The Borgward Isabella remains a firm favourite with local classic car enthusiasts, and this particular car is an exceptionally well-maintained and low-mileage example.
Although the Borgward brand has not been offered for sale in South Africa for many decades, it still has an enthusiastic following in this country. Many enthusiasts believe that the brand built some of the best cars of the '50s and '60s. The company stopped operation in 1961 following a controversial forced liquidation. Regardless of the brand's misfortune, the much-loved Isabella quickly became an endearing favourite among classic car enthusiasts.
Don't let the two-door body of this particular car fool you, it was still called a "sedan", though a swoopy coupé version was indeed offered. The coupé and cabriolet versions of the Isabella were offered with two seats, with only luggage space behind these front seats, or as 2+2 versions.
The Isabella was also offered as a station wagon (still a two-door) and even a two-door pick up.
The owner of this Isabella has a couple of cars in his collection, but this is one of two that he eagerly pulled out to talk about. “I bought this car on 15 July 1997. I had never experienced a Borgward when I was a child as I was still in school when these cars became locally available. However, when I became involved in the car industry after I completed my studies, I learned more about these cars. But, by then they were not available as new cars on the market anymore. I was really impressed with these cars. To this day I stand by my opinion: if Borgward was still available today, it would have been the best German car manufacturer. If you compare this car to a 1958 Mercedes-Benz, it is really very impressive. And, that is what makes them so special to me.
“Take into account that it is only fitted with a 1,5-litre engine. But, with two adults and luggage onboard you will be impressed by its performance. Secondly, it is fairly economical for its age, doing a constant 10 litres per 100 km."
The previous owner was also a car enthusiast, and so the current owner had to patiently wait for two years before the previous owner decided to sell the car to him. “The Isabella was in a good condition when I bought it. It only had 33 000 miles (53 000 km) on the odo. The car was painted in a two-tone colour scheme with a darker shade of silver at the bottom and a lighter colour on the roof. Then I decided to strip the car, which included taking the engine out. The car was repainted it in this blue Borgward colour. Then we reassembled the car.
“What makes this car really unique is that the seat cushions are original, as are the roof lining and the door panels. Today it has 40 000 miles (64 000 km) on the odo and the engine has never been opened. It is such a joy to drive this car.”
The longest trip the owner has done with this Isabella was to drive it from the Cape to the Gariep Dam in the Free State for a Borgward Club meeting. “I kept the speed between 110 and 120kph for the entire trip. It was a Borgward Club South Africa event in 2000. It was a special event as other German Borgward owners joined in the festivities.”
Interestingly, this national club was founded in 1961 and is the oldest Borgward club in the world.
“In the car restoration circles I’ve learned that they refer to a car that doesn’t have rust as a car that is 'dry' – and that was the case with this car, it had no rust whatsoever. Rust is like cancer in the human body. You think you’ve fixed it, and then it pops out somewhere else.
“Maintenance is a process that you must do routinely and correctly - the necessary information can be found in the original owner and service manuals. I didn’t need any major parts when I resprayed the car, but when you do need parts, the local club is very helpful. Parts can generally still be found, but if not, and if there are enough owners looking for the same part, we have those parts manufactured for us.
- You can find more information about the Borgward Club here.
What should potential buyers look out for?
“As with all old cars you must look out for any evidence of rust. Secondly, you need to have a look at the front suspension. The car has a wonderful suspension setup at the front. This is still the old suspension setup that needs to be greased, for example, at the control arms. Make sure the previous owner was aware of this maintenance and did all the lubrication at all four corners as it will be an expensive exercise to replace the suspension parts if they have not been lubricated. You need to attend to this lubrication service every 1 500 km.
“In Borgward circles it is recommended that you drain the oil every 1 500 km and that at every third oil change you should replace the oil filter. However, I have always believed that with every oil change you change the filter as well.”
The club has a national event every second year for all the members and it remains one of the best places to inquire about any cars that might possibly come up for sale.
1958 Borgward Isabella Sedan
Engine: 1 493 cm3, four-cylinder, petrol
Power: 45kW at 4 700rpm
Torque: 107Nm at 2 000rpm
Fuel tank: 47,7 L
Maximum speed: 130kph
Transmission: 4-speed manual
Weight: 1 020kg
Years of manufacture: 1954-1962
How many were built: 202 862 (all Isabellas)
Where was it built: Bremen, Germany
What you can expect to pay for a good-condition example: around R150 000 (coupé and cabriolets trade for significantly more)