An egg with wheels?
Being stuck in a traffic jam is not a new "invention". When cars got affordable the problem of filled lanes rose soon afterwards. How to solve it?
Well there are multiple answers to ease road constipation.
First you can have a sort of congestion charge system, like the one in today's London. The basic idea is, if you want to go into specific areas of the city you have to pay a small fee. Actually it's eleven and a half quid for just one day, so maybe you're better off with an oyster card.
Another approach is to rise to power, establish a totalitarian regime, ban cars for the public and enjoy the empty highways. If this seems a bit difficult, I understand, politics is not everyone's cup of tea.
The empty lane in the middle is the Zil lane. In lanes like this is where Soviet high ranking officials skipped traffic. Courtesy of Lite.
So if you don't want to spend commuting everyday smelling someone else's bowel movement, or you don't have a hunger for power, you still have a third option.
You buy a small car.
And you really can't get smaller than this:
What devoured the lady is not a washing machine on a rampage, it is an actual car. Courtesy of Rudolf Simon.
What you see in the picture above is an Isetta. The first prototype was made by a company called ISO SpA, based in the Italian city of Milan. Originally the company manufactured scooters (you know, italy=scooters), and refrigerators. I'm not entirely sure how they came up with this little bag of cuteness, but I think someone accidentally tipped a fridge over two scooters and they just sort of rolled with it.
Certainly not the opinion of the germans though. When in 1954, three of these topped the economy classification at the legendary GT race Mille Miglia, BMW pounced and bought the license for manufacturing. They didn't really change much, reshaped the egg bit (you might call it the chassis nowadays), and swapped the 236cc split-single engine for a 250cc one cylinder motor. So.. minor alterations.
Unsurprisingly the Isetta had a couple of weird features.
It had a door on the front opening outwards. This door is special because it was the only one on the whole car. You might say, that this is not so weird but when you think about the stuff in front of you in a normal set of wheels you start to feel the problem.
Usually you have a dashboard, airbags, central console and among other things a steering wheel between you and the engine, which sits in the front as well (not talking about mid-engined supercars, this tribe's called Weird). Isetta worked around this problem putting the engine in the back and since it did not sport a complete or airbags (you heard me), or a central console, two obstacles remained, the gear stick and the wheel.
The gear stick was moved into the left side panel. Adding to that it also has a weird horizontally mirrored layout. First gear is away and down, second is away and up, and so on all the way up to fourth. I imagine it takes some time to get used to it.
For the wheel the designers came up with a genius solution. They fitted it with a hinge, so when you opened the door the steering wheel, and the steering column moved forward so you could get in more easily. Like so:
See, there it is just above the pedals. Courtesy of Brian Snelson.
Having this meant the the little Italian designed Isetta was the first ever BMW to feature a moving steering wheel to ease access. Mind you, today this is an optional extra.
Another bizarre attribute it has is the existence of the rear axle. You heard me it has four wheels, it is a car after all. It is hard to spot though, mainly because it's only 19 inches long. This small size eliminated the need for a differential. How cool is that?
Look at those hind legs. Adorable. Courtesy of Automobilemag.
All in all the Isetta was unique in a lot of measures, but considering the challenge of fitting a car into these small dimensions (7.5 ft by 4.5 ft), it had to be pioneering in all sorts of ways. The BMW licensed production ended with around 160,000 units produced, so if you are lucky to see one make sure to take a picture.