25 October 2013

Iso Isocarro 500 - A Tough Little Egg

Towards the end of the 1940's, Renzo Rivolta had made up his mind to end production of his Isothermo refrigerators, as there was more demand for vehicles in the post-war recovery period than for his expensive refrigerators. Scooters were the transport of choice at that time in Italy but his first effort, the Furetto, was a dismal failure which according to legend, Rivolta buried in a hole in the ground. The Isoscooters and Isomotos of 1950 were a success though, and were produced for six years.

The designs were a stepping-stone towards an actual vehicle, which emerged in prototype form in the summer of 1952. Based on the drawings of aeronautical engineer Ermenegildo Preti, the Isetta, or 'Little Iso', was a sensation at the 1953 Turin Show. The resulting licensing fees made later projects possible for Rivolta. It was just as well, as the sales figures for Iso Isetta Turismos were pretty dismal compared to BMW's version. From 1953 to 1955 ISO produced just 4900 units compared to 161,728 built by the German firm when production was finally halted in 1962.

This may have been down to the unreliability and unnecessary complication of the two stroke, twin piston engine. The siamese-cylinder engine featured twin bores, with one piston acting as the outlet with the other th inlet, all under a single head. In comparison, the BMW version had a reliable and well-proven 245cc four stroke single R25 motorbike engine. Their car was also extensively re-engineered to provide a more comfortable ride, improved braking, better lighting and superior roadholding.

Iso had big plans for the Isetta that went far beyond the original Preti concept. He believed in designing small cars as small cars and not just scaled-down large cars. Although its not known if he approved on Iso expanding his little egg to a bigger omelette, the company saw the possibilities of offering small trucks using the Isetta as a basis. Small delivery vehicles were very much an integral part of the Italian commercial scene, with many companies involved in this competitive corner of the market; Rivolta himself had success with earlier lastenroller-type vehicle (also called Isocarro) vehicles.

The construction of the Isocarro 500 went far beyond simply attaching a rear box. Designed to carry 500kg (hence the name), the rear of the cab was cut off flush at the rear window and paneled shut. It was fitted to a substantial all-new 2 ¾ inch tubular frame that was essentially the same at the front, but extended rearwards, extending the wheelbase to a length of 85 inches, doubling up in the engine area and extending over the top of a new full-width rear axle and differential, providing a very strong base for the load carrying area, at the expense of some additional weight. The pickup box was all-new and incorporated a fold-down tailgate. A slightly modified version of the Iso twin-piston single provided the power.

The Isocarro was heavier than most light goods vehicles, and it offered a unique front-opening layout that suited certain delivery applications. It came in several versions, including a pickup with a canvas top flush with the cab, or a box van body (the rare Furgone). Other specialised applications, such as ladders or tipper boxes, were possible.

Iso Motor Italia in Madrid had the Iso license for Spain; they built both the Isetta and the truck, renamed Isettacarro 500 and was distributed by Autovehicules S.A., also in Madrid. Motor Italia later became associated with Borgward-Iso Española S.A., which had German connections, and later changed its name to the latter.

The blue 1957 Isettacarro in the studio photos was once part of the Bruce Weiner Microcar Museum, an outstanding assortment of microcars dating from the late 1940's to 1964. The Isettacarro has the special details characteristic of the normal Isetta, including the headlamp pods with their white teardrop side-lamps mounted on the wings, the unique retractable door handle with its special ivory-handled interior latch, a superb cloisonnée “Iso España” badge, an Art Deco-style instrument pod with speedometer, and underneath, the Dubonnet-type suspension with the enclosed spring boxes turning with the wheels. The superbly crafted wooden pickup box and drop-lid fitted are apparently a later addition, but look the part.

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