The Isetta Saga, Chapter 34: The Isetta Gets to Hershey in 2012

It was probably 1982 and I was at Hershey, in PA, in October, at the big annual AACA Hershey show. It was perhaps only the 3rd or 4th time I was there. I was young, and this was still all new, and I had so much to learn about the collector car hobby. I was living in an apartment without a garage. I had my Isettas stored in one garage not near me, and my ’57 Ford Skyliner stored in another garage not near me. I still dreamed of that future point in time when I would get back to these cars to perform a complete restoration on each of them. However, I had no real concrete plan for getting to that point.

As I strolled the aisles of that Saturday car show, I was still learning that these cars were here to be ranked and rated by AACA judges. The judging was a very strict and formal process. The car owners took this very seriously, and very much wanted to win. They wanted their 1st Junior, or 1st Senior, or their Preservation Award, things I had yet to learn about. It was neat for me, the neophyte, to discover that the vehicles were arranged in something resembling a sensible order, based on year, make, and model.

A particular recollection concerns the Baby Birds, the 2-seat Ford Thunderbirds only made from 1955-1957. They were all lined up, in their candy colors of red and blue, and pastel colors of green and yellow, and monochrome colors of black and white. They didn’t look like cars! They looked like edible sweets on a shelf. As I walked down this row of cars which were barely 25 years old, I could not get over how perfect each car was. With hoods up and trunks open, reproduction chalk marks and ink stamps were exposed. It was clear to me, the newbie, that these cars were rarely, if ever, driven.

The entire spectacle depressed me. How does an owner, I asked myself, get to a point that the car is so perfect that it’s not driven? Was this what the hobby was about? I was yet to learn that some owners did indeed treat their cars as trailer queens, driven only on and off trailers, and brought to shows only to collect awards. It was impossible for me to imagine a day when I would show a car at Hershey.

Fast forward exactly 30 years, and here I was in 2012, with a car of mine on the Hershey show field. I was as giddy as could be, and while I took the whole spectacle seriously, the event was eliciting a reflexive ear-to-ear grin that I could not erase. How did I get to this point? Having joined the National AACA around the year 2000, and attending almost every Hershey since then, the urge to enter a car was growing. With over 10 years of experience in showing the Isetta, as you’ve been reading in the Isetta Saga, it was time to put the car in the big boys’ show.

There was not much prep necessary. I had my trailer and my hitch-equipped Volvo V70 ready to make the journey. A logistical issue for anyone bringing a show car to Hershey is the question of “what do I do with my car during the week?” The judged show is always Saturday, but the flea market / car corral begins four days prior on the Tuesday. Owners who drive their show cars to the event leave them overnight in the hotel parking lot. They’ll then use those cars to commute back and forth during the week. If they have a flea market spot, they’ll just drive it onto the field and park in their spot.

Parked at the B&B in Dillsburg

My little Hershey secret, which I had begun to use about 10 years prior, was to stay at a local Bed & Breakfast in lieu of a hotel. (I refer to it as a ‘secret’ because if too many show attendees started doing the same, it wouldn’t be as easy to book a room. Compared to hotels, which start booking rooms for next year’s event the day after this year’s event ends, I found that local B&B’s had rooms available as late as 6 or 8 weeks before Hershey week.)

The B&B’s were more comfortable than hotels, they included breakfast (to go if I asked), and were about the same cost. There was a B&B in Dillsburg, located halfway between Hershey and Carlisle, which I started frequenting. When I called for the reservation, I asked permission to leave the Isetta on its trailer somewhere on the grounds. The woman proprietor, with whom I was on a first-name basis, told me that was absolutely fine, and said she had a spot behind the barn where my rig would be away from other guests’ cars, as well as out of sight from the road. Upon my arrival, I put the trailer where asked, unhooked it, and was then able to use the Volvo to-and-from the show during the week.

Larry hops in for the cruise to the show field

Once Saturday morning arrived, I reconnected the trailer and was off to ‘trailer parking’. AACA had set up a lot about 1.5 miles away from the show field dedicated to the dozens and dozens of trailers which needed to be staged somewhere. I asked my bestie Larry if he wanted to meet me there and ride with me in the Isetta, and he was more than game. As he climbed in, I handed him my camera and asked him to take as many photos as he could manage. We were literally in the parade of cars that I had witnessed as a spectator on so many prior occasions.

Once at the grounds, I was directed to my parking spot in Class 04B, “small vehicles 1942 and later” (04A is 1941 and older). I parked next to the only other Isetta at the show that day. Other cars in my class included a Vespa and several VW Beetles (which look large next to an Isetta). I exited the car, put up my signage, and stuck around as required for judging. The judging team was there soon enough to do their thing. Once that was done, I was free to walk around, but as is my wont, I preferred to stay near the car and engage with attendees.

We’ve arrived!

 

Three of the cars in Class 04B that year

The other Isetta was a beautiful two-tone blue & grey car, from Maryland, and the car was there for its Preservation Award, meaning that it had already achieved Senior status. Cosmetically, I thought it was a notch above mine; it certainly looked ‘fresher’ (I wasn’t telling anyone that the paint on my car was already 17 years old). The owner was sitting in her folding chair behind her car, and I went up to her to make a sincere effort to both compliment her on her car as well as engage her in conversation about it. When I asked her some details about the restoration process, she demurred, and didn’t really make any attempt to answer my questions. What eventually came out of our conversation was the realization that she was not an active participant in the car’s restoration. It’s what we call a “checkbook restoration”; she wrote the checks to the shop that did the work, and picked up the car when it was done. This is not to take anything away from the obvious quality of the work. But there is something to be said for taking more ownership of your own restoration, which helps elevate the understanding of how the car is designed, engineered, and built, and how it operates.

The blue/grey Isetta won its Preservation Award

 

Bubble cars side by side

Around 3 p.m., the show cars began to exit the field. It was a magnificent day on so many levels: the car ran great, the judging went smoothly, the audience enjoyed it, and I enjoyed the audience. It helped that the fickle Hershey weather was near perfect. I drove the car back to the trailer parking, loaded it up, and headed home, arriving before dark.

I had plenty reason to be happy

A few weeks later, a letter arrived in the mail from AACA, announcing that I had succeeded in winning my 1st Junior award (there was, as always, an Award Banquet on Saturday night, but I did not attend). Had I been there, I would have been handed my trophy. The letter from AACA informed me that if I wanted the trophy, I would need to pay the nominal shipping cost, which I did.

At the close of 2012, I realized that I had been trailering my Isetta to various shows throughout NJ, NY, CT, and PA for the past 13 years! While I had previously made half-hearted attempts at selling the car, with absolutely no success, I knew that 2013 was going to be the year to let it go. I had had my fun. An auction was the best choice, and it was a question of selecting an auction company, having already held preliminary conversations with both Bonhams and RM. The Bonhams auction I had in mind was their Greenwich event held in conjunction with the Greenwich CT Concours in early June. For RM, the Hershey auction in October was also being considered. I had some time to decide, however, the wheels were firmly put in motion at the end of 2012. After 35 years of ownership, and 13 years of show attendance, it was time.

 

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

 

RM Sotheby’s Sells My Former Isetta for $31,000

On Saturday, October 24, at the RM Sotheby’s Elkhart Collection Auction, the 1957 BMW Isetta, chassis number 509090, formerly owned by me, sold at a hammer price of $31,000. When RM does post the result on their website, the published number will show as $34,720, as they will include the 12% buyer’s commission in the total shown. (This is a tactic that all auction companies engage in, as a way to display an even higher sale number than the hammer price. As they would argue, this is the more accurate representation of the dollars coming out of the purchaser’s pocket. But it’s still not the same as the hammer price.)

While it was no surprise that the car sold (after all, the auction was No Reserve), and even though I had previously estimated a hammer price of $30,000, I had begun to underestimate myself after watching Friday’s live stream, where the majority of cars met, or more typically exceeded, their pre-sale auction estimates. There was a sell-out in-person crowd in Elkhart, plus phone and internet bidding. With few exceptions, cars stayed on the block only for one to two minutes, and the bidding was aggressive and quick-paced. In the Isetta’s case, the pre-sale estimate of $35-45,000 was a tad optimistic.

I’m very happy for the new owner, whoever s/he may be. I hope that the car gets driven and shown a bit more than the previous owner managed to (not) do!

I’ve purposely held back the final few chapters of the Isetta Saga, pending this sale. Watch for the Saga’s conclusion to appear on this site in the very near future. (Then what am I going to write about?)

 

 

 

My Old Isetta is About to Cross the Auction Block Again!

The time has come: the auction of the “Elkhart Collection” by RM Sotheby’s has commenced as I type these words. The auction began at 10 a.m. on Friday October 23, and will run through tomorrow. As most of these auctions do, the lots start with what is loosely referred to as automobilia (defined as automotive-related stuff other than vehicles), which here includes tools, shop supplies, books, and sundry collectibles. Once done with the automobilia, the cars will start to cross the block.

Seven years later, car looks quite nice

While I’m keen to watch what some of the more interesting Fiats and Ferraris will hammer for, the car of most interest to me is my former Isetta, about which I’ve spilled so much digital ink. It is Lot #2157, scheduled to cross the block on Saturday. (I’ve been asked by more than one person “how do you know it’s the same car?” The easiest way is via its chassis number, 509090. But there are also some tell-tale signs about the restoration that mark is as uniquely mine. Oh, then there’s that suitcase on the parcel shelf.)

See that suitcase? Bought it in an antique store for $10

I’ve also been asked if I knew who bought my car back in 2013 (no), if I knew the car had stayed in the U.S. (no), and if I knew how much the car has been used (yes). Checking photos of the odometer, I can attest that the mileage when I sold it was 29,529. Based on a photo on the RM Sotheby’s website, the current odometer reading is 29,530. One. Mile. Difference. The car probably gained that “mile” while being driven on and off transport trucks, which is a shame, because it IS fun to drive.

The Elkhart bidders can take comfort in knowing “only 29k original miles”

This also caused me to go back and verify how much I drove the car while it was in my possession. I found a photo of the odometer from 1995 showing 29,437 miles. So I drove it 92 miles, seemingly not a lot, but I also never ventured more than about four miles from home base either.

Cloisonne emblem is chipped; repros available, but I wanted to keep original one

Most of the lots for this auction are no reserve (as this one is), meaning that they will sell to the highest bidder. And all of them have been assigned pre-sale estimates. For this Isetta, that range is published as $35,000 – $45,000. Nicely restored Isettas sold at auction within the last few years are off their high values of five-to-eight years ago; the more recent sales have hovered around $25-30,000. My best guess for #509090 is that it will hammer close to $30,000 (plus 12% buyer’s commission, which will be folded into the number that RM Sotheby’s eventually publishes).

New owner, take note: I bought those Michelins in 1993! Get new tires!

I wish nothing but the best for the new owner, whoever that may be. And I know where you can read a long drawn-out saga about that car online.

 

All photographs courtesy of the RM Sotheby’s website.

The Isetta Saga, Chapter 32: 2010’s Retirement Affords Lots More Time for Shows

December 23, 2009 was my final day of work at Volvo Cars of North America, where I had been employed for over 23 years. For the first time since college graduation, I was free of daily obligations. I had every intention of resuming my career, but with my wife’s encouragement, I decided to take some time off.

As 2010 dawned, I looked at the collector car calendar and could foresee upping my participation above what had already been a busy schedule. While the garage held both the ’68 Mustang and the Isetta, I decided to look for opportunities to get the Isetta out more. The additional time needed to load and unload the car would be less of an issue now.

In addition to attendance at the 2010 Greenwich Concours d’Elegance, I had the time to also take part in these activities:

APRIL: RAMAPO HIGH SCHOOL CAR SHOW

My friend Larry, who lives in the vicinity of this school, made me aware of this show, which sounded like fun. It was also a chance to lend support to a bunch of teenagers who wanted to experience the makings of a car show in their own back yard.

The kids of course, enjoyed my car, and I in turn enjoyed the variety of vehicles in attendance. Two young men floored me, as they showed me around their VW bus while wearing tie-dye shirts. Flashing the peace sign was their idea, not mine!

MAY: AACA NJ REGION ANNUAL CAR SHOW

I had only recently become a member of the NJ Chapter, so none of my mates in the club had seen the Isetta yet. Entering the microcar in the same class as the American iron of the ‘50s meant that it was up against some very stiff competition (it also looked like a toy next to these ‘50s gargantuans). 

My friend Ron, whom I knew from the multiple New England 1000 rallies we’ve run together, showed up in his ’55 T-Bird and parked next to me. Lo and behold, when it was time to depart, his Bird wouldn’t start! Ron knew the car became fuel-starved because of a hot soak issue, and he said that all he needed to get going was a bit of fuel to pour into the carb. But where to get that fuel? From the Isetta’s fuel tap!

MAY: NESHANIC STATION MEMORIAL DAY PARADE

We were getting good at parade participation, and this one was close enough to my house that I could actually drive the 3 miles back and forth, and I did! My stalwart friend Richard Sweeney did not miss the chance to ride in the car, and waved to the crowd as if he were the mayor.

JULY: BREAKFAST AND ISETTA RIDES AT THE REINAS

As a changeup from the typical Sunday morning breakfast drive, I emptied my garage of cars, set up a table and chairs, brought out the electric griddle and coffee pot from the kitchen, and invited a bunch of the regulars down to breakfast. (My wife said it looked like I could move in there; perhaps that was a hint….) Even Irv Gordon made it (after receiving the invite, he called me up and asked “Rich, do you think the guys would mind if I drove the C70 instead of the 1800? I want to ride in air conditioning”.)

We had something of a mini car show on the lawn and in the driveway, and for anyone brave enough, rides up and down the road in the rolling egg were freely offered.

AUGUST: DAS AWKSCHT FESCHT, MAGUNGIE PA

This show, held in the charming town of Macungie PA since the 1960s, wins the award for “car show name with greatest ratio of consonants to vowels”. I’ve attended “Macungie” as we call it (easier to say) since the early ‘80s, as it was a known gathering spot for microcar owners.

There was no contingent of micro units this year, but I did manage to secure a shady spot on what was a typical hot and humid summer day. This show has always prided itself on an eclectic variety of display vehicles, typically arranged by year, make, and model. One particular memory is of a young woman who described herself to me as an artist. Having gone through my restoration photos, she seemed to take great delight in informing me that I too, was “an artist”. I accepted the compliment!

By the autumn of 2010, I was back to work, albeit only on a part-time basis. With the show calendar quickly coming to a close, I was already anticipating more of the same in 2011.

 

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

The Isetta Saga, Chapter 29: The 2008 Carlisle Import Show

My first blog post about “Carlisle”, as in the car shows at Carlisle Fairgrounds, was written in April of 2015, after I had attended the Spring Carlisle event. As I’ve mentioned innumerable times, Carlisle has been a mainstay of my adventures in the collectible automotive hobby going back to my first visit in 1978.

For the first 15 years or so of its existence, Carlisle Events consisted only of a Spring show in April and a Fall show in late September/early October. In their desire to expand, the show organizers branched out in several ways. One addition to the calendar was the Carlisle Import Show. Since the ‘big’ shows which bookmarked the year spent about 99% of their energy on domestic product, the Import Show provided an opportunity for enthusiasts of European and Asian cars to have something to call their own. I first attended the Import Show in 1990, and observed that it took up less than one half of the acreage of a normal show. We actually could park our daily driver cars on the field.

 

1990 Carlisle Import Show, Italian cars

1990 Carlisle Import Show, British cars

Volvos at the 1990 Import Show

Fast forward to 2008: The Carlisle Import Show, held in May, was next in line for the Isetta. Instead of placing me with the Germans, my car was situated with a group of microcars, which was actually more fitting. I had the pleasure of parking my bubble between an NSU Wankel Spider and an East German Trabant(!).  Another very cool microcar in attendance was the Mazda Chantez, a kei-class car, with a two-cylinder, two-stroke engine making 35 horsepower. I had never seen one before, and I haven’t seen one since.

 

Four German cars in a row

NSU Wankel Spider

The Mazda Chantez kei-car

One of the great things about the Import Show is the tremendous club support. Vehicles are arranged by marque, and the clubs are very proactive in setting up tents, tables, chairs, and displays. The entire atmosphere is much more cordial and familial compared to one of the huge spring or fall events.

The Volvo Club of America has always made a strong showing here, and of course, that spokesperson of spokespersons, Irv Gordon, was in attendance. As you can see on the map, the Swedish brands Volvo and Saab were assigned separate blocks, the only such division. Note that this show also embraced kit cars, although their numbers were but a small minority of total show participation. I have no idea how or why there is a section for “Fiero”, which of course is a domestic Pontiac! And like Spring and Fall Carlisles, there was a Car Corral and a Swap Meet area, but again, these were minuscule compared to the big events. At Carlisle Imports, the emphasis was definitely on the display cars.

Mrs. Reina with Irv Gordon

Personal favorites, the Fiat 124 Sport Coupe

 

The Ford Aerostar was gone, with my trusty 2003 Volvo V70 now assigned to Isetta trailer duty. We made it back and forth with no issues, and I was more than pleased to have had the opportunity to show my BMW Isetta on the same tract of land where I’ve been walking the aisles for the past 30 years.

The European Duo

I think Irv asked me why I wasn’t driving the Isetta home

 

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

The Isetta Saga, Chapter 28: The 2007 Greenwich Concours d’Elegance

The Romans knew it all too well: “Tempus fugit”, Latin for “time flies”. But I don’t think the Romans were thinking of the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance when uttering those words. I certainly was saying “time flies” to myself when I looked at the calendar, saw that it was 2007, and realized that the Isetta would again be eligible to be shown at this favorite car show of mine. So I sent in my registration form, got my acceptance letter, and off we went!

This view highlights the attractive and verdant setting

Compared to 2004, the weather was much more cooperative, if still a bit warm and muggy for early June. My wife Margaretanne, for the third and final time, accompanied me to the show. The show organizers, Bruce and Genia Wennerstrom, have always made it a point to recognize all the hard work and effort that goes into bringing a car to an event. As such, Greenwich is one of the few car shows where vehicle owners do NOT pay an entrance fee; instead, catered breakfast and lunch are provided, plus this year, we took advantage of a cruise boat ride into Long Island Sound, a non-automotive diversion which my wife appreciated.

As happened in 2004, the Isetta was wisely placed among other BMWs, with some Porsches on the other side of it. And in another echo of 2004, there was another Isetta, this time, a European-spec 300 which had been beautifully restored. I enjoyed my time chatting it up with attendees about my car, and Bruce most generously awarded me with a Concours Europa – Most Fun Car trophy. During the ceremonial drive-by, he chuckled once again when I told him about my US-spec car having the “larger and more powerful 13 horsepower engine”!

Euro-spec Isetta: note smaller headlights, lack of bumpers, and amber sidelight

 

This is what 13-hp can get you

At the end of the show, we drove the Isetta back to the parking lot, about a half-mile away, and began the process of loading the car onto the trailer once again. Several yards from me, I noticed an elderly man, who looked to be at least 90, struggling to roll his own open trailer into position. He was a dapper dresser in his plaid sport coat and tweed cap. A woman who may have been his daughter was scolding him that he shouldn’t be pushing the trailer on his own, which didn’t phase him one bit. He looked familiar to me, so I took a chance and approached him.

“Excuse me, are you John Fitch?”

“Why, yes I am!”

“It’s a real pleasure to meet you.”

“Thank you very much!”

With that, I shook the hand of 90-year-old John Fitch, race car driver, inventor, and on this day, just another participant at the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance.

 

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 24: The 2000 Lime Rock Fall Vintage Festival

Feeling optimistic after successfully trailering the Isetta in August of 2000 to its first public show, I was ready to repeat the process. Labor Day weekend at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut has long been known to me for its Fall Vintage Festival (the event itself has gone through several name changes while staying true to its mission). Saturday and Monday of the weekend are devoted to vintage car racing, and on Sunday, when local ordinances prohibit racing, the track is given over to a static car show.

I’ve attended Lime Rock on Labor Day weekend at least as far back as 1991, when I purchased my ’67 Dodge Dart after spotting it on the field with a For Sale sign on it. During the summer of 2000, I made use of this new-fangled thing called the Internet, and found an online application form to register the Isetta for the show. It was only a matter of days when I received an email response in the affirmative.

Lime Rock CT, nestled in the Berkshires, is a little further from home than Park Ridge NJ. In a modern car, sans trailer, the trip from central Jersey is 2.5–3 hours. In an Aerostar van, pulling a trailer loaded with precious cargo, it’s a bit longer. Margaretanne and I left the house before sunrise; the communique from the Lime Rock officials requested that the car be on the field by 9 a.m.

Posing with the car. Lime Rock’s lush greenery is on full display in the background.

On arrival, we were greeted by a trio of track workers who were in a tizzy. Apparently, they did not know into which class they should place this microcar. Eventually, I was told “you’re in Class 18 – postwar European two-doors”. Instead of protesting the incorrect door count (what was I going to say? “Oh no, you want to place me in the postwar European ONE-door class”), I motored on, found the class, unloaded the car, and drove it into its display position. As had happened in Park Ridge, a small crowd gathered in amazement to watch this egg move under its own power.

The Isetta among its (class) peers

We set up the folding lawn chairs, and I got to work with the detail bucket. It was hot and humid, and while morning clouds threatened, they were gone by midday, and took some of the humidity with them. Cleaning my car gave me the opportunity to take in my competition. On one side of me was a large Jaguar drophead coupe; on the other side, an Austin/Morris Mini (the original one; the successor had not been born yet). Other vehicles in my class included a VW Bug and a Mercedes-Benz 280SE cabriolet. This was as eclectic a group of vehicles as I could have imagined.

There wasn’t much detailing to do and soon after I settled into my folding chair, the judging team arrived. This was my first exposure to “show judging”, and my slight nervousness caused me at one point to yell out to the judges “what’s taking you so long? It’s a pretty small car!”. This verbal jab resulted in an elbow jab from Margaretanne, admonishing me to behave. One of the judges asked “where’s the spare?” and with that, I folded the seat back forward (the spare is in a recess behind the seat). The judge made a comment about dust on the spare wheel/tire assembly, and this time I kept my mouth shut, making a mental note to clean the spare when I got home.

A spectator ponders if he could fit (probably could)

The judges moved on, and I tried to relax while the show attendees stopped to inspect my Isetta and ask the occasional question. I heard a female voice from a few yards away say “oh, I know that car! I helped procure a bunch of parts for it!” It was Linda Gronlund, whom I knew from her days at Volvo Corporate. She had left Volvo to work at BMW USA, and was still employed there. She had indeed played a role in helping me obtain some genuine BMW parts as long as I was able to provide her with genuine BMW part numbers. It was nice to see her, and most tragically, it was the last time I ever saw Linda. Almost exactly one year later, she was a passenger on United flight #93 which crashed in PA on 9/11/2001.

Sometime later in the day at Lime Rock, another voice, this time a male one, called my name out loud after reading it from the windshield entry card. It was Bruce Wennerstrom, who chaired the prestigious Greenwich (CT) Concours d’Elegance. I knew Bruce because Volvo had been a corporate sponsor of his event, and part of my job responsibilities included chauffeuring new Volvos to be put on display at Greenwich. Bruce and I exchanged pleasantries, and then he utterly shocked me by asking “would you like to display your Isetta at the Greenwich show next year?” I was flattered, and flabbergasted. I stammered a “yes” and told Bruce that I was honored.

By 3 p.m., Margaretanne and I were talking about getting an early start to our long trip back home. The award ceremony had just begun, and I didn’t feel it necessary to stick around for it, that is, until I heard “Isetta” over the PA system. I walked up to the awards table and, in a day full of surprises, had my biggest surprise when I learned that my car had won 1st in its class (dusty spare and all). While I am not in this hobby for trophy-collecting, it is nice to be recognized.

Margaretanne is quite proud of the award

 

As is the car’s owner

 

The Isetta was done with car shows for the year 2000. There was already something to look forward to in 2001, and that would be Greenwich in June. I had all winter to detail that spare.

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

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.