For every piece of slick engineering, there are probably ten really bad ones. Back in the mid-20th century cars were evolving fast. A lot of Europeans were looking to get their first ones, and many different companies tried out designs that didn’t quite make sense. Think of how cell phones evolved in the last decade and you’ll get the idea. There were a lot of wacky designs before everyone settled into the “black mirror” look we have now.
This is the Isetta. It was designed in 1953 by a small Italian company and licensed to several manufacturers. The most common ones still found today were made by BMW.
It was basically a motorcycle with a cover over it and not a very good one at that. Sure it was cheap to buy but once you had one… the problems just kept compounding. Its 10 horsepower engine was barely enough to keep it going on city streets and it was so small that it was pretty easy to miss. It leaked when it rained, thanks to a canvas roof that just sort of sat on top of it. When it was cold, there wasn’t much of a heater either.
The worst feature of the Isetta was its one door. Check this out:
The whole front swung open, the steering wheel shaft kind of kinked out of the way, and two very small people could get in. Some Isettas like the one you see here had back seats with a ridiculously small door to get in them, but this of course made the car so slow it practically moved at all.
The front door design was, literally, a fatal flaw. There was no front bumper so in an accident you’d probably break your knees or have the steering wheel crush your chest. At the very least the front door would stop working, and you were supposed to climb out the top. Of course that assumes you could actually climb after getting in an accident like that.
Can’t keep a bad idea down
The last Isetta was produced in 1962. BMW alone made over 150,000 of them. They’re collector’s items now although in most countries it’s illegal to drive them on public roads (not a bad thing.) The Isetta stands as a shining example of the absolute worst in design for consumer products. It’s as if someone took a Nokia N-Gage and turned it into a car. It literally could be a way to motivate people to walk more. Just make them drive this little deathtrap for a week and they’ll never get in a car again, assuming they survive.
Which is why…
This is the Microlino. It’s an electric car with a 20 horsepower engine (a cool 100% increase over the Isetta but still.) Its designers want to put it on the roads in some European countries in 2019. All I can say is, “seriously?” I understand that for some reason people have some affection for Isettas. After all it’s not often you have a whole car that you can fit in the bed of a pickup truck. But someone actually thought it was a good idea to resurrect this design, front-facing door and everything. It looks like it actually has some form of bumper but… wow. Just wow. I don’t know how this happened.