|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).
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  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  and Metz ), 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.
VELAM started production of the car in October 1955 (Niederman, 1956; although Felling  writes that they started production in March 1955 and Schimdt and Selliger  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.
Reasons for the companys 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.
VELAM Isetta specifications:
Links on this site:
join the VELAM Isetta eGroup at Yahoo!
Links to other VELAM sites:
o VELAM Isetta [blog]
o search of 'velam' on Flickr
Links to other Isetta sites:
o rear window: contact Pierrick at inter175a( at )neuf.fr for new rear windows (substitute "@" for "( at )" in the email adress)!
Please contact me, by Robert Mace, and let me know any tips you know.
site last update: October 30, 2012