Italian industrialist and engineer Renzo Rivolta is a bit of an unsung hero in the annals of automotive history. His motoring career began in 1942 with the purchase of Isothermos, an Italian refrigerator manufacturer. Rivolta was a proper petrol head, and he frankly had little interest in refrigeration, so he added motorcycles and scooters to the company’s portfolio, reincorporating it as Iso Autoveicoli S.p.A. Renzo’s motorcycles were particularly expensive at a time when Italians needed affordable transport more than anything, but they were built exceptionally well and earned a positive reputation for quality and performance. To answer the needs of the buying public in a still-recovering post-war Italy, Iso introduced the Isetta; a three wheeled (later updated to four) microcar with a single front door and a distinct bubble shape. Approximately 20,000 examples were built in the Iso works before Rivolta had an epiphany: The rest of Europe was still in need of cheap transport, and since his plant couldn’t build enough Isettas to meet demand, he licensed the design to other manufacturers around the world. BMW was the most successful, selling approximately 130,000 units through the 1960s. As an aside, fans of the Bavarian marque have Renzo Rivolta and his cheeky microcar to thank for saving BMW from the brink of bankruptcy and a certain takeover by Mercedes Benz. On the heels of the success of the Isetta, Renzo Rivolta turned his efforts to producing a luxurious GT car that he felt could offer better value and luxury than Ferrari. He took a page from Sydney Allard (among others, of course) by stuffing a proven, reliable and affordable American V8 into a more sophisticated chassis, one that was better suited to putting that power to the ground. The Iso Rivolta IR300 first appeared in 1962. Designed in partnership with legendary Ferrari engineer Giotto Bizzarrini, the attractive four-seat Grand Tourer rode on a steel platform chassis and featured independent front and deDion rear suspension. Power came via Chevrolet’s Corvette-spec 327 cubic inch (5.4 liter) V8 making 300 horsepower and a choice of either automatic or manual transmissions. Styling was by Giorgetto Giugiaro at Ghia, and was crisp and distinctive with delicate pillars, a sharp feature line down the body and finely judged curves and creases on the front fenders and grille. It was a full four seat car that could transport occupants in supreme comfort with outstanding performance. The Iso Rivolta made no impressions of being a racer or sports car – it was meant to carry four passengers at high speed and deliver a memorable drive. With its luxurious and comfortable cabin, the Rivolta was delightfully described in period literature as having “Efficient functioning united to sober elegance”. The literature went on to proclaim the Iso Rivolta was “Silent from 40-240 (kph) in top gear!” Priced between a Jaguar and a Ferrari, the Rivolta found moderate success, selling 799 units between 1962 and 1969. This 1968 IR300 was built on September 12, 1967 and dispatched to the US. It was originally equipped with the 300 horsepower engine, automatic, and air conditioning, and is a complete, running example that was used and enjoyed on a regular basis until it was parked approximately 18 years ago. While it requires a comprehensive restoration, it is not a basket case or a nightmare of missing parts as so many projects can be. This Rivolta remains complete and intact, with most of its delicate trim and detailing in place. The body is quite straight and appears free of any major accident damage, though the sills, lower quarters and floors require replacement. Importantly, the bumpers, lamps, grille and window trims are all intact, presenting in fair condition and the car rides on a set of rare and desirable Campagnolo alloy wheels. The black interior is in similar condition to the body; tired and needing restoration, though complete and appearing never to have been removed from the car. The dash retains all original switchgear and instrumentation. Chevrolet’s robust 327 V8 looks to be completely intact and is fitted with original air conditioning. There is an aftermarket air cleaner, though the engine bay appears otherwise mainly original. Our mechanics carefully inspected the engine to ensure it was free, and fired it up to discover it still has good oil pressure and runs rather well. Of course, it should not be driven in its current state, but it does form the basis of what would be a fairly straightforward restoration. Without complex and expensive running gear, this Iso can be a more approachable prospect for restoring, and this example represents a blank canvas for which to best highlight its distinctive style. With just 800 examples produced, the IR300 is a rare and desirable Italian GT car that delivered excellent performance in a handsome, Giugiaro-designed body.
The story of Iso Automobili begins with “Isothermos”, a refrigerator manufacturer in Genoa, Italy. In 1942, a motor-mad industrialist and engineer named Renzo Rivolta took over the business, renamed it Iso Autoveicoli and moved the whole works to Bresso, just outside of Milan. Under Rivolta’s guidance, Iso gradually moved away from refrigeration and began building motorcycle around 1948. Iso motorcycles were very expensive, but also very desirable thanks to robust engineering and exquisite build quality. In the early years after World War II, Italy was struggling to recover from the pummeling it received by both Allied and Axis forces. Motorcycles were popular, providing cheap transportation to get the nation back on wheels. But people also needed something more practical and usable on a daily basis. Iso unveiled the Isetta bubble car in 1953 – a three (later four) wheeled car powered by a motorbike engine and with room for two adults and a bag or two of groceries. The cheeky little Isetta proved popular enough to inspire Renzo Rivolta to sell the rights to produce his car to other manufacturers. Most notably, it is the car that helped BMW survive the post-war years and put Germany back on wheels. Selling the rights afforded Rivolta a generous pile of cash which he in turn used to develop a rather more luxurious machine compared to the tiny Isetta. In the early 1960’s Renzo Rivolta teamed up with Giotto Bizzarrini and Giorgetto Giugiaro on GT car that was more suited to the rapidly recovering global market. The new car, named Rivolta, is one of the first examples of the “hybrid” sports car to come out of Europe in the 1960’s. Italian designed and built, the car was constructed with a pressed sheet steel frame and fitted with a proven, reliable and affordable Chevrolet 327 V8 lifted from the Corvette. The suspension was comprised of wishbones up front and a proven DeDion rear axle with limited slip Salisbury diff – a tough and reliable unit used by Jaguar for years. Also courtesy of the Brits were the Dunlop four-wheel disc brakes. The Iso Rivolta was rounded out with luxurious and comfortable four-seat cabin, delightfully described in period literature as having “Efficient functioning united to sober elegance”. Performance was strong thanks to a minimum of 300hp from the Corvette engine in the IR 300, and 350hp from the IR 340. The literature also proclaimed the Iso Rivolta was “Silent from 40-240 (kph) in top gear!” That was enough to convince 792 lucky buyers over a 7 year span to shell out their hard earned Lire for a chance to own one of these stylish and elegant GT cars. This 1969 Iso Rivolta IR 340 is one of the very last Rivolta’s made. The car was completed on March 5, 1969, and delivered new to Sig. Oglihri in Italy, and was equipped with the 350 hp motor, 4 speed transmission, 3.31 rear end, Borrani wheels, air conditioning, and quick steering. It is a very pretty and well restored example that has benefited from proper care while in the hands of a marque enthusiast, and is one of only 167 produced with the higher horsepower motor. The paint quality is very good, the older restoration having been done to a high standard. Panel fit is excellent the gaps are consistent, and the body lines crisp and well defined. The red paint is very attractive, accented with good quality chrome and polished brightwork. The aforementioned Borrani wheels are painted in the proper shade of silver/gray, lending an understated and classic look to the Giugiaro-penned lines. The wheels wear new Vredestein tires that offer the proper period look combined with modern performance. The Rivolta was an expensive and luxurious GT car for its day, with a beautifully finished cabin and plenty of standard equipment. Our fine example doesn’t disappoint when you climb aboard. Occupants are treated to tan leather covering the four seats, door panels and dash. The interior was retrimmed some time ago but remains in excellent condition, showing little wear, exhibiting a pleasingly broken-in quality. Brown carpets complement the tan leather very nicely and present in fine condition. This car wears original air conditioning, power windows, original shift knob and steering wheel. The wood instrument panel is in excellent condition, fitted with an array of original European-specification gauges. This fabulous example retains its original matching numbers matching 350 hp Corvette-sourcedengine, and as such returns excellent performance and reliability. It is also very easily serviced by any competent classic car specialist, making it an ideal choice for Italian car enthusiasts who prefer to drive their cars on a regular basis without worrisome service bills. Few examples of the handsome Iso Rivolta are as correct and well presented, and thanks to regular care it is very healthy and ready for Grand Touring in classic Italian style.
Going back through the history of the Automobile, we quite often find manufacturers that get into the car business either by accident or thanks to the passionate efforts of a singular individual. Companies like Pierce-Arrow (bicycles and bird cages), Lamborghini (farm tractors) and Studebaker (wagons and carriages) had successfully made the transition to automobiles while Pegaso (heavy trucks) and Vespa (motor scooters) were mere blips on the radar screen. Somewhere in the middle of success and obscurity lies Iso, a firm that started life as Isothermos, a refrigerator manufacturer in Genoa, Italy. In 1942, a motor-mad industrialist and engineer named Renzo Rivolta took over the business, renamed it Iso Autoveicoli and moved it to Bresso, just outside of Milan. Rivolta moved away from refrigeration and started building motorcycles in 1948. His motorcycles were expensive, but very desirable thanks to robust engineering and superior build quality. Immediately after World War II, Italy struggled to recover from the massive devastation it suffered. Motorcycles proved popular but they were not for everyone and people needed more practical transportation. In 1953, Renzo Revolta unveiled the Iso Isetta bubble car; a three (later four) -wheeled car powered by a motorbike engine with room for two adults and a bag or two of groceries. The cheeky little Isetta proved popular enough to inspire Renzo Rivolta to sell the rights to produce his car to other manufacturers, most notably, BMW. Selling the rights afforded Rivolta a fair bit of cash to take a significant leap into the luxury and performance car market he dreamed of. Flush with cash, he developed the Rivolta GT car, various versions of the Grifo sports car. After Renzo’s untimely death, his son Piero took over the helm and oversaw development of the four-seat Lele and a luxurious, high performance sedan called the Fidia. The Fidia was launched in 1968 to be sold alongside the Grifo and Lele. It featured a traditional tubular chassis with deDion rear suspension and disc brakes. Power was courtesy of a Chevrolet Small Block V8, though contract disputes later led Iso to switch to Ford power later on. The body was penned by Giugiaro and built by Ghia, and it featured an aggressive nose not unlike the DeTomaso Mangusta, and a distinct sloping tail. The large four-seat super sedan was dubbed “The Fastest Four Seats in the World”. The luxurious Fidia cost more than a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow and went head-to-head with Maserati’s Quattroporte, competing for a share of an admittedly tiny market. The Fidia outsold the Quattroporte on occasion, in spite of the fact that just 192 were built between 1968 and 1974, with the likes of John Lennon, Sonny Bono and Pete Townshend all having a Fidia in their stable at one time. Our featured Iso Fidia sedan is surely one of the finest examples we have ever seen. It presents beautifully in rich black paint with a gorgeous, freshly restored tan leather cabin. A tremendous amount of money spent on a high quality restoration to make this a stunning and thoroughly usable machine. The comprehensive restoration work, carried out by the experts at Autosport Designs of Huntington, New York, has been executed to a very high standard and includes a freshened drivetrain, excellent brightwork and all new rubber weatherstripping. The paint and panel fit is exquisite and the big Bertone body is arrow straight. This being a classic 1960’s luxury express, the cabin is a of course the center piece and this example has been restored to a fabulous standard. Beautiful tan leather is highlighted by show quality woodwork and detailing. A high end audio system has been installed and artfully integrated into the cabin, with speakers hidden behind leather kick panels. Of course, niceties such as power windows and air conditioning are standard fare. The long, low Fidia rides on a set of fantastic original Campagnolo alloy wheels on proper blackwall radials. It puts its thumping American horsepower to the ground through an automatic transmission, which only serves to make this an outstanding continental cruiser. It has been wisely upgraded with an aluminium radiator to ensure trouble-free running on hot days. The sale includes restoration records and an original owner’s manual. Restored to show standards but built to be driven and enjoyed, this rare, magnificent and imposing Fidia is an exquisite example of the other great Italian super-sedan.