In July of 2018 The Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix will celebrate BMW as the Marque of the Year. Up on the hill at the Cortile, we will be celebrating the family who created the car that saved BMW.
The Rivolta Family founded Iso Autoveicoli S.p.A, an automobile and motorcycle maker in Italy. The company was active from the late 1940s through the early 1970s. Iso are known for the iconic Isetta bubble car, later of BMW fame, in the 1950s, and for a number of powerful performance cars in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Today Piero Rivolta is active in land development, boat manufacturing, serious sailing, a world-respected chamber-music festival (La Musica), and a dozen other activities, including writing and publishing novels and books of poetry.
From Refrigerators to Scooter: The early years
During World War II manufacturing was tightly regulated after the Nazi takeover of Italy. The Rivolta family converted the lower levels of a castle into a refrigerator factory and employed much of the local town under the auspices of it being a vineyard and winery. It's a remarkable story in and of itself with false walls and Nazi searches and some rather harrowing experiences.
After the Second World War, the company reopened its doors and, in 1948, began to build motorcycles, scooters and motocarries - three-wheeled transport scooters/motorcycles. Renzo Rivolta had recognized a unique opportunity and jumped in front of his competitors by making performance transportation a priority in the post-war economy.
New scooters where introduced at a rampant pace with the 'Furetto' in 1948, the 'Isoscooter' in 1950, the 'Isocarro' in 1951', the 'Isosport' in 1953 and finally the 'Isomoto' in 1954. The last Iso motorcycle was presented as the Iso 500 in 1961. Isomotos were known as expensive, very durable and very well-built. The twin piston engine developed at Iso had more power than the comparable Vespa and Lambretta models making the Iso's the performance choice in the post-war economy.
The Birth of the Auto Scooter: The Isetta
As the economy began to expand in the early 1950's consumers in Italy wanted to travel to places without getting soaking wet on the back of a scooter and once again sitting down comfortably inside a car.
The Isetta caused a sensation when it was introduced to the motoring press in Turin in November 1953. However, soon after the Isetta was introduced, Fiat introduced the Fiat 500, at a similar price point, and it could seat four people. Rivolta and the team at Iso had gambled the company's success on the Isetta's, but soon they where sitting in the lot at the Bresso factory, unsold.
In 1947, BMW was granted permission to resume motorcycle production. Its first post-war motorcycle was released in 1948. In 1952 BMW resumed production of automobiles, with the BMW 501 large sedan. Unfortunately consumers did not want or could not afford large sedans and BMW was facing some some financial woes that could mean the end to the company as well.
They approached Rivolta and proposed buy-in the entire assembly line and moving it to Germany under license. The assembly line was moved from Bresso to Munich, the engine was upgrade to 250cc and the braking system improved. Over 160,000 Isetta's where produced and the royalties that Rivolta received on each sale funded the next development which would place the name ISO in the annuls of Italian motoring legend. Many credit the Isetta with keeping the BMW out of bankruptcy through 1959 -1960.
The Rivolta -Bizzarrini relationship: Birth of the Iso Grifo
Meanwhile, back in the Bresso factory in Italy, Rivolta was on something intended to compete with Ferrari and Maserati GTs. First launched was the Iso Rivolta IR 300 that premiered at the Torino Show in 1962. The IR 300 was an elegant 2 + 2 Coupé with well-balanced technical components and outstanding driving performance. It was powered by a 5.4 L Chevrolet V8 Small-Block engine and transmission that both came from General Motors in Detroit. The deDion suspension and four-wheel disc braking system came from the large Jaguars of the time.
Iso's most iconic automobile, however, was the Grifo. The Iso Grifo was a limited production grand tourer manufactured between 1965 and 1974. It also utilized a series of American power trains and components supplied by Chevrolet and Ford to ensure performance and maximize reliability.
Styling was done by Giorgetto Giugiaro at Bertone. The mechanicals were attributed to Giotto Bizzarrini, but the reality was that much of the mechanicals where in done in-house at Rivolta. Rivolta and Bizzarini needed each other for business reasons: Rivolta needed to attach the Bizzarini reputation to the performance perception of the new vehicle to compete with the likes of Ferrari and Maserati. The high performance scooters and the cute, spunky Isetta's just didn't quite convey the performance of the racing pedigrees of the other Italian sports car marques.
Who was Giotto Bizzarrini
Bizzarini started his career at Alfa Romeo in 1954 and in 1957 he moved over to Ferrari, eventually becoming controller of experimental, Sports and GT car development. He worked at Ferrari as a developer, designer, test driver, and chief engineer for five years. His developments there included the Ferrari 250 TR, the Ferrari 250 GT SWB (Short Wheelbase Berlinetta, aka "Berlinetta Passo Corto"), and the 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO. Bizzarrini was fired by Ferrari during the "Palace Revolt" of 1961.
Bizzarini became part of Automobili Turismo e Sport, ATS, a company started by the ex-Ferrari engineers to build a Formula 1 single seater and a GT sport car, the A.T.S. Serenissima. One of ATS's financial backers, Count Giovanni Volpi, hired Bizzarrini to upgrade a Ferrari 250 GT SWB, to GTO specifications. This resulted in the "Ferrari 250 GT SWB Drogo" also known as the "Breadvan" which became quite famous in it's own right. But, that, as they say is another story...
Bizzarrini's engineering company, Societa Autostar, was commissioned to design a V-12 engine for a GT car to be built by another dissatisfied Ferrari customer, Ferruccio Lamborghini. Lamborghini considered the resulting engine to be too highly strung, and ordered that it be detuned.
As you can see, Bizzarini was involved in some pretty significant sports cars, but, although he had developed quite a reputation, by the time he was asked to join forces with Rivolta, he lacked the bankroll to support his racing habit.
Rivolta had become financially stable as a result of the BMW license of the Isetta but needed Bizzarrini's reputation to add to the vehicle they had already almost fully developed in-house. The two joined forces. It was a short lived relationship and neither of the high strung alfa males got along with the other. But, in that brief period, they created the Iso Rivolta GT, and the Iso Grifo A3L and A3C.
THE ISO GRIFO and Racing
The Iso Grifo A3L was a monstrous idea for a super coupé, the L coming from Lusso. The result of the brilliant Giugiaro and Bizzarrini working together, it was based on a shortened Iso Rivolta GT chassis and was debuted at the 1963 Turin Auto show.
The Grifo epitomised the 1960s Italian style with its handsome low and wide handmade bodywork. It was the fastest production car tested by Autocar Magazine in 1966 with a top speed of 160 mph. Later versions of the Grifo were powered by a big block Chevrolet Corvette 435 bhp engine. These 90 handbuilt units are distinguishable by the raised "pagoda style" scoop bonnet. Some of these Iso Grifo 7 Litri units were rebuilt later with even bigger engines.
It was an aggressively designed machine, oriented to endurance races. It used normal ISO underpinnings but the engine was moved further back in the chassis frame than the Grifo A3L, protruding well into the driver's cabin, fitted with hot cams and fed by four big Weber carburettors, giving more than 400 bhp.
Around 29 A3C sport cars were built under the ISO name. Five of these 29 cars were bodied in plastic/fiberglass by Piero Drogo at Carrozzeria Sports Cars in Modena.
A3Cs were widely raced. Some cars entered the 1964 and 1965 Le Mans 24 hour, 1965 Nürburgring 1000 and 1965 Sebring. It achieved a Le Mans class win in both years and a 9th overall in 1965 with no factory support. A3Cs were one of the fastest cars on Le Mans' Mulsanne Straight in both years.
The Future: IsoRivolta Vision Gran Turismo by Zagato
For the gamer's out there who have competed on Sony’s "Gran Turismo Sport", you may recognize the IsoRivolta Gran Turismo that showed up in reality at the Tokyo Motor Show last month. That "pagoda style" scoop bonnet that features the iconic Rivolta Grifo, is a nice throwback to the Iso Grifo 7 Litri.
Zagato announced that it will build between three and five of them for actual customers.
“The IsoRivolta Vision Gran Turismo was created to drive in the virtual-reality world, a world created by Gran Turismo. There is no mass in the virtual-reality world, as it remains a place that exists only in our imagination... Like a Mobius strip, the PlayStation game has allowed ourselves to be transported from reality and thrust into a world of pure fantasy, and then back again. The body style of the IsoRivolta Vision contradicts the sense of oneness that has evolved over the past hundred years of automotive design... Our next wish is that this car, which was born in Gran Turismo, will take to the road in real life and one day grow larger in your rear view mirror, eventually passing you at high speed. When this happens, you will feel the limits of your imagination being severely tested, blurring reality.”
~Norihiko Harada, VP of Design at Zagato
This is a compilation of articles from a variety of sources and contributors. Attrition and sources are always provided at the top and/or the bottom of the posting.