Hybrids & Electrics

The Microlino Is a Modern Electric BMW Isetta via Switzerland

As electric powertrain swaps give classic cars second lives, some companies are starting the other way around. Bugatti, for example, resurrected its Baby as a small-scale EV. Alpha’s ACE Coupe also has a few retro-ish elements. And now, a Switzerland-based electric scooter company has released its own classic-inspired car. It’s called the Microlino, and its muse is the BMW Isetta.

The original BMW Isetta is charming and efficient, but not exactly designed for modern traffic

A red 1958 BMW Isetta 300 parked on a snowy city street with its door open
1958 BMW Isetta 300 | Bring a Trailer

At first glance, the BMW Isetta seems to have more in common with a Smart car than something like a 3 Series. However, it’s not an exaggeration to say that in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, the little microcar rescued the German brand, Goodwood reports.

In the early ‘50s, BMW tried to make a splash with a flagship sports car, the 507. Unfortunately, it was too expensive to generate many sales. Poor sales combined with a massive investment meant the 507 almost bankrupted BMW. So, to keep the lights on before the ‘Neue Klase’ arrived, the German automaker licensed the rights to Italian scooter company Iso’s microcar. And after modifying the design somewhat, BMW launched the Isetta in 1956, Automobile reports.

One of the modifications BMW made to the Isetta was its powertrain. Instead of a two-stroke engine, the 1956 Isetta has a 12-hp 250cc four-stroke single-cylinder engine, Hagerty reports. Admittedly, there were more powerful variants later on. The BMW Isetta 300, for example, has a 13-hp 298cc single-cylinder engine, Road & Track reports. And there was even a 582cc flat-twin model, Bring a Trailer reports.

Needless to say, the BMW Isetta 300 isn’t fast; the top speed is 53 mph. It also has no crash protection and only one door. And because the steering wheel is attached to the door, the steering column is hinged to allow access. However, even though it’s just 7.5’ long and weighs 770 pounds, the Isetta 300 has room for two adult passengers and some cargo. Plus, it was cheap to buy and run—owners could see 63 mpg, Throttle House reports. As a result, BMW claims the Isetta 300 is the most successful single-cylinder car in terms of sales figures.

Swiss electric scooter company Micro Mobility has remade it

A red-and-white 2021 Microlino 2.0 pre-production prototype with two passengers
2021 Microlino 2.0 pre-production prototype | Micro Mobility

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That level of efficiency inspired Wim Oubuter, the founder of Swiss electric scooter company Micro Mobility, The Drive reports. So much so, that he decided to try and resurrect the BMW Isetta in modern, all-electric form. The end result of that desire is the Microlino—well, Microlino 2.0.

The ‘2.0’ comes from the Microlino’s somewhat-long and rocky development. The first prototype debuted at the 2016 Geneva Auto Show, Autoblog, with pre-orders starting in 2018. Top Gear drove one of the 2018 prototypes and found it delivered “unbridled amusement.” However, before it could reach production, one of Micro’s former partners tried to make a knock-off version.

The black tubular chassis of the Microlino 1.0 next to the steel-and-aluminum monocoque of the Microlino 2.0
Microlino 1.0 vs 2.0 chassis | Micro Mobility

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But that’s all in the past. The new 2021 Microlino 2.0, though it still resembles a classic BMW Isetta, is significantly different under the skin than the first prototypes. It has a completely new steel-and-aluminum structure with a wider rear track for the new independent rear suspension, Roadshow reports.

Like the original Isetta, the Microlino 2.0 has room for up to two passengers. Even its headlights mimic the original ones. However, it comes with a digital dash and several USB ports, Automobile reports.

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The Microlino 2.0 also has a new rear-mounted electric motor. It makes 15 hp and 74 lb-ft and gets the 1100-pound EV to 56 mph, Hagerty reports. And buyers have a choice between two battery packs. With the larger one, the Microlino 2.0 has a claimed range of 124 miles and can recharge via a household outlet in four hours.

How much does a Microlino cost compared to a ‘real’ BMW Isetta?

As of this writing, Micro Mobility is waiting on EU approval for the Microlino 2.0. But considering it’s technically a quadricycle like the Citroen Ami, it faces some looser regulations. And while it will need some “design changes,” it seems Micro Mobility is planning to sell the Microlino 2.0 in the US, Jalopnik reports. Full production is expected to start in September 2021, with prices starting in the $14k-$15k range, Autoblog reports.

The rear 3/4 view of a red 1958 BMW Isetta 300 parked by a snow-covered field
1958 BMW Isetta 300 rear 3/4 | Bring a Trailer

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If that seems high for a two-seater microca—I mean, quadricycle, that’s actually noticeably less than an original BMW Isetta costs these days. Prices on BaT hover in the $20k-$30k range for Isetta 300s. And pristine examples cost over $50k, Hagerty reports. This is all before you factor in the cost of a potential electric conversion.

It seems the new electric model really does capture the original’s affordable spirit, then.

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