Don’t burst my bubble – the Schuco BMW Isetta (and some Japanese visitors)

So as promised I’m back again with a visit to the miniature world of Schuco. And miniature is a fitting word considering the size of my subject today.

Say hello to the BMW Isetta.

The Isetta started life in 1953 not as a BMW, but as a product of the Italian company Iso. Revealed at the Turin motor show, the Isetta (Italian for “Little Iso”) became known as one of the most recognised “bubble cars” (The term came from the bubble shaped canopies and bodywork of microcars of the era). The Isetta was a relatively slow seller with Italian production ending 2 years later with around 1000 cars produced. The commerical “Autocarro” version with a full length rear axle was more of a success however, with over 4000 being made in Italy and Spain. The Isetta also found success in a surprising place: the 1954 Mille Miglia, taking all 3 steps on the podium of the economy classification.

With production of the Isetta ending and focus moving to production of the forthcoming Rivolta sports car, Iso became interested in doing license production deals with other manufacturers. BMW were one interested party and in 1954 bought the production license and the complete body tooling. BMW made the Isetta one of their own, mating Iso’s design to one of their motorcycle engines. The result was 160,000+ being produced across Europe before production ended in 1962. It’s a world away from today’s M cars but nevertheless it’s an instantly recognisable part of the BMW story, and it’s no surprise Schuco chose to model one.

The first thing that strikes you about the casting is its size. It’s tiny. There are bigger coins in my wallet than this thing. And trust me most of those coins aren’t big! Compared to the last Schuco model I covered it’s poles apart!

But it’s an absolute peach, and I don’t just mean the colour. Small vehicles can be so easy to make a mess of in this scale as faults in castings or cost cutting in the manufacturing process will show a lot easier. But there’s nothing to report here past a slightly misshapen tyre that was easily rectified. For such a small thing there’s a decent weight to it. And the detail and quality control remains as strong as any Schuco. Paint and decals are sharp and the whole thing *feels* quality.

I said in my last feature of the Unimog that these Schuco cars are in the same league as a Tomica Limited Vintage/Vintage Neo. And the Isetta gave me a perfect opportunity to compare the Isetta to some of their smallest offerings; the Mitsubishi Pet Leo, Daihatsu Midget and Mazda K360.

I consider the Tomica Limited Vintage/Vintage Neo lines as the some of the best diecast work of all time. Their execution of their subjects is second to none and these tiny Kei trucks are proof of that. They’re an utter delight, faithful details, features like removable canopies and cargo crates. And I reckon the Schuco car holds its own amongst such revered company. What do you reckon?

I also managed to dig out another suitably tiny diecast for a side by side with the Isetta: a Mazda R360 Coupe in 1963 Japan Grand Prix race livery.

This is a model I found on eBay a few years ago, made by a company called DyDo. It came in kit form (a bit like the Kyosho Ferraris) and there’s a few other models including a Subaru 360 and Toyota Corona Coupe. It’s not on the level of a TLV but it’s nicely finished. It’s obscurity landed it in my collection and its size has put it in this feature.

It’s the first time in a while I have handled any of my TLV collection. I’ve moved house twice in as many years and sadly my diecasts are still spread over several boxes over several rooms. But I had fun going through it all and taking these Tomicas out reminds me once again how brilliant they are. And, once I had them all together, proves just how good the Schuco models are. And I haven’t even got to their Mercedes “dash 8” yet…

Alex Winson

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