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voir le cet emplacement dans le Français cassé...

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BMW wasn't the only company to license the Isetta from Iso of Italy -- they were joined by another all-caps car company, the practically named VELAM (Véhicular léger à Moteur [light vehicle with motor]), a French company. Whereas BMW started with the body style of the original Iso Isetta but with their own engine, VELAM developed their own body but kept the original Iso engine.

And what a body it was! Arguably the most beautiful of the Isetta styles, the VELAM interpretation was rounder and more egg-like than Iso's Isetta and was fringed with art-deco style bumpers. The VELAM Isetta did not have an honest-to-goodness frame like the Italian and German versions. Instead, a sub-frame in the rear, which held the rear tires, engine, and transmission, was bolted to the body. The front tires were separately bolted to the chassis. Instead of a handle, the VELAM Isetta had an elegant push button mechanism to open the door. Also somewhat unusual was the placement of the speedometer: Right in the center of the steering wheel!

The VELAM Isetta was known by the French as the ‘yogurt pot’ because it resembled the small, roundish glass jars of yogurt sold in stores at the time and because the cars, often white, were the color of yogurt.

VELAM made five versions of the car: the Isetta (their standard version), the Décapotable cabriolet (the convertible version of the Isetta), the Ecrin (a sliding window luxury version of the Isetta), a one-off "Sport" version of the Isetta, and a race car reportedly called the Isetta Speciale (or the VELAM Course).

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VELAM Isetta

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VELAM Décapotable Cabriolet

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VELAM Ecrin

 

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VELAM "Sport"

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VELAM Isetta Speciale or Course

 

VELAM acquired a license from Iso in 1953 (at the Turin Auto show for France, Belgium, and Spain, according to Schmidt and Seeliger, 1993) or 1954 (according to Marshall, 1980) to manufacture a car based on the Isetta. Iso no longer had the equipment (dies) to press the body panels of the original Iso Isetta (sent to South Africa [Marshall, 1980]), so VELAM hired engineers to design their own interpretation of the Isetta. Only 18 months passed between the drawing board and production (Avelame, 1982) with the company investing over a billion francs in the venture (Avelame, 1982). VELAM introduced the car to great fanfare at the Paris car show (Felling, 1985) in March of 1955 (Avelame, 1982; Schmidt and Seeliger [1993] report the car show was held in October of 1954).

Avelame (1982), based on discussion with the director of VELAM (Michel Cromback, according to Schimdt and Seeliger [1993] and Metz [1994]), wrote about the following anecdote: When VELAM introduced their Isetta at the Auto Show (The Salon) in Paris, they brought ten cars and set them up in the street outside for people to test drive. However, because the cars were not registered except for one, the director of VELAM had staff copy the registration of the one and gave it to all of the cars. One of the police officers noticed this and hauled a company representative to the police station for questioning.

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VELAM started production of the car in October 1955 (Niederman, 1956; although Felling [1985] writes that they started production in March 1955 and Schimdt and Selliger [1993] note production started in early summer of 1955). VELAM made its cars out of Suresnes, France (Avelame, 1982, Felling, 1985) in rented space (Avelame, 1982) at the old Talbot factories (Niederman, 1956; Avelame, 1982). The factory produced 20 to 22 cars a day (Niederman, 1956) with 350 employees (Avelame, 1982). Price of the car was 297,000 francs with one month for delivery (Niederman, 1956). To sell the cars, VELAM created a network of 150 dealers to sell the cars and 400 locations to service them (Nebout, 1956).

VELAM introduced the Ecrin at the Paris auto show in March 1957 (Avelame, 1982; Felling, 1985), known among Isetta circles as the "Luxury Isetta." The Ecrin had a hard top, sliding side windows, two tone color schemes, wraparound fenders, larger access hatch to motor, glove compartment, radio built into the passenger side armrest, and leaf springs in the front (Avelame, 1982). The Ecrin had 33 pounds of noise insulation compared to 18 pounds in the standard Isetta (Metz, 1994) and sold for 380,000 francs in January 1958 (Avelame, 1982).

The Isetta Speciale (also referred to as the "Course" and the "Aero" [Metz, 1994]) was the race car version of the Isetta. Built on the Isetta frame with the 236 cc motor, the Speciale assumed a low-slung and aerodynamic pose. The Speciale was raced by Jean Bianchi and Claude Peslier and broke several records in its class with its tiny 236 cc engine (Avelame, 1982), attaining average speeds of 62 to 68 miles per hour (Metz, 1994) for 12 and 24 hours (Schmidt and Seeliger, 1993).

VELAM was unfortunately short lived, only making cars from 1955 to 1958. Different sources list different numbers of cars produced. According to Isetta Club E.V., VELAM made 5,512 units: 5010 standard Isettas, 500 Ecrins, and 2 race cars. According to Avelame (1982), VELAM only made 100 Ecrins, one of which had a subroof. Maselko (2002) notes that VELAM made between 4,000 and 7,000 cars, and Sparrow and Sparrow (1997) suggests just more than 7,000 were made. Schmidt and Seeliger (1993) report that VELAM made 1,224 Isettas in 1955, 4,886 in 1956, and 1,005 in 1957 for a total of 7,115 cars.

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Reasons for the company’s demise according to Avelame (1982): (1) high upkeep for the motor [having to mix fuel], (2) introduction of the Renault Dauphine which saturated the market with used Citroen 2CVs at about 200,000 francs, and (3) people wanting bigger and faster cars. Schmidt and Seeliger (1993) point to the relative cost of the VELAM Isetta (297,000 to 308,000 Francs) and Ecrin (380,000 Francs) to the cost of the Citroen 2CV (371,000), which was more of a "real" car and the volkswagen of France.

Text and site by Robert Mace. I'd appreciate copies or scans of articles or photos of VELAMs to develop an accurate and thorough history of this fascinating car. Although I am a long way from France, I own a VELAM (see it here) and am looking for parts.

References

Avelame, Louisette, 1982, The "UFO" of the highway: Auto-Retro, translated by David Cullen and reprinted in Bubble Notes, v. 11, no. 2, p. 12-14.

Felling, M., 1985, HMI bubblecar timeline: Bubble Notes, v. 15, no. 4, p. 12-13.

Marshall, Tony, 1980, Where did it come from? Isetta Gazatte, September, 1980.

Maselko, Rob, 2002, Small take – Isetta VELAM: Minutia, v. 11, no. 2, p. 15.

Metz, Roland, 1994, The Ecrin Isetta: Minutia, v. 3, no. 2, p. 15, translated excerpt from an article published in Oldtimer Market in July 1993.

Nebout, A., 1956, L'Isetta VELAM: le Scooter, v. 5, no. 53, p.31-32.

Niederman, P., 1956, A French perspective on the mid-50’s miniature car: Science and Technology, translated by David Cullen and reprinted in Bubble Notes, v. 15, no. 3, p. 14-17.

Schmidt, A., and Seeliger, G., 1992, Knutschkugeln: Oldtime-Markt, no. 7, p. 226-231.

Sparrow, Andrea, and Sparrow, David, 1997, More bubblecars and microcars-Colour family album: Veloce Publishing PLC, Dorchester, England, 96 p.

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VELAM Isetta specifications:

Motor:

  • 236 cc
  • 2 cylinders with a common chamber (the ‘twingle’)
  • 10.5 hp at 4,500 rpm
  • Compression ratio of 6.5:1
  • Single barrel Solex carburator
  • 3% oil to fuel ratio; 30 weight oil recommended
  • Air-cooled

Transmission:

  • 4-speed with reverse
  • synchronized
  • no differential

Suspension:

  • front- Neimann rubber spring/damper units
  • rear – quarter eliptical leaf springs with tube shocks

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Tires:

  • 4.40 x 11 Engleberts

Brakes:

  • Drums on all four wheels
  • Hydraulic brakes, mechanical parking brake on right rear

Dimensions:

  • 2.38 meters long
  • 1.32 meter tall
  • 1.42 meters wide
  • Wheelbase: 1.5 meters
  • Track in front: 1.22 meters
  • Track in rear: 0.5 meters
  • Weight: 704 pounds

Performance:

  • Top speed: 45 to 50 mph, depending on wind speed
  • Acceleration: 0 to 30 mph in about 15 seconds
  • Mileage: 50 to 65 mpg

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Links on this site:

join the VELAM Isetta eGroup at Yahoo!

velam013.jpeg (6236 bytes) Yep. There is a VELAM Isetta in Texas. You guessed it: I own it!

meyer17.GIF (8439 bytes) VELAM cartoons by Alan Meyer
velam015.jpeg (21301 bytes) photos of VELAM Isettas
velam-lit-hdr.JPG (16039 bytes)VELAM literature
velam066.jpeg (15024 bytes)VELAM toys
velam071.jpeg (18899 bytes) your very own VELAM Isetta!

o my general Isetta site: Isetta Source

Links to other VELAM sites:

o Isetta VELAM Journal d'une restauration [blog]

o VELAM Isetta [blog]

o search of 'velam' on Flickr
o VELAM Isetta restoration blog
o VELAM driving around town with a deer in it!
o movies with VELAMs
o VELAM Isetta at Bruce Weiner's museum
o VELAM Isetta pedal car
o microcar and minicar club site on VELAM Isetta
o Wikipedia on VELAM
o nice VELAM page
o variations on an Isetta theme
o french old car site

Links to other Isetta sites:

IsettaWorld

Video links:

o VELAM factory
o hear the roar!
o in honor of

Restoration tips!

o rear window: contact Pierrick at inter175a( at )neuf.fr for new rear windows (substitute "@" for "( at )" in the email adress)!
o tires: sadly, no one makes tires for the VELAM. I read where the tires for the Piaggo 125 LX (the later version of the Piaggo 125 Hexagon) would work on the VELAM. One owner claims to have used these tires twice. Since they are scooter tires, they are rounder in profile than they should be. Not ideal, but better than rolling on rims... one place to maybe buy tires in USA...
o window rubber: Reportedly, the rubber for the triangular side windows is the same or similar to the rubber for the 203 Peugeot.
o steering column switch assembly: similar to SIMCA cars of the same period

Please contact me, by Robert Mace, and let me know any tips you know.

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site last update: October 30, 2012

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