Next to motor cycles Iso Rivolta understands the need for a small city car. CineCars brings you part four of The Iso Rivolta Chronicles; Isetta, the city car that saved BMW.
Iso Rivolta was a pioneering Italian automotive brand in the 1950s and -60s. It was a family business led by engineer Renzo Rivolta, who, in the late 40s, decided to transform his firm from producing fridges to creating motorcycles. Rivolta was right; during the 50s, Italian motorcycle production was booming, led by Piaggio’s Vespa, Innocenti’s Lambretta and of course Iso Moto. He then changed his business to automobiles. From city cars, like the Isetta bubble car, to luxury sports cars with big American V8 muscle.
Two men have the same intuition. They see the changing needs of a recovering society, after WWII. They understand how life in the city is evolving, with many more cars around, congested traffic and parking problems. They both see the need for a car well suited for the city, a true city car. These two men are Renzo Rivolta and Pierluigi Raggi. Renzo Rivolta meets Pierluigi Raggi at Politecnico, a famous technical university in Milan, where Rivolta usually recruits engineers for his company. Rivolta is looking for someone able to develop his idea of a city car. Lucky for him, Raggi has already been working on such a project in the previous years.
Rivolta wants a comfortable car. A lot of attention is dedicated to its ergonomics and everything is designed with the comfort of the cabin in mind. The opening front enables the driver and passenger to step out of the car directly onto the sidewalk, avoiding the incoming traffic. They invent a unique mechanism to allow the steering column to bend while the door is opening. The small dimensions allow the car to be parked easily and move without problems in city traffic. The engine is derived from the split cylinder engine used for the Isomoto. The displacement is increased to 238 cc and produces 9.5 hp at 4750 rpm. Originally the prototype has 3 wheels, but being too dangerous, they decide to use two wheels in the back positioning them very close to eachother, so no differential was needed, saving weight, complexity and cost.
Presented in 1953 the Isetta, with its unusual design, does not fail to make positive headlines. The advanced design solutions adopted make the Isetta stand out from the competition. But being so advanced and unusual has its price. The Italian public does not respond as expected and the little car attracts unwanted attention from big competitors like FIAT, that does not like the idea of a car rivaling the 500 they are developing. Poor sales force Rivolta to find a new source of income to keep Iso Rivolta going. At the same time, BMW is in need of a cheap car to sell along its expensive V8 models. The two companies meet and the BMW Isetta is born. The car is a huge success and saves both companies lives. In the following years, the Isetta is licensed to other companies as well and the royalties allow Iso Rivolta to pursue its ambitious project of developing its new GT.
The Iso Rivolta Chronicles is the first series produced by CineCars’ Italian counterpart An Italian Garage. They are an independent production studio, specialized in automotive videos, aiming for a series of single-topic seasons. This summer CineCars will bring you the full series of The Iso Rivolta Chronicles in HD. Stay tuned for more classic Italian engineering.
Marc GF Zaan