John & Reid
THE FIRST TIME I SAW AN ISETTA
My interest in Isettas and then Micro cars came from an experience I had when I was about twelve years old. My next-door neighbor was a creative inventor and designed the original pup tent. One day he had guests show up driving not one, but two Isettas. I was blown away! Many years later after receiving my degree in design, I found a renewed fascination with the simple, clean, minimalist design of these micro cars.
OUR FIRST CAR
Our first car was a 1957 Isetta 300 which Reid and I bought at a garage sale. The car had an orange dome grafted into the roof and an embroidered bumblebee seat cover. The car did not run and had no brakes.
After the car sat on a trailer for two weeks, Reid, who was fifteen at the time, rolled it off and started to tinker. A few days later I looked out the window and saw him driving the car down the driveway! I ran outside, jumped in with him, and we went for our first ride. After about five minutes we climbed out of the car and rolled around on the ground laughing.
After the periwinkle blue isetta was restored it became Reid’s first car. At age fifteen he sometimes drove it in order to add hours to his requirement for a formal drivers license. About this time I drove the Isetta to drop Reid off at a football game at the University of Michigan. We pulled up to the stadium in a huge crowd. I opened the front door and he jumped out. A moment later I noticed a strange sensation and realized that the crowd had picked up the Isetta and were carrying me into the game! Fortunately a policeman saw the event and chased the crowd away. The perewinkle blue Isetta was featured in an article in the Ann Arbor News titled "Car Gets Great Smileage".
WHERE DO WE FIND THE CARS?
Most of the cars came from ads we've run in various newspapers for 'micro cars wanted' and a few we purchased online. Often what is equally interesting are the people we meet buying the cars and where our cars go when they leave us.
In 2003 we bought a package of six Isettas that had been stored in sheds on a golf course. The cars were mostly disassembled and thoroughly mixed up. Over the next two months we sold them as basket case cars and restored one for our collection. One of the cars went to Windsor Canada and we drove it through customs with a lot of interest.
We once bought four Isettas from a popcorn farmer in Lima Ohio. Not only did we end up with four nice cars, but also we learned how to make killer kettle corn! (It's all about the salt!) Of the four cars, two were the larger 600 models with a back seat. One ended up in Arizona and the other less complete car was shipped to Florida.
Reid recently bought a NSU sport Spyder that was the first production car with a wankle engine. He pulled the car out of a old motel in Benton Harbor Michigan, cleaned it up, and sold it on ebay to a buyer in Isarel!
Usually Reid will drive our small bob tail Isuzu cab forward truck with a trailer attached to pick up cars we find. My function is to clip the hook on to the prize, which is usually half submerged in an old chicken coop, and the he starts the winch. If we are lucky the car will come out in one complete package, but sometimes we only get about half a car.
One of our longest trips was to Sturgeon Bay Wisconsin to pick up two Fiat 500’s sedans- one was an Abarth version assembled by a navy mechanic that had been stationed in Italy. The 750-mile trip was made during a major winter storm with lots of white knuckle driving!
The people we meet while picking cars often makes the trip even more worthwhile. Once we picked up a load of four Isetta 300’s in Muskegon, Michigan (about 200 miles away). Reid negotiated a purchase price of $500 which included the 4 cars and an odd lot of spare parts. When we arrived the seller had dragged everything out into view. I looked this pile over and thought it was more like 4 cars and a $1,000.00 worth of parts! We looked at each other, agreed with him, and then listened to his story about falling in love with Isettas. He had been an artillery gunner in Germany during World War II. As he stayed for the occupation of Germany he got to know the people and their culture and developed a respect for German engineering. Upon returning to the states he operated an Isetta Dealership in South Haven, Michigan for a time!