Another obscure German make of car


#1

While not as unheard-of as the Wartburg, I think that most folks–especially the younger ones–have no recollection of the West German-made Borgward Isabella.

Carl Borgward entered the car-making business by taking control of the failing Hansa-Lloyd company during the financial crisis of 1929. They made mostly very cheap cars for the masses. During WWII, his factories turned to producing trucks for the Nazi regime, and then–like most of German industry–eventually all production stopped as a result of damage from Allied bombing. However, Borgward was able to re-start production in 1948 with a series of low-priced Hansa, Lloyd, and Goliath cars.

In the mid-'50s he began producing the more expensive Borgward Isabella, which–in my opinion–looks somewhat similar to the Volvo 122S, which came along a few years later. The Isabella was a conventional front engine/RWD car, but it did feature some interesting technology for the time. The aluminum engine weighed only 272 lbs, and the intake manifold was cast into the inside of the valve cover. It had 4-wheel independent suspension, although–unfortunately–the rear suspension consisted of swing axles. The car also featured a fairly nice interior that looked very much like that of the Mercedes 190.

The car wasn’t cheap (~$3,000), as it was designed to compete with the Mercedes 190. And, compete it did, with Borgward taking the #2 place in German car sales by 1955. Only VW was able to beat them in sales volume for a few years.

So–what did Borgward in?
It seems that customers were correct when they wondered how he could sell his well-equipped, nicely-engineered cars for so much less than Mercedes was charging for their 190 model. Borgward had apparently decided to copy Henry Ford’s cost-cutting approach in order to increase sales volume, but because he never reached sufficient volume to make a profit on his low-priced sedans, he eventually ran out of money, and the factory was shut down in 1961. All of the tooling was later sent to Mexico, but only a handful of Borgward-design cars were manufactured in Mexico before that venture also went belly-up.

I can recall seeing the occasional Borgward Isabella when I was a kid, most likely because we lived in the NYC metro area, and foreign cars were not that unusual there by the late '50s. Do any other forum members recall the Borgward Isabella?


#2

I saw one at a classic car show once somewhere. Really nice lookin’ car. The one I saw was a sedan, but I’m diggin’ that wagon on the wiki page.


#3

Beautiful car. I’we heard of it, but have never seen one. I hadn’t realized they sold that well. Too bad they couldn’t figure out how to make them profitably. If they had, we might now be driving retro-styled New Isabellas. That would be fun.


#4

I hate to show my age, but I remember seeing a new Borgward Isabella on the Midwestern university campus where my dad taught and I was later employed. This was in the late 1950s. There was also a Triumph sedan on campus, as well as a 2 stroke Saab and a DKW.


#5

Heard of it? I owned a 1960 Borgward Isabella Station Wagon. I bought it for $50 when I was stationed at NAS Memphis as a student in 1970. I drove it for the 6 months i was there and gave it away as the brakes were leaking too bad to drive. It had 230k miles on it when I gave it away, and the previous two owners had never changed the oil.

I did an oil change when I bought it, the oil filter was a cartridge type and it was solid mud inside, only the spiral wound wire that used to hold the paper in place and the top and bottom metal plates were left.

4 speed on the tree, 12" tires. It did have really plush red leather seats inside which I though was kinda odd for what I thought was an economy car. To me, it looked like a VW type III wagon.


#6

I’m familiar with it somewhat, mostly from the classic car mags, don’t think I’ve seen one other than in a museum


#7

Hi, I’m a Borgward Isabella owner. It was a little by by chance, looking for a car I could work on over time, but it’s been a pleasure so far.


#8

Motor Trend, I believe, tested the Borgwartd Isabella, and found it to be a sturdy, well built car. Many US servicemen stationed in Germany at that time brought them home after they returned to the USA.

This was possible before emissison and saftey standards.


#9

Road & Track also approved of the Isabella, giving it “good” ratings for its steering, braking, acceleration, and fuel economy. When it came to “comfort” and “quality of materials”, R & T rated it “very good”.

R & T termed it “a sensible car for sensible people”, and added that the Isabella Coupe was “one of the most thoroughly delightful and interesting cars that we’ve driven in several months”.


#10

Triedaq There was also a Triumph sedan on campus, The Triumph Herald. I was still occasionally seeing them through the 1960s. Nice little cars.


#11

ABP72, pictures? Is it a grey and black wagon with a red interior?