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Amazing SA Art Car: Mahlangu’s classic BMW Isetta

2017-06-09 11:11

WHAT A WOMAN, WHAT A CAR: The 81-year-old artist, Esther Mahlangu, and the 50-year-old BMW Isetta, her latest Art Car. mage: Motorpress

Johannesburg – An “impossibly cute” BMW Isetta has been painted in a striking Ndebele motif by internationally acclaimed artist Esther Mahlangu. The classic BMW microcar from the 1950’s will be a star exhibit at the Concours South Africa at Sun City in August 2017.

For Concours South Africa 2017, Esther was commissioned to paint the late 1950’s BMW Isetta 300 by KZN businesswoman Manana Nhlanhla. Manana had the honour of winning the Show and Shine category at the inaugural Concours South Africa in September 2016, with her 1958 Mercedes-Benz 190 SL.

BMW Art Car: SA Gogo created this amazing piece of automotive art

Manana said: “We wanted to do something really special for this year’s Concours South Africa. The BMW Isetta was actually chosen as a theme car by my business partner, Sithembiso Mthethwa, as he has a vast knowledge of all things to do with classic cars.

“However, we should stress that the little Isetta is not being presented as a concours car. It will be at Sun City only for display purposes. We wanted this year’s beautiful Concours South Africa to have a distinct African keynote, and the Isetta fills that role perfectly.”

Manana said she was amazed to see Esther at work on the project: “Esther uses a chicken feather as her brush to paint these cars freehand, and although her designs feature lots of straight lines, she never uses a ruler. That is quite remarkable for a woman who is 81-years-old!”

An SA Car Art icon

Esther, now 81-years-old, rocketed to international fame some 26 years ago when she was the first African artist to paint a BMW Art Car, thus following in the brushstrokes of artists such as Andy Warhol, David Hockney and Frank Stella. 

Image: Motorpress

The car she painted was a 1991 BMW 525i, and was later exhibited in Washington at the National Museum of Women in Arts. Numerous international commissions followed, including the tail fins of British Airways jet aircraft.

In 2016, she created a special Indebele motif for a BMW 7 Series for the interior of these luxury large sedans, and the panels were put into limited production and now appear on cars sold all over the world. Esther still paints and teaches Ndebele art to young students, and she still lives at her village in Mpumalanga, near Middelburg, South Africa.

 The first Esther Mahlangu BMW art car, a 1991 BMW 525i. Image: Motorpress

BMW Isetta in SA

The Isetta was very popular in Europe and indeed, in South Africa, in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, as a young-person’s city car. It was the brainchild of Italian industrialist Renzo Rivolta, who created the original “bubble cars,” as they were termed, using a tiny two-stroke engine. Later Enzo would go on to create the stupendously powerful Chrysler V8-engined Iso Rivolta supercars which are extremely sought after today as collectable cars in the Ferrari-Maserati stratosphere.

Image: Motorpress

In the mid-1950’s BMW effectively took over the Isetta microcar concept. From 1956 to 1962 the humble Isetta 300 was produced in Munich using a 298 cc single-cylinder BMW four-stroke engine, producing all of 10kW! Top speed was claimed at 85km/h.

Some 160 000 of these little city cars were produced, and they were popular in South African cities right up until the mid-1960’s, after which the British Mini, introduced in 1959, made the small motorcycle-engined “bubble cars” redundant.

Image: Motorpress

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