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Bubble burst – little Isetta three-wheeler comes to end of the road

Terry Patrick still has his Pitman's manual, complete with oily fingerprints on the pages about adjusting tappets, for his Isetta bubble car. Picture: Terry Patrick

Terry Patrick still has his Pitman's manual, complete with oily fingerprints on the pages about adjusting tappets, for his Isetta bubble car. Picture: Terry Patrick

Terry Patrick

Terry Patrick’s Isetta bubble car came to an oily end and he still has the manual to remind how the bubble really did burst!

An Isetta bubble car similar to one Terry Patrick owned for a very short while. Picture: Andy Russell An Isetta bubble car similar to one Terry Patrick owned for a very short while. Picture: Andy Russell

I bought an Isetta three-wheel bubble car in 1968 – I only had a motorcycle licence so couldn’t drive a normal car.

I was in further training at RAF Cosford in Shropshire and bought it from a mate for £30. I took the Isetta to have its MOT and was told it had failed because the back wheel was falling off.

As luck would have it, a scrap one was for sale in the local village. I checked it and the back wheel appeared to be OK so I bought the car for, I believe, £2.

We towed the scrap one to the car park at RAF Cosford and I removed the whole back wheel and drive assembly and replaced my car’s damaged one with it. It then passed the MOT.

Terry Patrick still has his Pitman's manual complete with oily fingerprints, for his Isetta bubble car. Picture: Terry Patrick Terry Patrick still has his Pitman's manual complete with oily fingerprints, for his Isetta bubble car. Picture: Terry Patrick

I had now been posted to RAF Wyton, near St Ives in Cambridgeshire, my home area. So my next task was to get the Isetta back to that area, preferably my home.

On one Saturday morning, my wife and I set out on the journey. I think we had done about 30 miles when the throttle cable broke. I took the outer casing off the cable and gave the inner wire to my wife. I told her “When I say faster, pull it, when I say slow, let it go”.

For some reason it didn’t work exactly as planned. I still remember going round a major roundabout at less than walking speed. Just off the roundabout was a police car but the officers didn’t take an interest... luckily.

As we came off the roundabout there was a steep downward incline with, as luck would have it, a garage towards the bottom and we coasted into it. The garage owner welded up a makeshift throttle cable – they had that sort of skill and facilities in those days.

So we were on the road again. This time we covered about another 20 miles, then the car started to lose power and slowly ground to a halt. I got out, removed the engine cover and found everything covered in oil. Strangely enough, the only fault I could find was that the tappet gap had become very big so I adjusted it and off we went.

This time we covered only another two miles before we again lost power and again we had discovered oil. I adjusted the tappets again and off we went.

Alas, no more than a couple of hundred yards further on, again lots of oil and little else. Now we gave up. A kind garage owner allowed me to leave the bubble car and we caught a bus for the rest of the journey.

On the bus I realised what had happened, my bubble’s BMW engine was like a motorcycle engine. The cylinder was separate from the crankcase and the two had decided to separate of their own accord, hence the tappet gap.

On the Friday evening of the next weekend, a friend towed us another 30 to 40 miles and we again dropped the bubble off at a garage. The next day my father drove out and we completed the tow to my father-in-law’s house.

My bubble had burst, it would never again take to the roads. After a few weeks my father-in-law wanted it removed from his barn and so it was scrapped.

I feel like crying when I hear the value that is put on bubble cars these days.

Tell us about the adventures you had in your first car – email your memories with a picture of the car to motoring@archant.co.uk or post it to Andy Russell, Archant motoring editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.

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Andy Russell

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EDP motoring editor, journalist who loves wheels and engines but hates cleaning them.

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