If you haven’t ridden in an Isetta Zu, you have missed out on the ride of a lifetime.
The Isetta was manufactured between 1955 and 1962, and was dubbed the “Bubble Car.” For you men out there, I googled the statistics: the more powerful Isetta had a one-cylinder, 13-horsepower, 297-CC engine. Stepping full-speed on the gas pedal, you might be able to get 50 miles-per-hour out of this 720-pound vehicle.
There were a total of 1,750 Isettas manufactured, so if you did manage to wrangle a ride in one, you were a minority. Mark me down as being one of the minority who enjoyed riding around in this little boy-toy with a motorcycle engine.
In August 1957, I began my secretarial studies at the Rockford School of Business in Rockford. I was broke, had no car, and had just gotten a job as a checker at the Piggly Wiggly grocery store.
Transportation was a problem for me and Sandy, my co-student and co-worker. Our answer to that problem was to hitch a ride with any student at the business school who also had a job at Piggly Wiggly. Our choice boiled down to two guys — creepy Roger, and Bill. We opted to ride with Bill.
“What in the world is this, Bill?” I asked as I looked at a little blue, up-side-down bathtub with a windshield.
“It’s an Isetta Zu. I traded my other car in for it,” he said, as he puffed out his chest and opened the front end of the car for us to get in. The Isetta was a two-seater, with the whole front end of the vehicle being the only door. Skinny little Sandy and I squished in beside Bill. He closed the front and took off.
The summer of 1958 was one fun Isetta Zu ride, and Rockford was our playground. We found that four people could fit, if Sandy sat on the lap of the other rider, and I sat on the top of the seat with my upper torso sticking out through the open sun roof. What a fun, summer breezy ride that was.
Often after work, Bill and I would ride around town or through the parks.
“Bill, I wonder what’s up that trail,” I said.
“I don’t know, but we can find out.”
“We can’t, there’s a log across it.”
“So what!” he said, as he swung around the log and gunned it up the hill.
“What the heck!” I shouted, not understanding why he had slammed on the brakes and about thrown me through the front windshield. Then I looked down into the huge black hole we were hanging over and the “why” sank in.
Our front tires were inches from plummeting down into a rock quarry, and taking the car, and us, with them. That cute little car came close to being the death of us.
“OK, where is it?” Bill found having a mini-car wasn’t all roses. Boys will be boys, and we worked with a few who saw humor in picking up the Isetta and setting it down in inconvenient places. Much time was spent looking for it. Bill took it OK – at first.
But, Bill reached his limit at the fall company picnic at Sinnissippi Park.
“Do you know where it is, Earlene?” he asked when he returned from a trek around the grounds. He was looking me straight in the eyes as I shrugged. I couldn’t outright lie and say “No.” All our co-workers were looking at us and listening, and all were in on the joke.
I couldn’t outright say “Yes.” Bill was standing about 15 feet from his car, that was snuggled in with the circle of kiddy cars sitting on the ground, which not too long before had served as a thrilling summer kids ride.
I had ridden with Bill to the picnic, so it was a cool ride home. I had broken our trust, and it took Bill awhile before he forgave me.
Soon after, we received our school certificates, and as Bill returned to his home roots, we parted with our friendship intact and some great mutual memories — thanks to his Little Blue Isetta Zu.
Don’t forget to F-R-O-G.
Note to readers: Earlene Campbell lives by the FROG motto — Fully Rely On God. She lives in Princeton and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.