I’m someone who knows a lot about certain kinds of weird cars. That’s not bragging, it’s just what I love. Occasionally, though, I come across some bit of information that makes me remember just how incredibly, lavishly ignorant I really am. Things like the Diaseta, the attempted ‘80s Isetta revival.
While researching something else, I happened to see this image of what looked like what you’d get if you mated an Isetta and a 1983 Totota Tercel. It was clearly an Isetta, but it had big plastic 1980s multicolored taillights, big black rubber bumpers, and some odd-looking vents.
It was like an Isetta customized by someone who hated chrome, delicacy, and mid-century automotive charm. In short, it was one cylinder’s worth of bubbly 1980s madness. It was as though automotive history was piled into a big plastic tub and transported by toddler across a field, mixing up the details of all the bits inside. I had to know more.
Luckily, Dr. Nathaniel Internet set up this global electro-brain network just for situations like these, and I soon learned that what I was astounded by was called the Diaseta, and was a 1980 attempt to bring back the Isetta by a Brazilian auto parts company in a region known as ABC.
It seems like the motivation behind the car came from one branch manager named Humberto Pereira Dias (which I guess is where the name came from: Dias+Isetta) and the car seems to have actually been shown at a 1981 São Paulo export exhibition.
The basic Isetta was redesigned a bit to become the Diaseta, gaining about five inches in length (it looks like the C-pillar was widened?), those big black bumpers, lights and instruments from a Fiat 147, and some cooling air intake vents on the sides, roughly where the original Isetta mounted headlights.
It’s also worth noting that the window arrangement shows that this car is actually not based on the BMW Isetta, but another Isetta licensee, the Romi-Isetta, a Brazilian-built Isetta (licensed from Iso, just like BMW) that made about 3,000 from 1956-1961. It was actually the first car produced in Brazil!
The ABC company was allegedly in talks with BMW to build their one-cylinder motorcycle engine under license for the car, and they had some big plans (machine translated from Portuguese, but you’ll get the idea):
With plans (unrealistic) to offer two versions of body, sheet steel or fiber-to-glass, responsible for the project promised to start production in the following year, at the rate of up to 1,500 units monthly. The Diaseta would be sold through a network of representatives installed next to gas stations, as complete units or in kits for assembly by the purchaser. They were also provided models truck, van and taxi. The plans included the construction of own plant in Montes Claros (MG), but production plans were never realized.
Unless the reborn Isetta could have been sold absurdly cheap, it’s not hard to see why it never got off the ground in early 80s Brazil. If there was any segment with plenty of good competition in Brazil then, it was the entry-level car segment, which would have put the Diaseta up against VW’s legendary Fusca (Beetle) as well as the Gol and Brasilia, Fiat had many good models, including the light-donating 147, there were Chevettes and Gurgel city cars and more. It was a crowded market, and maybe too competitive for a 30-year old oddball egg.
Honsetly, even if this thing was just a one-off stillborn, I’m amazed it exists. The Isetta was an oddball, bare-bones semi-desperation design — albeit a very clever one — when it was designed way back in 1953. The idea that it would be brought back about 30 years later as a city car speaks both to the effectiveness of the basic design and the possible, delightful insanity of this Dias guy.
A 1980s-ified Isetta. There’s still so so much I don’t know, but I wouldn’t trade that geeky excited feeling when I learn something new for anything.