Abandoned: Rare USDM Borgward
An obscure car from a forgotten brand rotting in a Georgia forest
This summer I visited the eclectic junkyard-turned-roadside-attraction Old Car City USA in White, Georgia. This has been my custom for 3 yeas now as it combines relaxing hiking with the thrill of exploring an overgrown car graveyard. You can find my review here. Upon reviving this series, we've most recently seen an overgrown Dodge water truck. Today, we're returning to form with a car from a brand only the most hardcore car enthusiasts remember at all: Borgward.
Borgward was a German car manufacturer born from the 1929 merger of Hansa-Lloyd AG and Carl Borgward's own Goliath-Werke Borgward & Co. Due to rationing of supplies, the brands Goliath, Borgward, and Lloyd were set up as separate companies after WWII to take advantage of a loophole but individually managed by the same group of people. However, this organizational strategy made the management increasingly cumbersome and slow to act, leading to their eventual financial collapse and bankruptcy in 1961. Despite being successful in sales volume and possessing more than enough funds with which to pay their debtors, the company was forcibly liquidated and all three of its valuable brands suddenly ceased to exist. At least, until an unrelated Chinese derived car company sprouted up by that name in 2008.
The details of that bankruptcy and unexpected rebirth are long and controversial (this Hemmings article covers it well) but the Isabella range of cars existed well before things got confusing. Debuting in 1954 with an advanced monocoque body, it was an unprecedented success for the company. I have had difficulty finding when they entered the US market or export numbers but they had moderate success in import-loving coastal cities. You could find at least one Borgward dealer in most major cities but not a whole lot actually made it to the buying public. In addition to being a left field choice, it was pretty expensive for its size. The 1960 Isabella Coupé started at $3,750, pretty pricey compared to a brand new and far larger Chevy Impala sedan that started at $2,590. And despite its sporting appearance, its 1.5 liter engine made 75 horsepower.
What we're looking at here, then, is an exceptionally obscure vehicle given the brand's short and quiet run in the United States. I didn't even know what I was looking at when I found this regular Isabella sedan (not the swoopy coupé) in derelict condition. At first, I thought Isabella was the model name as it's proclaimed loudly on the front grille. A smaller 'Borgward' script adorns the front fenders.
Despite its American influenced "big car" styling, it's quite small. In fact, it's barely larger than the Fiat 110 D lying next to it in its final resting place. Of course, this car has two less doors, helping its proportions give the illusion of size.
Unfortunately, this particular example is in exceedingly poor condition. The body of the car shows its 60+ years. When a car spends this long in a forest, the gradual buildup and and decay of pine needles results in a peculiar top down decay. This example is well and truly dead. Still, they said that about Borgward itself and the name currently adorns new Chinese made crossovers.
The careful attention to detail that makes the exterior so attractive extends to the inside. Even in such terrible condition it's readily apparent this used to be a stylish car. I really like the strong horizontal elements that enhance the openness of the cabin despite it being a pretty narrow car.
So, what do you think of this obscure German oddity? I'm a huge fan of the many forgotten cars imported in small quantities in the 50s and 60s but Borgward in particular stands out for its untimely end. The Isabella was beginning to show its age but it was still a very stylish and well built car that stood out from the crowd, even if it was a little expensive.