Our day started innocently enough. Seven-year-old daughter Alexandra and I headed to a local swap meet in search of a pre-'55 American car to use in Martin Swig's La Carrera Nevada event. While wading through the rusting junk, a.k.a. valuable restorable collector cars, she pulled suddenly at my sleeve.
"Look Daddy, it's an Easter Egg car."
The bright red 1958 BMW Isetta 300 had only 11,500 miles showing (original, claimed the owner), a sunroof, fresh Coker tires and a new Bi-Mart Lawn and Garden Tractor battery. As I mentioned last month, my friend Bill Woodard and I are on a trek through the under-$10,000 collector car world, determined to buy and drive a variety of cars that we've never owned before. Early 240Zs or small-bumper 450SLs were on our hot list, so stumbling across the Isetta was an accident of chance. It coincided with the onset of Mad Car Disease, an affliction caused by having $7,500 cash from the sale of our '68 Porsche 911L smoldering in my pocket.
The asking price was $12,500, and I mentioned to the seller that I thought that was a fine price for two Isettas, but I didn't see the second one anywhere. He quickly lowered his price to $8,000 and I had the simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying sensation that I was on the path towards owning my first BMW. A few negotiating parries and thrusts resulted in the car changing hands for $6,600. And, unlike my Porsche experience, where we purchased a car that needed thousands of dollars in repairs before it was enjoyable, here I actually tested the brakes, engine, transmission, brake lights, horn and turn signals (that about wraps up the electrical system) before I bought the car.
By this time, Alexandra had moved on and was negotiating on a battery-powered parakeet that chirped Beethoven's 9th Symphony when she clapped her hands, a feature I expect to see available anytime now on a variety of high-end electronically-laden automobiles.
We took both our 330 America and the red egg to DMV for registration at the same time, the 770-lb 0.3 liter micro-car, propelled by its 13 bhp vertical single trundling along behind the thundering 2820-lb, 300 bhp, four-liter V12 Ferrari.
We've now put about 250 miles on the Isetta, and can report that every mile in a 300cc car is a very long one. Speed bumps become speed plateaus. Being chased by large dogs intent on marking their territory becomes a Jurassic Park-like experience.
The Isetta attracts attention and conjures up memories, especially from the over-30 gang. "The drugstore had one for deliveries, and we used to pick the car up and put it on the sidewalk when the driver wasn't around." Europeans especially have fond feelings for the little BMW. "It was after WWII, and we were thankful to have something that wasn't a scooter to get around in. We were out of the weather. It was fantastic."
Aside from having to replace a pin in the clutch-release mechanism, an operation performed for us by SCM subscriber Tom Young at his Rose City Motorcycle shop, the car has performed, if I may use that word, flawlessly. Removing the six dead mice from what is euphemistically called the heater did wonders for the interior bouquet.
In this era of homogenous, computer-festooned, wind tunnel-designed automobiles, the Isetta is a visual and mechanical treat. We've taken all the neighborhood kids for rides, and hope that we are contributing to their automotive memory bank. Twenty years from now, perhaps they'll come across another Isetta at a swap meet, think back to their own childhood ride in this strange little one-door egg car, and drive one home themselves.
As we move towards Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year, collector car prices across the board are staying strong and predictable, although the market velocity is slowing somewhat, as it always does this time of year. We find ourselves preoccupied with turkeys and poinsettias rather than camshafts and carburetors.
This issue marks the completion of our tenth year of publishing SCM, and we want to again extend our thanks to all of you whom, through your continued subscriptions and renewals, have allowed us to keep sharing with you our observations about the market and the fun and foibles of collecting.
From all of us at SCM, we wish you good health and a prosperous business in the New Year, and hope that good things are ahead in 1999 for you and your loved ones.
ON THE COVER
Wouldn't it be pleasant to find a Ferrari SWB hidden in a barn as your holiday surprise. This print, "Ferrari 250 SWB," by English artist Alan Fearnley, is the 5th in his Classic Collection series. To fit the dimensions of our cover, we have taken the liberty of adding some blue sky to the top of the print. The paintings in this series don't reference any specific car or event, but rather are mood pieces that evoke a sense of the automobile. And the sense that SCM readers would most likely assign to this scene would be one of delight, especially if they had been directed to this SWB as part of a conversation that began, "Well, I've had this old aluminum-bodied red car with big white circles painted on the doors stored out back for thirty years, and I'd kind of like to sell it - do you think $25,000 would be too much."
Prints, signed and numbered by the artist, are available for $195 from Steve Austin's Automobilia, 503-643-8080, fax 503-643-1302.