Little bubble beamer
One of its kind in NZ
“Quirky” is the word John Rathlou favourswhen asked to describe his three-wheeled, BMW1963 Isetta 300— which he believes is the only one in the country.
The bright fuschia bubble car has been in the family for more than 34 years and undergone many transformations.
But it was not the first one of its type that John— aformer aircraft engineer— had put his heart and soul into and restored. Hiswife Elizabeth, who also shows an affection for the tiny car, says the couple made two Isettas out of four when they were living in South Wales.
“You couldn’t give them away,” John says. “In 1974 when they were coming to an end you could buy them for a fiver. I bought four of them— one was a fiver and some for £25 as they were scrapping them.”
Once complete he sold one Isetta and only parted with the other when the couple moved to South Africa.
However in 1981 fate intervenedwhen the pair were in England and driving from Cambridge down to the coast.
“Wewere reminiscing and Elizabeth said rememberwhen we had the old bubble.
“Then we drove around the corner and there was one sitting in this field,” he says.
“It was one of those life coincidences, sowe stopped. The car was tatty and the floor had rotted through but I left a note on thewindow screen.”
The rest was history which included the bubble being shipped across the ocean when the Rathlous immigrated to New Zealand in 2010.
Nowadays it’s only John who drove the Isetta but Elizabeth had used it as her work car and has memories of many escapades. Most of those involved their sons, who she says loathed the vehicle, as it was painted bright green then and nicknamed the Green Boogie by other kids.
The adventures included her youngest Gareth having to walk to school in the rain as his tuba caught a ride in the passengers seatwith most of it sticking out through the roof.
And another timewhen the wires got crossed and every time Elizabeth turned the wheel the hornwent off like a cruise ship fog horn, and when she stalled in peak hour traffic because she forgot to switch on the petrol, or having to drive 70mileswith the roof open in the cold and prising her fingers off the steering wheel.
She admits that part of her life is over but both agree they won’t be partingwith the Bubble anytime soon. By his own
calculation John thinks the Isetta could be worth $20,000 due to its rarity and he still enjoyed taking it on outings.
The micro car was a crowd stopper and “it’s a fun thing but not a car you would want to use every day”.
“Although we have been here for nearly eight years when it came in the container it was a bit damaged and Iwas very disappointed so it took a back seat for a while. So this sat in the garage here unused and I only recently got it back on the road.”
Now John was enjoying showcasing the bubble around town where it was drawing lots of attention. Specifications: ■ Engine: 298cc/1-cyl ■ Power: [email protected] ■ Torque: [email protected] ■ Top Speed: 52mph ■ Length: 7ft 9in— 2.36m
John and Elizabeth Rathlou have a great affection for their tiny bubble car which they have owned for more than 34 years.
John and Elizabeth Rathlou.