In the world of exotic cars, the names Ferrari and Lamborghini are top of mind. It takes a more exposed and sophisticated enthusiast to recognize the name of Bizzarrini. But don't think for a moment his lack of broad name recognition is any indication of the quality of his work. Quite the contrary. As a matter of fact, in different periods over the years, Bizzarrini actually did work - critically memorable work - for both Enzo Ferrari and Ferruccio Lamborghini.
Giotto Bizzarini was born in Livorno Italy in 1926. He was born into a fairly wealthy family with strong roots in the Tuscany region. He graduated from the University of Pisa in 1953 with a degree in engineering. By 1954, he was working for Alfa Romeo. Three years later he was working for Ferrari. In short order, he found himself the Chief of experimental, sports and GT car development. In his nearly 5 years at Ferrari, Bizzarrini helped develop the 250 TR, the 250 GT SWB and most famously, the 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO.
As was covered in this previous article about the Ferrari 'Breadvan', Bizzarrini was fired by Ferrari during the 'palace revolt' of 1961. The initial venture after his release from Ferrari that created the 'Breadvan' was the first of many small business ventures for Bizzarrini.
After the success of the 'Breadvan', Bizzarrini was approached by another man who was dissatisfied with Ferrari – Ferruccio Lamborghini. Lamborghini approached Bizzarrini to design a V12 engine for his new car company that was producing their first car - the upcoming 350 GT. Interestingly, when Bizzarrini provided the engine, Lamborghini found the engine to be too frenetic and high strung, so he ordered it to be detuned to produce less power.
By 1964, Bizzarrini was working with Iso Revolta on the cars that he is perhaps best associated with developing - The Iso Rivolta GT, the Iso Grifo A3L and the A3C.
When Iso Rivolta chief Renzo Rivolta hired Bizzarrini, their first effort together was the GT. The initial prototype was developed from a Gordon Keeble GT. The initial test car was powered by a 327 ci Corvette engine and a rear De Dion tube.
Bizzarrini would later recall the impact the Corvette motor would have on him, and how it influenced his choice to continue to use American motors going forward.
'Rivolta had me test the prototype. I liked its De Dion tube and especially the Corvette engine. It was the first time I had driven one. It was superior to Ferrari's engines, having the same power but with a more immediate throttle response.'
The Iso Grifo A3L, with the L standing for Lusso, was a joint effort between Giorgetto Giugiaro and Giotto Bizzarrini. There were 90 versions of the car built with 427 ci Corvette engines producing 435 hp. The outcome was the fastest car measured by Autocar magazine in 1966, with a top speed of 160 mph.
Bizzarrini really hoped to have the A3L used in competition, so a handful of cars were modified, and the names changed to A3C, with the C standing for Competizione. It didn't take long for the A3C to find its way into heavy competition. Several cars were entered in the 1964 and 1965 24 Hours of LeMans, the 1965 Nürburgring 1000 km, as well as The 1965 endurance race at Sebring. The combination of Italian style and engineering with American horsepower was an incredible combination. In the two years it raced at LeMans, it won its class both times - and with no factory support to speak of.
Ultimately, the relationship between Bizzarrini and Rivolta deteriorated. Bizzarrini wanted to build dedicated race cars, whereas Rivolta wanted to build high-quality GT cars, so they decided to part paths in 1964.
By 1966, in a twist of irony, Bizzarrini's company released a street legal version of the Iso Grifo A3C, named the Bizzarrini 5300 GT Strada. In many ways, the body and mechanical parts were very similar to the Iso Grifo A3C's, but with minor updates. The 5300 denotation represented in cubic centimeters the displacement of the 327 ci Corvette engine powering the Italian bodied coupe. The gorgeous Giugiaro-styled coupe stands only 43 inches tall.
Bizzarrini also produced a smaller car concept for General Motors Opel division, intended to appear like a scale version of the 5300 GT. The 1900 GT Europa was based on an Opel 1900 platform. This was ultimately the car General Motors used to create the Opel GT. Dissatisfied with Opel's interpretation of his vision, Bizzarrini decided to build the car himself. Only 17 prototypes were completed.
Bizzarrini toyed with several other small projects, including the P538S – a mid-engined, Corvette-powered race car. A testament to the desirability of Bizzarrini's work is that only three chassis were ever made for the P538S, yet today at least 12 are in existence, with many of them claiming to be original cars - the ultimate form of flattery.
When one considers the role Bizzarini played with other manufacturers, as well as the nature of his private ventures, he could easily be analogized as an Italian version of Carroll Shelby - helping manufacturers make their cars faster, and ultimately shoving big American engines in small, sexy cars to make them go fast.
To this day, Giotto Bizzarrini lives in Livorno, Italy, collaborating and teaching at Roma university. Hopefully he is helping to create the next generation of his kind.