The prime example of the pot-war bubble car was the BMW Isetta, a rear-engine two-seater with simple, sliding panel side windows and a sunroof. On the sides of this gumdrop-shaped little car were amber safety lights, and forward of these were the vehicle’s headlights, mounted on either side of the driver’s compartment like the peripheral lights of a diving bell.
Extending from mid-way up the frontal fender surfaces of one variant were tubular bars that were bent down under the chassis, forming one of the most useless bumper arrangements ever devised: these left the front center of the car unprotected. This was but a minor flaw in the design of this wretched little car, for it had only one door, which also formed the nose of the car.
Yes, the front of the car was the only door the Isetta had. It opened out to the left, and the instrument panel was attached to it. The steering wheel was also attached to the door, and when egress was desired, the door was opened, and the steering column hinged outward to accommodate the action.
The interior handle was opposite the driver: in a front-end accident, the driver would likely be pinioned by the flimsy steering wheel, and would be unable to reach the door latch. Beyond that, any serious front end collision would very likely result in the deaths of driver and passenger, as there was no substantial structure to prevent the Isetta from crumpling front to rear like a piece of paper.
Should the occupants survive a head-on, there was no way short of smashing the windows to excape, as the only normal egress was the (probably) jammed front door. Also, in those days before standardized seatbelts, there was nothing in the Isetta to keep the passenger (the driver being pinioned by the steering wheel) from hurtling through the front windshield.
Had the Isetta been a good-handling little machine, one could have driven (extremely) defensively, but its wide-front-narrow-back track widths were best suited to going in a straight line. Incidentally, those back wheels also steered the car, making this strange little car truly mechanically backward.
It was an oddly cute little car, but had about it more than the air of disaster.
Meanwhile, the economy car boom was starting to take hold in the US. Rambler was the best-selling American economy car, a fact that spurred the larger American automakers to develop such economy car designs as the Ford Falcon, the Chevrolet Corvair and the Dodge Lancer. The way was also open for imports to garner a share of the US market. Among these were the famous Volkswagen ‘Beetle,’ and several British offerings. The French were to have their say, too.