In the early 1960s Europe was in the midst of a performance car boom. Every week or two another new sports car or GT manufacturer seemed to burst onto the scene, hoping to take advantage of the continent’s surging economy and its insatiable interest in speed.
One of the most ambitious efforts was the Rivolta family’s Iso Automobili. Renzo Rivolta was a very successful Milanese industrialist, the prototypical target customer for the burgeoning field of GT constructors and models. The problem was he couldn’t find a granturismo that truly satisfied him, so he decided to make his own.
The formula for Iso came to light at 1961’s Frankfurt Auto Show when he overheard two men speaking about the ideal car for America: a GT of European design and engineering, powered by an American engine. One of the men was influential multi-marque importer Max Hoffman, so Rivolta went and spoke with Nuccio Bertone about the concept. The coachbuilder seconded Hoffman’s opinion, and Bertone’s coachwork ended up gracing the Iso Rivolta GT that appeared at 1962’s Turin Show. This handsome 140-mph 2+2 was well received by the press, and used a 327 Corvette drivetrain and proprietary, pressed-steel platform chassis.
To ensure Isos were properly engineered, and bring credibility to the effort, Rivolta hired former Ferrari engineer Giotto Bizzarrini as a consultant. Bizzarrini was the father of the 250 GTO, so when Iso had trouble selling Rivolta GTs (their American importer was not fulfilling his contractual obligation), both Bizzarrini and Bertone suggested a high performance two-seater as a way to bring the nascent firm exposure.
The resulting Iso Grifo brought the house down at 1963’s Turin Auto Show. Bertone felt a luxurious, elegant GT was the solution, so the Iso Grifo A3/L was shown on the coachbuilder’s stand. Bizzarrini thought Iso needed to compete on the endurance racing stage, and his creation, the Iso Grifo A3/C, broke cover on Iso’s stand. That car, chassis ‘B0201’, featured a sleek, aerodynamic aluminum body and a front mid-engine design with the 327 placed so far behind the front axle that the distributor was reached through a removable panel in the top of the dash.
Bizzarrini said the Grifo A3/C took everything he learned in creating the 250 GTO for Ferrari to the next level and he called the Iso a “second generation GTO.” Racers obviously agreed, for Bizzarrini notes he sold the first car on the stand at Turin, and quickly took a second order. That second car, Grifo A3/C chassis ‘B0202’, is the Iso on offer here.
‘B0202’s customer was American racer and east coast Shelby distributor Ed Hugus. According to Bizzarrini’s period correspondence with Piero Drogo and his Sports Cars Modena carrozzeria, construction on ‘B0202’ began in November 1963. When the Grifo was completed in February/ March 1964, it had the spectacular early A3/C aluminum coachwork drilled with no fewer than 7,000 rivets and characterised by an almost flat rear windscreen. Initially run on Italian plates ‘PI 7861’ (Pisa), the new berlinetta was sent to Iso in Bresso for final engine tuning before being shipped to Hugus in America.
Its inaugural race was at the famous Sebring 12 Hours in Florida, where it blew the transmission in the 4th hour. Undeterred, the crew fitted a replacement ‘box and the car re-entered the fray. Hours later, the second gearbox also broke, whereupon the car returned to the pits to have the original transmission, by now rebuilt, re-fitted. The car finally rejoined the race just 10 minutes from the end but still placed 39th overall after a Quixotic effort. It then appeared in Sports Car Graphic, the article sensing the Iso’s potential by calling it “A cross between a Sting Ray Corvette and a Ferrari GTO.” Better luck followed as chassis ‘B0202’ then went on to win the 1964 Midwestern SCCA championship.
When its competition career was over, A3/C ‘B0202’ made its way into the hands of Jim Lattin of Pomona, California, who used it on the road from circa 1965 until the late 1970s according to British Iso Bizzarrini club historian and authority Chris Lackner. Ed Osborn of Ohio, who resided in the interestingly named town of Novelty, was the next custodian. Osborn sold the car to southern California real estate developer and Iso aficionado Mark Boen, who kept it until 1991. The car then returned to Europe with English collector Ian Giles of Witney, Oxfordshire. He entrusted it to the historic race car restoration workshops of Zul Racing in Derby for a complete rebuild, after which it was used relatively little before its sale to US historic racer Nick Colonna.
In his ownership maintenance was entrusted to Bert Skidmore and appearances included the Quail concours and various track outings, before the current European owner acquired ‘B0202’ from him early in 2010 via Kidston SA.
Upon its return to Europe (when the necessary import taxes were paid) the Iso was immediately delivered to Simon Blake, well-known for preparing sister cars for the Goodwood TT race, for a complete check-over and shakedown. Approximately £15,000 was spent generally going over the car, which was then professionally tested at Brands Hatch. Since then it has remained in race workshop storage but it has yet to compete and a change in the owners collecting focus now brings ‘B0202’ to the market.
With its powerful Chevrolet smallblock engine, aerodynamically slippery shape, and sorted chassis, this spectacular aluminium-bodied Iso – we believe one of just three surviving ‘7,000 rivet’ examples - is perfect for taking on and beating the opposition from Maranello, Browns Lane and Newport Pagnell at Goodwood’s prestigious Tourist Trophy race. It can be acquired for less than some of its exalted rivals, and a substantial package of spares is included in the purchase. It is, in the words of marque expert Chris Lackner, “a very good, proper car”.