Few European engineers have touched as many great car companies, great designers and great automobiles as has Giotto Bizzarrini, and fewer still have left behind mechanical icons that will live forever in Italian automotive lore.
Giotto Bizzarrini was an extremely talented and experienced engineer with a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Pisa and an abiding passion for fast, beautiful cars. By working hard, having good ideas, being a helluva good driver, and being in the right place at the right time, he got a job as a test driver for Alfa Romeo in Milan in 1954. After three years of experience, he managed to get another test-driving job, this time with the one company that is synonymous worldwide for fast, beautiful cars-Ferrari.
In his first year at Ferrari, he worked mostly on suspension, steering and brakes, while others tended to the V12 engines, and by 1958 he was taken off the racing team and placed in charge of future product and experimental cars. Working in that office, he and his team developed what has become perhaps the single most desirable sports car in the world, the 250 GTO. For many, that would have been enough for a whole lifetime of engineering and design, but for Bizzarrini there would be a whole lot more to come.
According to the history books, Bizzarrini left Ferrari in the big blowup of 1961 along with Carlo Chiti, who went on to establish and run Autodelta as an out-of-house tuner and race shop for Alfa Romeo. Bizzarrini instead went freelance, and the first client he worked for was the driven industrialist Renzo Rivolta of Iso Thermos, a Milan refrigeration company that eventually branched out into minicars, sports cars and racing. Iso invented and sold the original Isetta front-door minicar, later licensing it to BMW and others, which made it famous and provided the money for Iso to do other car programs. There, Bizzarrini worked out the final details of the car that would become the Iso Rivolta GT, a Corvette-powered sports car that put the company on the map.
It was during this period that the famous argument between Enzo Ferrari and tractor manufacturer Ferruccio Lamborghini took place, when Lamborghini decided he could build a sports car that was better than the Ferrari he wanted but could not get from Enzo. He needed an engine designer, and he got one-Giotto Bizzarrini. Bizzarrini designed and developed a 3.5-liter dohc four-valve V12 that grew to 4 liters, 5 liters and 6 liters in various Lamborghinis from then until now. Although Lamborghini has been sold three times, the basic engine design is still used today.
The Corvette-powered Iso Grifo (griffon) in both street (A3L) and racing (A3C) trim, a collaboration between Rivolta, Bizzarrini, the Bertone carrozzeria and its young designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, followed the GT in 1963. Their hard work was rewarded with class wins at Le Mans in 1964 and 1965, 9th and 14th overall, respectively, and strong showings at places like Monza and the Nrburgring. Rivolta, who didn't care much about racing, let Bizzarrini race the cars under his own name, and he did, attracting name drivers in big-time American and European endurance racing.
Legend has it that Rivolta grew less and less enchanted with racing, Bizzarrini more and more. They parted ways, with a twist. Bizzarrini, it turned out, had registered the Grifo name and owned it. He traded it back to Rivolta for financial considerations, including a large number of spare Corvette engines and other parts which he would use in creating the first cars built with his own name on them. Essentially modified Iso Grifos, they were called 5300 GT or Strada models.