This Beetle-Powered BMW Isetta Is a Mean Green Wheelie Machine

Engine swaps are a common way to boost a car’s performance. And the results are especially dramatic when they’re performed in a small car. Mazda Miatas, classic Mini Coopers, Honda N600s, and even Porsche Caymans have been the subject of engine transplants. But what happens if you do it to an even smaller car? You get something like this heavily-modified BMW Isetta.

The original BMW Isetta: not fast but frugal

A red BMW Z8 convertible parked next to a yellow-and-tan BMW Isetta
BMW Isetta (bottom) with a BMW Z8 | BMW

When the BMW Isetta debuted in 1955, the German automaker wasn’t the powerhouse it is today, RM Sotheby’s reports. This about a decade before the Neue Klase and the 2002 reversed its fortunes. To supplement the slow sales of its larger vehicles, the Lane Motor Museum explains, BMW licensed the Isetta’s design from its original Italian manufacturer, Iso. Mitsubishi did something similar with the CJ3 Jeep.

The BMW Isetta was essentially the Smart car of its time. At 7.5’ long and weighing only 770 pounds, it’s even smaller than the contemporary Fiat 500. It’s also only 54” wide, with seating for 2. And initially, it was powered by a 12-hp 250cc single-cylinder BMW motorcycle engine, Hagerty reports. That, combined with the BMW Isetta’s small size, technically meant it was classified as a motorcycle. But it was very fuel-efficient, Mecum reports—it was the first mass-production car to see 78 mpg.

However, by the time production ended in 1962, the BMW Isetta had evolved somewhat. The Isetta 300 used a 13-hp 297cc single-cylinder engine. There was also the stretched-wheelbase Isetta 600, which had 4 seats, a 20-hp 582cc two-cylinder engine, and multiple doors, Hagerty reports. There was even a pickup truck version, Road & Track reports.

Still, even with its larger engine, the 1962 BMW Isetta 300 topped out at 53 mph. Which, for one owner, clearly wasn’t fast enough.

What happens when you put a Beetle engine into a BMW Isetta?

A green 1957 BMW Isetta with a Beetle engine
Modified 1957 BMW Isetta | Bring a Trailer

BMW Isettas have been modified before. One Isetta 600 was even turned into a custom pickup truck, The Drive reports. However, the owner of one particular 1957 model went a bit further, The Drive reports.

The rear view of a green modified 1957 BMW Isetta, showing the Volkswagen Beetle engine and subframe
Modified 1957 BMW Isetta rear | Bring a Trailer

Instead of a rear-mounted motorcycle engine, this Isetta has a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine from a Volkswagen Beetle, Bring a Trailer reports. Which raises the microcar’s output from 13 hp to 57 hp, Car and Driver reports. And to handle that output, it also has a Beetle’s rear subframe, independent rear suspension, rear brakes, and 4-speed manual transmission.

The future owner of this Beetle-powered BMW Isetta may want to invest in some wheelie bars like on the Challenger Drag Pak, though. Because, as the video above shows, this microcar does indeed wheelie.

Getting your own

As of this writing, this modified 1957 BMW Isetta is listed on BaT at $7000 with 6 days. Which is actually on the cheap end for both the microcar and the classic Beetle.


Mad Genius Shoves Twin-Turbo V8 Into Mini Pickup Truck

Good-condition Isettas can sell for about $28k, Hagerty reports. Which is on the high-end of the average BaT price. And a 1970s Beetle in similar condition will run you about $10k, Hagerty and BaT report. Then there’s the cost and time investment required to meld the two together.

Still, wheelies on command.

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