Let's Take a Moment to Remember That There Were Once Isetta-Based Trucks

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I don’t know what’s going on in your life right now, or what challenges you may be facing, but I know goals can sometimes seem impossible, and one’s situation can seem intractable and doomed to never change. If that’s the case, I’d like to show you something that I hope will inspire you, something that I sincerely hope you can look upon and think, “hell, if that could be done, I can do what I need to do!” That thing is the Iso Autocarro, or, as it’s better known, the Isetta Truck.

Illustration for article titled Lets Take a Moment to Remember That There Were Once Isetta-Based Trucks

I know most of us know of Isettas as BMW products. And, yes, while BMW certainly built the most Isettas, and the little watermelon-shaped car was in no small way responsible for BMW’s survival, the Isetta was not originally their idea.

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The Isetta was originally from the Italian company Iso, better known for their impressive, muscular sports cars like the Rivolta or the Grifo. But after WWII, they needed cheap, useful cars, too, which is how the Isetta was born.

That’s a whole other story, though. We’re here to talk about trucks.

Isetta of Great Britain did make an Isetta pickup truck based on the BMW version, in pretty limited numbers, and it looked like this:

Illustration for article titled Lets Take a Moment to Remember That There Were Once Isetta-Based Trucks

That’s pretty much what most people would think of when you say “Isetta truck”—something tiny, questionably useful, and unquestionably adorable and hilarious.

Iso, on the other hand, was not fucking around. Their Isetta-based trucks looked like this:

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Iso called these the Iso Autocarro, and these were absolutely not little toy pretend trucks. I mean, sure, they had tiny one-cylinder, two-piston (!) engines displacing 236cc and making 9.5 horsepower, probably what a modern F-150's A/C compressor requires to run at full blast, but they also had full-width rear axles and a beefy tube-frame rear that allowed these tiny brutes to haul over 1,100 pounds!

That’s how much the “5 Quintali” referenced in this old ad is:

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That’s over a thousand pounds! That’s no joke. These things did real work.

The Iso Autocarros came in a variety of configurations, including enclosed trucks, flatbeds, and even tilt-bed trucks. It’s thought that as many as 4,000 Autocarros were built between 1954 and 1958.

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Illustration for article titled Lets Take a Moment to Remember That There Were Once Isetta-Based Trucks

Look how lovely the engine access area looks in the wooden bed of this 1957 Autocarro, a licensed Spanish-built one from España Iso, part of the old Bruce Wiener Microcar Museum. Damn, that’s a satisfying image right there.

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Illustration for article titled Lets Take a Moment to Remember That There Were Once Isetta-Based Trucks

Hardly any of these are left, as they were considered disposable workhorses for the most part, but a few survive, even some interesting modified ones like this strangely lovely Iso Camper one-off:

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...or this wine-cask-holding variant:

I suppose the Piaggio Ape took over this role after the Isetta, at least in Italy, and it’s become an icon itself.

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So, just remember, real, genuine, used-for-actual-work trucks were made from goofy little refrigerator-door’d Isettas. If that’s a thing that can exist, then I’m sure whatever goals you have are equally achievable.

Just let the Autocarro be your spirit guide.

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!: https://rb.gy/udnqhh)

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DISCUSSION

Two interesting things about that engine:

Firstly, with the way its crankshafting is set up completely eliminates second order vibrations; the opposing rotations cancel each other out and they’re coplanar, so no worries about torsional vibration. This could be a very smooth engine.

Second, it’s relatively thrifty and nonpolluting as two-strokes go. Depending on how the porting is arranged, the incoming charge air could be forcing the spent gases all the way through the stroke of both cylinders before escaping. Depending on the porting, it could be just enough to prevent unburned gases from simply speeding through the engine without getting fired.

That would go some distance toward explaining how the little trucklet gets just 5l / 100km, that’s good even by modern standards.

Reading up on the split-single engine, I’m seeing where one manufacturer built a V6 that had four cylinders firing and two cylinders dedicated solely to scavenging.  The description made it sound like it was one bank of 4 and one bank of 2 cylinders.  If ever there was an engine I wanted to see, that’s it.