The cars we loved.
In the mid to late Seventies there was an explosion of elegant automotive designs coming from small studios in Italy. Bertone was one of the best and it’s brightest designer was Giorgetto Giugiaron. His design for the rear wheel drive, 2 two seat GT car code named “A3/L” would become one of many cars he would be responsible for penning.
The Iso Grifo started out as concept based on the larger Rivolta GT 2+2, a heavy luxurious Touring car built by the small Italian carbuilder Iso Spa. The original ideal was to produce a simple car to compliment the Rivolta and expand sales.
After some internal strife about the direction the car would take between company officials and the head of engineering, Giotto Bizzarrini, a concept emerged. The car displayed at the 1963 Turin Auto Show created quite the sensation with the public and the motoring press. Iso had no real intention of producing the car at first, but it’s popularity forced a quick evolution into a production version. The showcar leaned toward luxury in appearance with a sleek berlinetta (fastback) design. The production car managed to incorporate the best of Italy’s design heritage with a good old American V8 power for motivation and reliability. The American sourced engines were probably an attempt to keep costs down while offering horsepower on par with Iso’s Italian neighbors, most notably Ferrari and Lamborghini.
The car was quite advance for it’s time despite the Detroit power plants. Standard options included four wheel disc brakes, independent suspension, power windows and leather interior. There was even a hook for the ladies to hang their purses! Over the course of the Grifo’s production, there were two manual transmissions offered, one an American sourced 4 speed and the other a German ZF five speed. A three speed automatic remained the only option transmission option.
In 1970, the Series II design as it was called introduced a more aggressive front end with a hideaway headlight treatment, making an already beautiful car even more aggressive looking. Around this time the V8 engines had switched from the Corvette 327 to Ford’s 351 and then back to the GM 454. Generally, the relatively light weight cars approached 400hp and could reach 171 mph!
Records show that only about 402 cars were ever produced, making the Grifo a highly sought after collector classic. The ideal of Italian design and American muscle lived on in a few other Italian cars most notably in the De Tomaso Pantera with it’s various Mustang sourced V8s (modified of course). The fuel crisis meant the end of these cars (and Iso itself) which never sold in large enough numbers to survive new emerging US Federal emissions and safety standards.
Looking back, you can see it’s influence on GM’s first generation F bodied cars as well as the use of the wraparound rear window on the second generation Camaro/Firebird. The Grifo is considered one of the most beautiful cars to have come out of the late 60’s early 70’s and it’s timeless lines still look good even today.