This Man Was the Biggest Nonconformist In Texas

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

One of these things is really not like the other.

While perusing an archive of historic Texas highway photos the other day (hey, when you’re single…), something popped up that I felt needed to be shared. In a 1962 image of Houston’s Southwest Freeway (US 59 South), standing out like a three-bean salad at a rib cook-off, was a wonderful automotive oddity.

When we pan out, you’ll see what this daring (and economical) driver had to deal with during his daily commute.

Amid a sea of Big Three iron, this man cooled his heels in a BMW 600, the largest of the postwar “bubble cars” that emerged from a recovering Europe. Tiny, underpowered and unsafe, these wheeled eggs were often the only motorized (and enclosed) transportation a European could afford to buy.

The BMW 600 was essentially a stretched version of the Isetta — easily the most recognizable of the bubble cars, and the object of much taunting by owners of conventional vehicle. Produced in four countries by four different automakers, the Isetta didn’t have a backseat, and couldn’t keep up with freeway traffic in the Land of the Free.

Enter the 600, which borrowed the Isetta’s front door and front suspension, but rode atop a longer frame, with a ballsier rear-mounted engine. That’s right, the 600’s 582 cubic centimeter flat-twin engine cranked out a pavement-rumbling 19.5 horsepower. Top speed? About 62 miles per hour.

As we can see here, the 600 wasn’t as spartan as the Isetta. Just look at the fabric sunroof this motorist is using to off-gas his body’s moisture (and who knows what else). And check out those…bumpers.

Unlike this motorist, sales weren’t scorching hot, and production ended in 1959 after a two-year model run. The 600 was the kick BMW needed to get its act together and market world-class sport sedans, not cheap economy cars.

It’s hard to imagine what compelled this Texan to enter the V8-powered, drum-braked gauntlet with a three- to five-year-old German bubble car. Look around him — you can’t tell me there wasn’t a used Ford, Chevrolet or Plymouth in his price range. Who knows, maybe he was from Austin.

The world loves a nonconformist.

[Image: Houston Chronicle Archives, via www.texasfreeway.com]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Testacles Megalos Testacles Megalos on Jun 29, 2016

    "who knows, maybe he was from Austin" ...or Montrose or The Heights. A decade ago I used to daily ride my bike over 59 on the way to and from work, and thanked any available gods that I didn't have to sit in that sweltering trench.

  • Stef Schrader Stef Schrader on Jun 29, 2016

    ! My mom had one of these, just in north Texas, not Houston. Isettas FTW!

  • Lou_BC Ironic, the Honda Ridgeline, a truck that every truck guy loves to hate is in 6th place.
  • 28-Cars-Later I keep forgetting I own it, but the space look on the ext cab reminds me of my 'Yota pickup of the same model year. I'm pretty sure there is some vintage of Hilux which features the same looking ext cab window (maybe '88?) its a shame these things are mostly gone and when available are $1,000,000,000 [INSERT CURRENT CURRENCY].
  • Sayahh Imagine if Ford had Toyota design and build a Mustang engine. It will last over 300k miles! (Skip turbo and make it naturally aspirated.) Maybe Yamaha will help tune it...
  • Sobhuza Trooper Isuzu's crime was to build some damn good trucks.Shame on them.
  • El scotto Listen, unless you were Lord Headly-Stempmoor or such when you got off the off the boat, boot in Canada, you got the short end of the stick. People got on the boat, these days a plane, to escape famine, becoming cannon fodder in yet another stupid war, or the government thought it was A-OK to let soldiers kill you. Juneteenth is just a way to right one of the more bad ideas in the American experiment. Instead we have commenters who were buying tater chips and diet soda at Wal-Mart and got all butt-hurt because they heard someone who wasn't speaking English. I'm going to go fix a couple of frankfurters with salsa and guacamole and wash them down with a lager or three
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