The LaSalle brand was a “junior Cadillac”, but alas, could not compete in the marketplace. Production ended in 1940, making this car a representative of the marque’s final year.

 

Not all T-Birds are restored to AACA standards. This '56 was ready to rumble.
Not all T-Birds are restored to AACA standards. This ’56 was ready to rumble.

 

This Saab has been in Boonton before. Although we did not have the pleasure of seeing it run on this particular evening, the owner has kept the 2-stroke motor and has opened up the exhaust a bit, resulting in some glorious albeit raucous noises.

 

DeLoreans never went away; they’ve been hiding in plain sight all these years. For a vehicle which was manufactured for only two years (1981-1982) and in limited numbers, one always seems to turn up. Their collectibility may be on the rise, though, as a recent change in government regulations will allow the “new” DeLorean Motor Company to begin to legally manufacture cars again.

No BttF jokes, promise!
No BttF jokes, promise!

 

In 1970, if you could not afford a new Corvette, you may have been drawn to the Opel GT. Buick dealers sold them as captive imports. Built in Germany, the Opel GT was available with either a 1.1L or 1.9L inline 4-cylinder. You certainly didn’t pay the Corvette’s price, but you didn’t get the Corvette’s horsepower either.

 

This '67 Firebird has the optional hood-mounted tach
This ’67 Firebird has the optional hood-mounted tach

 

The Alfa may have looked lost among the sea of U.S. built cars (it certainly is physically smaller than all of them), but several spectators stopped by to tell the typical “I had one of those” stories. The car ran flawlessly up and down Route 287 that evening.

One last shot before wheeling the Alfa back home
One last shot before wheeling the Alfa back home

 

All photographs copyright © 2016 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

Somerville Cruise Night, July 17, 2015

Main St., Somerville NJ, on a hot summer night.
Main St., Somerville NJ, on a hot summer night.

The town of Somerville (NJ, not MA) has been hosting a Friday-night cruise night for many years. Several websites maintain that 2015 is the 26th consecutive year of this event. Having lived in this area since 2001, my recollection is that the town at first was aghast at the idea of “hot rodders” invading their space. (This cruise night uses Main St., not a parking lot, as its gathering place.)

Quite the variety of cars line up in front of storefronts
Quite the variety of cars line up in front of storefronts

Then a funny thing happened: the local restaurants, antique stores, and other small businesses began to notice a significant uptick in their business on Fridays, as “spectators” swarmed into downtown to partake of the cars AND the food…. The next thing you know, the township is so in favor of the cruise night that they take over hosting duties from the local car club which had been performing that function.

Three different generation Corvettes line up on Main St.
Three different generation Corvettes line up on Main St.

We took advantage of a warm and dry summer evening this past Friday to enjoy the always-eclectic car collection, as well as Alfonso’s Italian food (some of the best in the area). Photos are below, in no particular order. If you’re ever in the mood for a great Friday night cruise night which includes a hometown atmosphere, cruise on over!

A modern-day supercar you can drive to work: the Ford GT
A modern-day supercar you can drive to work: the Ford GT

The 1958 Edsel wasn’t a bad car; it was no better and no worse than most any other full-size American car of its time. Its timing was bad, introduced during a recession, and priced to compete in an already-crowded mid-priced field. Its styling only added to the sale challenge. It barely made it into its 3rd model year before the plug was pulled. To this day, “Edsel” is synonymous with major corporate marketing blunders. Meanwhile, the car’s looks have mellowed, and it’s become a collectible.

A trio of tremendous Pontiacs: two Firebirds and a GTO:

The man responsible for much of Pontiac’s success, John Z. DeLorean, went on to start his own ill-fated car company. The DeLorean DMC-12 was produced for only two model years, 1981 & 1982 (the 1983 models were cobbled together from leftover parts by court order). This particular example was cosmetically perfect, and a stick-shift car to boot:

The DeLorean DMC-12
The DeLorean DMC-12

“Stan” proudly shows off his 1962 Studebaker Hawk GT. He claims he pulled it from a field about 10 years ago, after cutting down the tree which had grown up through the floor next to the steering wheel. A father-son project, Stan was rightfully proud of his car’s condition, and his trunk is full of memorabilia obtained from the Studebaker museum.

Stan and his Hawk
Stan and his Hawk
A C1 Corvette in front of a pizzeria of the same vintage
A C1 Corvette in front of a pizzeria of the same vintage

 

All photographs copyright © 2015 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.