Great Grifo

Powered by a Corvette engine, the 1967 Iso Grifo coupe had a top speed of 165 mph, same as its Ferrari competition

Renzo Rivolta started building Isothermos refrigerators before World War II. Following the war, Rivolta recognized another Italian need, transportation, and named his new car company Iso Rivolta. Starting with scooters, he expanded to Isetta bubble cars, later licensed to BMW. With the proceeds of the BMW deal and continuing refrigerator sales, Rivolta, like many Italian industrialists, resolved to build a GT car. The Iso Rivolta, a Bertone-styled four-seat coupe, appeared in 1962 at the Turin motor show, and was built at a new plant near Milan. A sportier two-seat Grifo was sold from 1965 to 1974.

Rivolta relied upon American engines to give his cars exceptional performance and great reliability. The Grifo had the Corvette small-block V8 engine and gearbox and a competent chassis designed by one of Italy's greatest automotive engineers, Ferrari GTO designer Bizzarrini. It was all packaged under a svelte Bertone body by Giorgio Giugiaro. According to Motor Trend, Bertone referred to the Iso Grifo coupe as his masterpiece. With a height of less than 48 inches, an aggressive design, alloy wheels, and details such as engine cooling grids on the fenders, the Grifo's design was impressive.

Although it was twice the price of a Corvette, it was lighter and more sophisticated. The lightweight pressed steel unitary body and chassis had four-wheel disc brakes, a deDion rear axle with inboard-mounted brakes, and coil spring suspension. The 327-ci V8 with high compression heads produced 350 hp by 1967. With a top speed of over 165 mph, the Iso Grifo was capable of the same tremendous performance as its Ferrari competition.

This Grifo has the 350 hp Corvette Turbofire V8. Sig. Prevosti, who bought the car around 1988, had it restored to concours standards during the late '90s by Salvatore Diomante, who was heavily involved in building the A3/C and Bizzarrini competition cars at the factory. The body is straight, and the paint looks fresh and is free of imperfections, as is the chrome. The tan leather interior was fully restored and still shows no signs of wear. Every component is as-new and period-correct, from the instrumentation to the radio. The engine bay is detailed and indicates that this car has covered very few miles since restoration. During a recent test drive, the car started readily and idled smoothly.

For many enthusiasts, the Iso Grifo represents the best of both worlds--Italian styling combined with the performance and low maintenance costs of an American V8.

(Introductory description courtesy of RM.)

The SCM Analysis

On October 31, 2007, RM sold this well-restored Grifo for $255,172 at its London auction. This is a substantial price and well over market. It was 41% over RM's high estimate of $150,000, and of four price guides consulted, none estimates an excellent value over $130,000, with two indicating that that level has been attained only in the last year after solid increases in value. (SCM's 2008 Price Guide has been updated to reflect the shift.)

There were several versions of the Grifo over almost ten years. The most important variation was the A3/C, where C stood for Corsa or competition. The Bizzarrini race version had a dramatic, modified alloy body mounted on a tube-frame chassis, and the engine was moved back about 16 inches, making it one of the first front-mid-engined cars. Bizzarrini dubbed the A3/C as his "Improved GTO." Twenty-two A3/Cs were built as Grifos before Bizzarrini and Rivolta parted ways in 1965 and the car became the Bizzarrini 5300 GT and American GT.

The street A3/L (for Lusso) had the same pressed-steel unitary body and chassis of the earlier four-passenger Iso Rivolta. The street Grifo was quite a success, but in 1970, Piero Rivolta, now running the company after the death of his father, upgraded the body with an elongated nose and hidden headlights, which turned an already outstanding design into one of the most elegant-looking GTs ever produced. These are referred to as the Series II cars and were in production from 1970 to 1974. They bring a good premium over the earlier cars.

In 1968, the spectacular Corvette L71, a Tri-Power version of the famous 7-liter big-block 427, was introduced for the Grifo. In the end, there were 322 Series I and 78 Series II cars built for a total of 400 Grifo Lussos. This car is a regular A3/L Series I; the chassis number identifies it as the 98th made.

Hard to find one good enough to buy

Aside from being a true high-performance car, the big appeal of these American-engined, Euro-bodied amalgams is summed up by Steve Snyder, a Southern California collector who has an affinity for Facel Vegas: "I really like the whole hybrid idea. I know that my Facel will always run, and I could probably rebuild the entire drivetrain for the cost of a major service on a Ferrari." He also explains why this nicely restored and attractively painted Iso might have garnered such big dollars: "I particularly like the Iso Grifo, but I've never found one that I felt was good enough to buy. The last Iso I looked at came from England and consisted entirely of rust holes and Bondo." So while you get fantastic styling and low maintenance costs, there is a downside.

Many '60s custom bodies are afflicted with the dreaded "tin worm." While Iso built around 422 Grifos of all varieties, Oliver Kuttner, a Virginia collector who sold this car through a broker to Prevosti and has owned many Grifos and 38 Bizzarrinis, points out that over half of the new Grifos were sold into Germany. The climate and the salted roads are not kind to rust-prone Italian coachwork, and the stringent yearly state safety inspections are even less forgiving. He estimates that 30% -- 40% of Grifos there have been junked, and many more are in dodgy condition.

So finding a good restored or restorable Iso Grifo is not easy. As one SCMer in Switzerland wrote in 2006, "I wanted to let you know that I just paid about twice your indicated price for a stunning car in near-perfect condition. I bought it through a reputable dealer in Europe. Paid $135,000& these cars are rare& a great number have surely rusted away."

Pedigree and execution define desirability

If pedigree and execution define desirability, this car has it--chassis by the esteemed ex-Ferrari development engineer Bizzarrini, body designed by Giugiaro, and built by Bertone, among the best for the quality of its bodies. Further, the restoration was done by Diomante, an ex-Iso employee who was instrumental in manufacturing the cars and later built some very fine Bizzarrinis.

What of future values? Will Grifos continue to appreciate and find a wider following? Will the European design flair, combined with inexpensive-to-maintain American power, become more popular? I'd have to say this Grifo may not seem expensive for long. Euro-Americans are the ultimate street rod, with plenty of parts to increase the already great performance relatively cheaply.

Several eclectic collectors admire Anglo/Italian/French-American customs. As Bob Lutz said in the "Etceterini Profile" of his Monteverdi 375 S, (February 2006, p. 54): "All of these...are attractive alternatives to the typical exotics of the era& I have often thought that a fascinating collection could be assembled from European cars that used American V8s. Just think of all the marques you could pick from."

Over the years, hybrids have fallen in and out of market favor. When hot, they are described as "the best of both worlds." When cold, they are derided as "stylish bodies with lumps under the hood." Given this sale result, it appears the market for hybrids is going through one of its "hot" and "hotter" phases.

Details

Years Produced: 1965-1974

Number Produced: 400 A3/L (Lusso), 22 A3/C (Corsa)

Original List Price: $13,448 in 1970

SCM Valuation: $85,000-$145,000

Tune-up Cost: $200

Distributor Caps: $20

Chassis # Location: Metal plate on top of right front shock tower

Engine # Location: Top left flange at rear of block

Club Info: IBOC, 2025 Drake Drive, Oakland, CA, 94611

Website: click to visit

Alternatives: 1964-68 Gordon-Keeble, 1959-64 Facel Vega, 1967-77 Monteverdi 375

Investment Grade: B

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