Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Have You Seen This Car?

This article appeared in MINUTIA almost four years ago -- and it seems interesting enough to reprint here:

It all started in 1961 when I bought the BMW Isetta 300 from an Airman who worked for me at the Air Force Station at Syracuse, NY. He had this 1958 Isetta, a nice little car but not very conducive for courting in it, as you can surmise as you look at the picture! I heard it was for sale and I bought it.

At the time I was living on Folar Beach Road on Oneida lake about 4 miles from the base. I got about 60 mpg on the 298cc motorcycle engine it had. It had a top speed of around 55 mph, downhill. The fellows in the Minicar Club I am sure will dispute this claim but that was the best I could get out of it? It was ideal for commuting to the base. I made a set of chains for it and bolted some water skis on the front wheels so that we could use it for getting it on the lake for ice fishing.

One evening we decided to drive into North Syracuse to visit friends who had just bought a new home there. In the car was myself, my wife, two kids and our dog. As we pulled up the fellow next door was mowing his lawn, and he stopped when he saw us pull up. I opened the door and out came the dog, two kids and my wife and then me. He walked over to ask if we had driven it from Michigan? While in the service I kept Michigan plates on my vehicles. I told him sure, and we have a trailer that we left at the campgrounds! Well he was buying it till I told him about the trailer? One too many lies!

Well there are many cute and funny stories about the times we had with it. It was in the spring of 1964 as I was getting ready to retire fromt he Air Force and was talking about selling the car. My wife said don't sell it! We can take it back to Laurium and I will use it to go back and forth to the golf course? Her friend Rita was going to teach her to play golf. I told her that with the two of you in it there would be no place for the golf clubs. I didn't really want to sell it so I started to figure out how I could handle the golf clubs? There are two very stout pipe bumpers on the back the only place that I could mount something on. I bolted two pieces of pipe upright on them about 30" at the top. Across these pipes I bolted a piece of hardwood about 24" by 8".

About this time my friend Don showed up and says " this looks like a good place to carry an outboard motor." With this in mind Don says lets put a motor on it and take a ride around the lake. So we clamped a 7.5 Johnson on it and started out. I had forgotten that the Isetta at that time had a blown muffler and was quite loud. Well we got many looks, laughs and applause, so it just mushroomed from there. I had all the pieces and parts that I needed after buying out the remains of an outboard agency in Matydale, NY. I had a bow plate for an aluminum boat, red and green bow lights, chocks and bits and several stern lights. I filled in the open areas at the stern. Mounted the flow plate and tilted in the bow as you see it. Then added the lights. Bronzed the bottom and painted a water line on her. She had a sun roof, so I put a plexi-glass windshield on the top and a stern light up there also.

Well now it was about time for a name, but we decided that a number was better. So we decided on the EXP I. Till now there has been no EXP II. When I retired in November 1964 we came across Canada with a truck with a 4-wheel trailer and the Isetta among other things on it. Behind me was my car with the wife, the kids and the dog, and it was loaded down. Then behind us was my Jeep with a V plow on the front and a two wheeled box trailer behind it. Well at Buffalo we had no problem and the Canadian Customs just waved us through. While we were crossing Canada on the Queens Highway which (in 1964) was just two lanes. This three vehicle caravan was something to pass. We had CB radios in each vehicle and I told them to fall backa nd leave a space between us to allow vehicles to pass one at a time. Because as they passed my truck and trailer they would see the Isetta and slow up to my speed to get a better look at it. I thought I was going to cause an accident. Well we made it to Windsor and Canadian Customs. I showed them my retirement papers, but all theywanted to see was the title to that little car which had quite a crowd gathered around it. We than moved on to US Customs. Well, Tim and I got stopped by Barb was waved through. This nice young Customs Officer was trying to show his authority and was going to make us take everything off so he could inspect it. I showed him my retirement papers and told min these were all my household goods that I had acquired during my stay in Syracuse. Whild we were going around a Senior Customs Officer showed up and asked what was going on and I told him. He asked to see my discharge papers. He took a copy and stamped it and said to get going and that was it.

Well there was some other excitement on the trip but it didn't have anythign to do with the Isetta so I won't bore you with that! I was supposed to have an Evenrude Agency, but, that fell through so I set up a small boat ride in Copper Harbor called Harbur Cruise. Hence the name on the sides of the car. I had it in several parades and then would park it by the stop signal at the junction of US 41 and 14-M-26. It wold send people looking for the Boat Ride. The boat business only operated for two years wile I was driving a school bus in the winter. I then took the job of Street Commissioner in Laurium, so I put the car in storage. It was in storage for many years while I was in my boating phase, going to Arkansas two years to operate a cruise boat, spent a couple of years on a research vessel on the Great Lakes, then to the Gulf, Baltimore Harbor, Bahamas, Bayfield Wisconsin, and a stint with the National Parks System in the Apostle Islands.

I finally settled down starting another business in Laurium, building portable buildings. It was then that I got it out of storage and built a special trailer for it. Then I decided to sell it by putting an ad in MINUTIA, The Microcar & Minicar Club Newsletter. Well a Dr. (podiatrist) from Cheboygan was up here on vacation and saw it and took my number, called me to ask the price, and he bought it. Cambe back that Saturday and took it away. Well I thought that was the end of it. Not so.

About three years ago I received a call from Don Campbell of CM. He had seen my ad int he 1995 MINUTIA and wanted to know if it was still for sale. I told him that I had sold it to a podiatrist from Cheboygan, Michigan. He then asked me if I would build him one like it. I still had enough of the pieces so I asked him if he had an Isetta. He said no but he was going to buy one. I told him to call me when he had one. About a year later he called an said he had a 300 and a 600 Isetta. He said the 300 was too nice to modify but he thought he would like to modify the 600 and would send me a drawing. Well I got the drawing but it was to be a Car/Airplane, with folding wings, twin booms and tails with the engine on top of the car with tractor and pusher propellers. I told him that I probably could do it but that I wouldn't even make one of those for myself.

Think that's the end of it? Oh! No!

Well another year or so goes by and I get a call from a fellow from down in the Cadillac area and he wants to know what I know about the Isetta. Don has him looking for it or to build one for him. I started to tell him about the Dr. from Cheboygan but told him to forget it, and that I would see what I can find out. I called the Cheboygan Chamber of Commerce, the lady that I talked to was very helpful. She knew of the Dr. and informed me that he died but she gave me the phone number of the present podiatrist. He knew nothing of the car but his receptionist checked some records and found the names and phone numbers of the former podiatrist, which has been a great help. I made several phone calls and found out that the fellow that had bought it from me was dead. I contacted his widow and she did not know what happened to the Isetta. My next move was to contact the Microcar & Minicar Club, asking about putting an ad in MINUTIA. Yes...I could do that, but it was suggested that I write this article.

If you have ever seen or know of this car -- please contact the editor.

Ray Berghefer

Laurium, Michigan

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