First things first: This isn’t a BMW Isetta. However, if you’re powerfully reminded of one by this competing German-engineered microcar, there’s a good reason. This is a Heinkel Kabine Type 153, and it was pretty much developed because German aircraft engineer Ernst Heinkel saw an Isetta one day and thought, “anything you can do, I can do better.”
Aviation history nerds almost certainly know the name Heinkel, because like Messerschmitt, the company produced planes for the German WWII effort. However, post-war, neither company was allowed to make planes. Instead, Heinkel pivoted to scooters. Its Tourist model was quite popular, and unlike most similar two-wheelers of the early 1950s, was an early four-stroke design that smoked a whole lot less than the competition.
Once again, Heinkel saw the writing on the wall and realized that scooters would soon be usurped in popularity by Isettas and similar microcars. He took the 175cc four-stroke single cylinder engine out of the Tourist and stuck it in his brand new Kabine 153 and 154 designs. Kabine 153s like this one had three wheels, while Kabine 154s had four. Rather impressively, the Kabine weighed an astonishing 100 kilograms (or 220 pounds) less than an Isetta, thanks to its monocoque chassis design.
Gallery: 1959 Heinkel Kabine 153 with CBR1000RR swap
A Kabine also had more room inside than an Isetta, and could comfortably fit two adults and a third smaller person, such as a child, in a pinch. However, not wanting to directly copy the Isetta’s iconic foldaway steering wheel, the Kabine instead had a fixed unit that attached to the floor. That meant a driver or passenger would need to exercise any latent gymnastics skills they might have when getting in or out. Not cool, Heinkel.
The company stopped producing cars in Germany in 1958, after which it returned to aircraft manufacturing. Ernst Heinkel himself also died that year. However, Heinkel Kabines were still manufactured under license by Dundalk Engineering in Ireland, then later as the Trojan Kabine in the UK until 1966.
Now, about this specific 1959 model. It’s currently located in Mission Viejo, California, and is listed for sale on Bring A Trailer. Thing is, you don’t actually need to bring a trailer if you win, because this Kabine comes with one. Even more importantly, the current owner saw fit to upgrade that 175cc scooter engine to a 123 horsepower inline four-cylinder out of a 1998 Honda CBR1000RR. The engine had around 13,000 miles on it at the time of transplant, while the chassis had around 29,000. The seller said they have since put on about 50 additional miles.
Gone also is the stock four-speed transmission, replaced with the sequential six-speed gearbox from that same CBR1000RR. However, it’s worth noting that Kabines never had a reverse gear, and this example continues that proud tradition. As you can probably imagine, the seller made several structural modifications to the chassis to fit this larger, heavier, and much more powerful lump. That includes use of heavier-gauge steel, an X-brace, and additional structural support for the upper engine mounts. It also makes use of a custom exhaust, which you can see if you fold up the rear body panel.
The interior juxtaposes that fantastic old Heinkel logo on the steering wheel against the instrument cluster from the donor CBR1000RR for a truly unique out-of-time experience. The grey plaid upholstery and grey carpeting look quite nice in this bright red Kabine. It also features a black canvas roof and LED lighting, with 10-inch wheels wrapped in older rubber of unspecified age.
The winner of this auction will receive not only this modified Kabine 153, but also a trailer with an electric winch to help you load it. (So thoughtful!) Several engines, including the stock one, as well as an assortment of spares are also included. An oil change was last performed in late 2019.
This auction ends on May 7, 2020, and is being offered with no reserve. At the time of writing, bidding is up to $5,600 if you want it. It’s unclear how crazy this auction will get due to several factors, but a fully-restored, very original 1956 Kabine 153 fetched US $54,050 at auction in 2013.
Sources: Bring A Trailer, Microcar Museum, Lane Motor Museum, Irish Times, DeVreugde Design