Home » Really Rare Rear-Engine Projects: 1959 BMW 600 vs 1968 Hino Contessa

Really Rare Rear-Engine Projects: 1959 BMW 600 vs 1968 Hino Contessa

Sbsd 5 15 2024 (1)
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Happy Friday, Autopians! Today we’re eschewing the four-car runoff vote in favor of a new Showdown, mainly because I found two unbelievably rare cars I want to show you, and only a little bit because I forgot to save the Friday top-shot template to my laptop before I left home.

Yesterday’s terrible ideas ended up in a vote that was far too close to call. I’m calling this a little earlier than usual, but I don’t expect the results to change wildly, and really, it doesn’t matter, because they’re both awful wrecks that should be avoided at all costs.

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That said, if I had $1500 burning a hole in my pocket and had temporarily taken leave of my senses, I’d choose the Alfa. No good can come of mucking around with that Audi. But a little Italian sports car, people almost expect to be marooned in your garage partially disassembled. It could sit there for years, while I made glacial progress towards the day when it might be ready for the open road.

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Speaking of project cars, today’s choices are not something you’re going to be able to drive home either. Hell, one of them doesn’t even have an engine in it. Or any undercarriage at all. But they’re both unbelievably rare. In fact, if you ever wanted either of these cars, this might be the only crack you get at them without spending a fortune. Let’s take a look.

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1959 BMW 600 body shell – $3,300

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Engine/drivetrain: None

Location: Ogden, UT

Odometer reading: unknown

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Operational status: Do I really have to  tell you?

BMW’s reputation for driver’s cars isn’t as old as you might think. Before the “Neue Klasse” sedans introduced in 1962, BMW sold far less driver-oriented machines. There was a line of extremely expensive V8-powered sedans and GT/sports cars, and a whole bunch of weird rear-engined little cars based on the Iso Isetta. This car, the BMW 600, was essentially a stretched four-passenger Isetta, retaining the front-opening door and adding a small conventional door for rear seat access. It was powered by a 600 cubic centimeter BMW flat-twin motorcycle engine, mounted in the rear, along with a four-speed manual gearbox.

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The important word in that last sentence is “was.” This 600 is a shell of its former self, literally. It has no engine, no transmission, no front or rear suspension, and no title. The seller purchased it eight years ago with the intention of restoring it and got exactly nowhere.

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It does, however, still have its VIN plate, and for a car this old, that should be all you need, if you did want to reassemble it and title it. But where on Earth are you going to find BMW 600 underpinnings? I don’t think you are, actually. I think it’s probably a lost cause. But as we saw yesterday, you can fit a certain powerful, tiny engine into just about anything.

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I mean, yeah, it would be an absolute metric shit-ton of work. But just imagine the crowds you’d gather.

1968 Hino Contessa 1300 – $2,250

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.3 liter overhead valve inline 4, four-speed manual, RWD

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Location: Sacramento, CA

Odometer reading: 63,000 miles

Operational status: Probably hasn’t run in decades

Japanese automaker Hino is primarily known as a manufacturer of heavy trucks and buses. It’s a subsidiary of Toyota, and produces trucks all over the world, including here in the United States. But once upon a time, Hino partnered up with a far less likely company than Toyota: Renault. Starting in 1961, Hino sold the Contessa, a rear-engined car based closely on the Renault 4CV and Dauphine.

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The Contessa is powered by a 1.3 liter license-built version of Renault’s venerable Cléon-Fonte four-cylinder, mounted in the rear. This is a very late Hino; the partnership with Toyota was already in full swing by 1968, and this car was built from leftover stock. It’s a strange car, left-hand-drive with a speedometer that reads in miles per hour, which would indicate a US model. But Hino never imported cars into the US. Curious.

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It’s being sold by the California Automobile Museum in Sacramento, and it’s filthy. Obviously, it has been sitting for a very long time. I do wonder why the museum never restored it; maybe they didn’t think it was financially feasible. Not a good sign.

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If this were any less obscure of a car, it looks like a relatively easy restoration. It has only surface rust, and I think if you gave it a good cleaning, you’d find out it isn’t as rough as it looks. But where the hell are you going to find that broken taillight? What if there’s a critical broken part somewhere in the interior? I mean, most stuff can be substituted out, just to get something to run, but an actual restoration of this would be a real chore. And all for a funny little sedan that kinda looks like a VW 411 from the front, and a Lancia Fulvia Berlina from the rear.

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These are both monumental projects, of course. But at least they’re not terribly expensive. And you’re guaranteed to not see another one at Cars & Coffee. So who’s feeling brave? And which one will it be?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
27 days ago

How did I miss this, maybe not my favorite car, but my favorite car name, Hino Contessa for the win

Dwight
Dwight
28 days ago

I just happen to have the BMW underpinnings with a rusted out shell in a garage in NJ. Rebuilt engine and trans, powder coated frame, and pretty much all the parts needed to reassemble. The project has been stalled for over a decade. If I had spent the time to gather photos of all the parts I’d have already listed it somewhere

Ron888
Ron888
29 days ago

It’s the BMW for me,all day long.It’s the perfect candidate for a deep restomod

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
29 days ago

I like the look of the Hino, and imagine all I would learn while reproducing all those little parts. By the end, I’d have a $100,000 machine tools shop, but it would be more fun than the BMW by a long shot.

Or I’d restomod it and feel guilty every time I drove it.

Banpei
Banpei
30 days ago

Hino sold the LHD Contessa in the Netherlands in 1964 with the intention to manufacture them locally. This ended up being a bad idea and the company trying to set up the factory went bankrupt. As this car is from 1968, it can’t be imported from the Netherlands.
In Okinawa cars were left hand drive until early 1970s. Cars sold in Okinawa were predominantly LHD. I think it’s far more likely this car was bought by an American soldier and brought home.

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
30 days ago
Reply to  Banpei

I was today years old when I learned the USA forced the Okinawa prefacture to go LHD in 1945, and it took Japan 33 years to change back to RHD. Fascinating story of how everything was prepared with covered RHD signals being installed beforehand, and changing the covers to the LHD signals during the 8 hour period in which traffic was suspended to prepare for the change.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
28 days ago

My God, we’re the worst.

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
27 days ago
Reply to  Geoff Buchholz

Rest assured that the people actually paying attention aren’t blaming the american people, who so often are themselves the victims of the actions of those in power. You guys were dealt a shitty hand in terms of democratic compromise to appease southern states after the civil war, and in my opinion this has been instrumental in allowing some of the shittiest people on earth to rise to power and fuck everyone over, or letting the opposition violently obstruct the democratic process when it’s convenient (how many of Trump’s fast-tracked Supreme Court picks should’ve been Obama’s?). I’ve seen two elections in my lifetime go to the candidate who lost the popular vote, which quite frankly feels insane (and what impact both presidents had!). Again, not the people’s fault, even if so many of them vote against their own interests.

Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
30 days ago

“Did I do that?!” -Steve Urkel

I still voted Hino since it’s more complete…and has an engine in the trunk…cool!

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
30 days ago

The seller wants $3300 for a stretched Isetta body shell? They’re on crack. The most that piece of scrap metal is worth is $1000.

So my vote goes to the Hino. And from a novelty perspective, the Hino is also more interesting. And it’s cheaper!

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
30 days ago

The BMW 600 would be an amusing body-swap onto a chopped-up rear-engine UTV chassis with the engine cage hanging out the back… something akin to Grind Hard Plumbing’s usual projects.

I’d go with the Contessa though. My wrenching experience level is firmly suited to things that already have frames and engines and some semblance of parts support. It’s still an old Renault underneath, after all, and those do have an aftermarket.

Plus, there’s actual tuning parts for those! It’d be expensive, but collecting some R8 Gordini and Alpine parts over time could make for a rather spicy little compact rear engine sport sedan that 0 JDM fanboys will recognize!

Dudeoutwest
Dudeoutwest
30 days ago

A modern water boxer motor in that Isetta would be pretty spicy.

DDayJ
DDayJ
30 days ago

Excellent finds Mark. I learn a lot of new things each week. Never heard of the Hino, but it looks cool so I’m picking it. What could possibly go wrong?

Mike F.
Mike F.
30 days ago

Going with the Hino, solely because it’s a car I’ve never heard of. And if any of you are actually, truly interested in the thing, I live about two miles away from the Automobile Museum. Happy to go snap more pics for you! (Now I’ll just sit back and wait for the hordes of folks who will undoubtedly respond to that offer.)

Aaron
Aaron
30 days ago

The BMW offers more of a blank slate for some fun builds. Plus, there’s a chance in hell the DMV will know what to do with a BMW. YMMV with a Hino.

Toecutter
Toecutter
30 days ago
Reply to  Aaron

EV conversion

Black Peter
Black Peter
30 days ago
Reply to  Toecutter

Hayabusa conversion

Toecutter
Toecutter
30 days ago
Reply to  Black Peter

That works too.

Black Peter
Black Peter
30 days ago
Reply to  Toecutter

Shoot, I actually forgot BMW makes inline 4s now..
Although, a Japanese engine, the BMW shell, and Fiat running gear, could open up a lot of Axis jokes I guess.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
27 days ago
Reply to  Aaron

Enough Hino trucks out there that I imagine it will be somewhat easy. Of course, I am sure someone somewhere will place it in a “truck” category and you won’t be able to drive it on a parkway or have to pay higher tolls or something.

Jonee Eisen
Jonee Eisen
30 days ago

Interestingly, the 600 was not simply a stretched Isetta, but a completely different car designed from the ground up by BMW. It’s actually an impressive thing for such a tiny car. It provided the platform for the 700 which was the car that sold enough for BMW to then develop the Neue Klasse.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
30 days ago

For the 600, screw the Busa motor. Keep it in the family with an old BMW airhead boxer.

Barry Allen
Barry Allen
30 days ago

I want the Isetta, but when the Autopian says finding parts is a lost cause… you’d need the resources of Jay Leno to get it back on the road.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
30 days ago
Reply to  Barry Allen

Or the proper motivation. Give it to David and tell him he’s got 3 months to get it tip-top for some vintage German car meet a thousand miles away. Then you’ll see some magic.

Last edited 30 days ago by Boxing Pistons
Austin Vail
Austin Vail
30 days ago
Reply to  Boxing Pistons

“Here’s how I fixed this obscure German microcar with a VW Beetle transmission and a motorcycle engine!” Yep I’d read that.

Clear_prop
Clear_prop
30 days ago

The museum probably got the Hino as part of a package donation, and since it isn’t historically significant, just let it is sit in storage.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
27 days ago
Reply to  Clear_prop

It’s significant to me; since when do muggles run car museums?

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
30 days ago

The Hino is probably just fine. I don’t trust the judgment of the California Automobile Museum (if that is indeed their real name). They have the engine hoist set up on the wrong end!

James Mitchell
James Mitchell
30 days ago

There was a dark blue Contessa that wound up beside a Sunoco station in Salem County NJ back in the early ’80s, so apparently at least a few of them made the trip over here.

Cyko9
Cyko9
30 days ago

I gave the BMW a chance, but the Hino wins out for being a more tangible project. You could do a lot of things with it, full restoration being the least financially responsible option, and I like the overall look.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore
30 days ago

I’ll take the Hino, even if you can’t get ordinal parts, looks like a candidate for EV or even a modern 4 cyl restomod. Miata engine, suspension/brakes, but that look. I think that’d make for a fun little car. And keeps it’s “Toyota”-ness.

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
30 days ago
Reply to  Chris Moore

The 4 cylinder already in the Hino is the least of your concerns. It’s a Renault engine that came in lots of other things, even things that were sold in America, so you can still get parts for it relatively affordably. And if you want it to go faster, performance parts for that engine exist too – it was even the basis for the Renault Alpine A110, which was very successful in racing and made around 240 hp in its spiciest configurations – more than plenty for a tiny rear-engined car that weighs nothing. Can’t promise reliability at that point, but it was reliable enough to finish a race at least.

Last edited 30 days ago by Austin Vail
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