Purebred sportswoman

This car, due to its elegance and its brilliant performance, became an instant status symbol, born to compete against rivals of the calibre of Maserati and Ferrari

The history of the ISO marque is inexorably linked to the figure of Eng. Renzo Rivolta, who bought Isothermos, a small company manufacturing heaters and coolers, in 1939. After the war the company, which had moved from Bolzaneto to Bresso (near Milan) in 1942 as a result of bomb damage to their factory, started to make motorcycles. To see their first car we had to wait until the beginning of the 1950s, when, under the name of Iso Autoveicoli, the popular Isetta first appeared; it was a three-wheeled micro-car, original because of its single access door opening the whole front end and which was also built under licence by BMW. The final step to the model we are going to talk about was confirmed after the Isetta went out of production in 1956.

The company’s name changed once again, becoming ISO Rivolta and concentrating production exclusively on a luxury touring car. The model which best represented the niche phase of the Bresso marque is undoubtedly their second model, the Grifo, which came into being based on a shortened GT/IR model. This car, like their first model, was designed by Giugiaro for Bertone; it was the last car designed for them by engineer Giotto Bizzarrini, who left the company in 1964 due to differences of opinion, to start his own company. The Grifo was presented in prototype form at the Turin Show in 1963 as the A3 Lusso Grifo, and entered production the following year. It had very sporting lines expressing strong emotions and featured a 5359 cc Chevrolet V8 engine producing either 307 or 350 bhp, as already used in the GT/IR, which drove the Grifo to a maximum speed of 230 km/h. This car, due to its elegance and its brilliant performance, became an instant status symbol, born to compete against rivals of the calibre of Maserati and Ferrari.

The car was bought by rich and famous people, such as The Beatles, who used one on their Magical Mystery Tour. In 1970 various modifications were made, starting with the redesigned front characterised by retractable headlights similar to those on their Lele model. The IR-9 version was also produced in this series, with a more powerful 6996 cc engine producing 407 bhp and capable of propelling the car to a speed of 270 km/h. These versions were recognisable by a showy air intake which formed a step on the car’s bonnet. In 1973 the Rivolta family decided to sell the company, now in deep financial trouble, to the Italian-American financier Ivo Pera, who changed the name once more, to Iso Motor, and who reached an agreement with Williams to enter ISO in Formula 1, with sponsorship from the Philip Morris tobacco company, but which came to an end after a very short time.

The Grifo continued in production until 1974, when, due to a worsening of the company’s finances, partly due to the oil crisis, it ceased production altogether and brought an end to the ISO marque, which failed that same year.

Following the bankruptcy Roberto Negri, who had been the company’s test driver for two years, bought the surviving parts of the company and along with his son, Federico, became the only centre specialising in the restoration of Iso Rivoltas. If you want to know more you can read the article dedicated to Il Corriere della Sera or visit the official website of the centre.

Text by Tommaso Lai

Translation by Norman Hawkes

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