This Man Was the Biggest Nonconformist In Texas

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
this man was the biggest nonconformist in texas

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]

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2 of 91 comments
  • 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!

  • Zerofoo "Hyundais just got better and better during the 1990s, though, and memories of those shoddy Excels faded."Never. A friend had an early 90s Hyundai Excel as his college beater. One day he decided that the last tank of gas he bought was worth more than the car. He drove it to empty and then he and his fraternity brothers pushed it into the woods and left it there.
  • Kwik_Shift There are no new Renegades for sale within my geographic circle of up to 85 kms. Looks like the artificial shortage game. They bring one in, 10 buyers line up for it, $10,000 over MSRP. Yeah. Like with a lot of new cars.
  • Ribbedroof In Oklahoma, no less!
  • Ribbedroof Have one in the shop for minor front collision repairs right now,I've seen more of these in the comments than in the 30 years I've been in collision repair.
  • Tassos And all 3 were ordered by Fisker's mother. Seriously, given Fisker's terrible record of Failure in the past, only an utter loser, (for example, VGhost or Art Vandelay?), looking for a BEV terrible enough to be a proper replacement of his 11 mile range Fiat 500E, would order one of these. (apart from Fisker's mother)