Isetta Mouthful 2: When You Wish Upon a Car . . .
Column by Jim Bishop
“Spontaneity is the quality of being able to do something just because you feel like it at the moment, of trusting your instincts, of taking yourself by surprise and snatching from the clutches of your well-organized routine, a bit of unscheduled plea.”
– Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain
The other weekend, I took this advice, and the twain did meet some 300 miles northeast of the ‘Burg. It was quite the experience, and in the aftermath, safely back home, I was grateful for it.
Putting aside many other pressing tasks, I accompanied Dale Lehman, a friend from church, to an auction of vintage cars that included four BMW Isettas, held at an auction center in Hatfield, Pa. I went – after a tiff with my dear wife Anna – with the understanding that my primary role was to lend moral, and not financial, support for whatever might transpire there.
My special interest in going was to be reunited with an Isetta, the first car I ever owned, purchased with my meager savings in 1962. We rode in Dale’s Dodge Ram truck pulling an empty trailer. Would we return the same way?
Thanks to an accident that blocked traffic in both directions for over an hour on Interstate 81 north of Chambersburg, Pa., we arrived at my brother’s place in Doylestown much later than expected, more than ready to call it a night.
What time do you want to arrive at the auction Saturday morning, I asked Dale. Oh, I’d like to be there around 8 a.m., he replied.
Arriving in Hatfield, we learned that the auction would be held at one location and the cars displayed at another site. Actually, it worked out well, as it was a nasty cold day and the auction itself was held in a warm, spacious auditorium.
What a site for sore eyes – a fleet of 65 classic cars in various stages of disrepair, included a batch of audacious autos from my youth – a German-made 1960 Gogomobile, a 1959 two-cylinder Prinz, several Austins and at least 10 Austin-Healey bug-eye Sprites (mostly convertibles).
The auditorium was standing-room-only by the time the auction began at high noon. I could feel a certain anticipatory excitement as the auctioneer reviewed the ground rules and told the crowd that once the bidding begins, it was going to move fast. And, it did.
What I didn’t realize until then was that bidding was also happening in real time online. Persons placed bids on E-Bay in real time, while around the perimeter of the room others were taking bids via cell phone. A number of top bids were from the Internet or by phone.
The highest selling item – mind-boggling to me – was a 1930 Ford woody station wagon that went for $43,000 (plus 10 percent seller’s commission and 6 percent Pennsylvania sales tax).
When the two Isetta 300 models came up for sale, Dale took the high bid on both.
The auction ended sooner than I expected, but considerable time passed before it was our turn to have a fork lift load the Isettas on to the trailer.
We finally hit the road as twilight stole across the landscape, two Isettas, a VW engine, an Isetta one-cylinder engine and assorted old car parts in tow. As we cruised down the interstate, I told Dale, “I daresay this is the fastest these Isettas will ever go.” I also thought both cars to be in pretty rough condition. Dale disagrees.
I really hope that Dale will be able to restore these remarkable vehicles, possibly re-creating one from the two that runs and looks as good as it once did. Part of the likelihood rests in being able to replace parts that Dale will find missing as he starts working on this project. He made some contacts during the auction that may prove fruitful in this regard.
Seeing an actual Isetta again, touching it, sitting in one, evoked a flood of memories from the years (1962-64) of my pride and joy, first “real” albeit miniature motorcar. It would be great to sit behind the wheel of a restored Isetta, even drive it, before they put me in the home.
Upon returning home, I saw an announcement for Mercedes-Benz’ SmartForTwo, a two-seater coupe that makes the Mini-Cooper look like an SUV. To me, it looks like an updated version, with safety features, of the BMW Isetta from 50 years ago – promising similar gas mileage and a price tag (between $11,000 and $16,000, depending on model) that should make it affordable to more people.
What goes around, comes around, and that’s the way the Mercedes bends.
Jim Bishop is the public-information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. He can be contacted, believe it or not, at firstname.lastname@example.org.