Monroe — decked out in a fez and waving the American and Iowa flags, many people around Monroe may have noticed a peculiar-looking, red bubble speeding through town and parades around Iowa.
Although it is not a tiny space craft zooming through the Hawkeye State, it is definitely a rarity worth stopping for and getting a closer look.
“From the first time I saw it, I was fascinated with that car,” Terry Bellon, the owner of the 1958 957 BMW Isetta 300 Export Sliding Window Convertible said. “It has a little, BMW single-cylinder motorcycle engine — like 12 horse power, 250 cc.”
When Bellon was 10 years old, he remembered watching bright red, BMW Isettas zig zag through a parade route. He said he couldn’t remember much from that day, but he said he will always remember one thing — the car was cool.
“There were 17 or 18 coming down the street. It just looked pretty cool,” the Monroe resident said. “During a parade, the kids are pointing at my car saying ‘I want one. Where do I get one?’ That is kind of nice.”
Bellon’s father was a Freemason and owned his own Isetta. When Bellon came of age, he soon followed his father’s footsteps and joined his own Blue Lodge group through the Za-Ga-Zig Shrine. The Monroe High School graduate then purchased his own unique vehicle in 1992, and has been driving the tiny car in parades since.
“I was my dad’s co-driver and I remember at the age of 30, I was about 100 pounds heavier than I am now,” the 52-year-old said. “My dad isn’t really skinny, but it he isn’t very heavy either. People used to give us a lot of guff about being able to fit in there. I drove around with him for a year, one summer. We paraded together, then I bought my own. I wanted my own. I wanted to drive.”
As one could probably guess, this vehicle, which was manufactured in five countries — England, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Brazil, is a rare find. Bellon said with only 8,000 of these BMWs imported to the United States, there are only about 1,000 left running around the United States.
“What really appealed to me, is mine is a convertible. The back window will fold down. So when I have the car moving, I get a little air going through my car,” Bellon said. “A lot of the other guys are not fortunate to have. (During a parade), it gets really hot in there.”
According to Bellon, after the initial work of stripping off the paint, repainting it and rebuilding the motor, the cool car has caused him little stress in terms of maintenance. From driving in about 18 to 22 parades a year, he said his red bubble on wheels has been zooming through parade after parade like a champ.
“I got four spark plugs laying on the back window. I roll it out in the spring. It will crank. It will pop. It will try to start. Then it will crank and crank and crank. I just reach to the back window, grab one of those spark plugs, and it’ll fire up and run all year,” Bellon said. “It has been through 250 parades at least ... It has never missed a beat.”
The Monroe resident’s red BMW has made its way through Jasper County, parading through several memorable celebrations, from Newton’s Fourth of July parade to the Jasper County Fair in Colfax.
“We do the Jasper County Fair. We come to Monroe (for Old Settler’s). There were five or six of us up there in Monroe for Old Settler’s. We do Baxter every year,” Bellon said. “I like that little parade in Baxter. Right there in the end, the city cop would ask us if we could go a couple blocks in the wrong direction, and swing through the nursing home.”
Bellon said over the years, he has collected several fond memories parading in his Isetta.
“My youngest daughter Courtney and her friend took my car to prom. They made it as far as the diner, and killed it, so we had to go up and start it for her,” he said. “We were supposed to give her 15 minutes then go to the high school and pick it up. We didn’t hear from her, then all of sudden she gave us a call, ‘Terry, the car won’t start.’ She only got two-and-a-half blocks. It fired right up right when I got there ... That was one of my fondest memories of my little red car.”
For more information about the Za-Ga-Zig Shrine, visit zagazigshrine.org, call 515-967-3000 or visit their office in Altoona, located at 1100 Shriners Parkway.
Contact Anthony Victor Reyes at firstname.lastname@example.org.