‘I liked its DeDion tube and especially the Corvette engine. It was the first time I had driven one. It was superior to Ferrari‘s engines, having the same power but with more immediate throttle response.’ Had those words been uttered by a mere motoring hack then they might be dismissed, accounted for by Yankee prejudice or a distaste for Ferraris. However those words are credited to Giotto Bizzarini, the very man who’d not only designed the Ferrari V12 but by whose hand the immortal 250GTO had been made. As such we can rest assured that he knew what he knew a thing-or-two about the subject.
A relationship developed between Bizzarini and the man who’d invited him to sample the Corvette engine, Renzo Rivolta, which resulted first with the Iso Rivolta GT; a rapid, four seater coupe. This was followed by the Iso Grifo A3L; a GT based on a shortened Rivolta platform and which benefited from some utterly gorgeous Giugiaro styling.
Autocar sampled one in 1966 and decreed it to be the fastest production car it had tested. Let that sink in for a moment. The Ferrari 275, 330, 365 and the Lamborghini Miura all didn’t have enough in their exotic lockers to fend-off the Grifo with its cast iron American lump. Bear in mind also that the Corvette motor’s torque figures would have caused the Italian and German establishment to turn a delicate shade of Chartreuse.
Bizzarini though was more of a motor racing fellow at heart, which led to the development of the Iso Grifo A3C, although things didn’t go smoothly. More to the point, it led to Bizzarini going his own way. Piero Drogo designed and built its pretty aluminium body (although a handful were made from glass fibre) and the Chevrolet motor was developed to produce well over 400bhp. The result was a class win at Le Mans twice in succession and acknowledgement that the cars were the fastest along the Mulsanne Straight.
There was a problem though in that whilst Bizzarini wanted to race, Rivolta wanted to build road cars and with just 29 Iso Grifo A3Cs built the pair went their separate ways. The cars now bore Bizzarini’s name and was much the same beast as the A3C, which brings us to the car you see here. This one is an early example of the Bizzarini 5300 GT Strada and as such is reputed to have been built by Bizzarini himself. It was sold new in Italy and apparently competed in various European hill climbs and rallies throughout the rest of the Sixties and Seventies. In 2008 a full restoration was undertaken in Germany to an extremely high standard, although curiously the patina to the fascia was left as-is. RM Sothebys will sell it as part of its London sale next Monday, which brings about the original question; is this car a Ferrari wannabe or something to be taken somewhat more seriously?
RM reckons on an upper estimate of £700,000, which puts it somewhere in the region of a top Ferrari 330 GTC in terms of value and a fraction of what you’d need to pay for a 275GTB. While the use of the Corvette motor possibly discounts the car as being ‘ultimate chic’, given its rarity (just 133 built versus 970 275s, for example) and supposedly superior performance, there can surely be no question of the Bizzarini’s place in the firmament of Sixties Italian cars. So not chic perhaps, but more than a wannabe Ferrari. Much more.