The role the 700 placed in the history of BMW is complicated. Some say the 700 saved the company, but it isn’t that simple.Immediately after the end of the war, BMW produced bicycles, kitchen equipment and other mundane products; mostly made from melted down aluminum airplane parts.
The first post-war motorcycle was introduced in 1948 and sold well through its peak sales year of 1952, dropping quickly after that. The 501 baroque angel was put into production in 1952, but it was too expensive for most German families at that time and the styling was from the 1930s. A bigger engine and nicer trim for the 502 didn’t help much. The 503 and 507 were limited production shooting stars that lost money. From a financial perspective, all the 500-series cars were flops. Things were getting increasingly desperate for BMW.
German citizens after the war first used bicycles, then motorcycles and then microcars, which were essentially enclosed motorcycles. Searching for such a car, a representative from BMW attended the Geneva Motor Show in March 1954. There on display was the Isetta, meaning little Iso, a product of the Iso Rivolta refrigeration company of Milan, who had decided to put into production a microcar designed by an aeronautical engineer.
The front-opening door design had not caught on in its native Italy, so BMW representatives were able to not only license the design and name, but also buy the production line equipment, which had only produced about 1,000 vehicles for the home market. The production line was trucked over the Alps and installed in Munich, allowing BMW to start sales of the ‘little egg’ in 1955. From 1955 to 1962, BMW sold over 160,000 Isettas.
BMW then created a stretch version of the Isetta, the 600, with a rear seat and a side door. It was sold for three years, from 1957 to 1959, with about 35,000 units produced. The odd styling ensured it was another flop.