The Random Griffith

When BMW was cool

Posted in Uncategorized by Jackson Griffith on 27/02/2010

Nothing against “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” but there was a time when Bayerische Motoren Werke AktienGesellschaft manufactured cool cars and motorcycles. Now, I still dig some of the blue propeller’s cars and bikes, but the company makes some rather pointless SUVs these days, also, and it manufactures them in wingnut “right to work” states like South Carolina — which may be why the BMW marque has such strong cachet with Republicans and other right wingers. And truth be told, right now if I had the big bucks to blow on a hot rod, I’d be signing up for the forthcoming Cadillac CTS-V Coupe, just so I could get my guido on and confound everybody who’d think a crunchy-granola lefty-left post-hippiedip bicycle kook like me would opt for a Prius. I grew up in Stockton, California, if that helps anyone figure out my aesthetic baseline. Dean Martin is still my go-to guy for ultimate style.

Bimmer acquired the Sir Alec Issigonis Mini franchise when it bought British Leyland, or Rover, or whatever they were calling it that week, and then jettisoned everything else, selling MG and Rover to the Chinese, unloading Jaguar and Land Rover to Ford, which later sold those brands to Indian up-and-comer Tata Motors. And who knows what happened to Wolseley and some of the other cool marques in the Leyland parts bin, like Austin, Morris, Riley and Triumph? Minis are cool and all, even if BMW is extending the brand to the Clubman and Countryman wagons, which means the stretch limo can’t be far off. But back in the 1950s, Bimmer built an even cooler mini.


Of course I’m talking about the Isetta, an Italian design with a 12-horsepower one-banger motorcycle engine and a door on the front of the car. These things were reasonably ubiquitous when I was a kid, at least in Stockton, which in retrospect was some kind of paradise for weirdo Euro cars, because I remember a lot of them. Or maybe there were a lot of oddball (non-Volkswagen) Euro makes in ’50s and ’60s California, before Toyota and Nissan (ne Datsun) and the other Japanese makes wiped the Europeans off the playing field.


I always wanted one of these cars when I was a kid, just because of the novelty of being able to open the front of the car to get inside. I mean, how cool is that? Maybe it isn’t the most practical thing in the world, and I’m not sure what the proper German word for “deathtrap” might be, but I’m sure it applies. Even the clown car 600 model seems pretty sweet from a utilitarian point of view.



Let’s hear it for “Bee Emm Vee”: It’s not just for Republicans anymore. —Jackson Griffith

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