But modifying a previous design was not the way Bizzarrini wanted to do business, so he sat down to create a brand new car without interference from anyone. And that one was the extremely low and very small rear-engined, open-cockpit P538 (as in posteriore), 5.3-liter, eight cylinders, once again built around the 327 cu-in. Corvette engine with four Weber carburetors adapted to it.
This was not a normal sports car by any stretch of the imagination. It had two seats, as required by FIA for sports cars, and room for the famous FIA suitcase under the front hood. But the driver sat in the center of the car, with the passenger on his left, and a bunch of mechanical equipment on his right.
The very low nose and room for the suitcase dictated a very small front-mounted radiator to cool the modified Corvette engine, so Bizzarrini used about 80 percent of the tubular frame members to carry coolant to and from the engine, providing more area from which to dump heat from the coolant. Like the Grifo and GT, it used a de Dion rear-end setup, with Campagnolo solid-disc front brakes and inboard Campagnolo rear disc brakes. The amazingly swoopy, low-riding fiberglass bodywork was designed for Bizzarrini by none other than Giorgetto Giugiaro, and bodies were built one at a time by a nearby boatbuilding works, the fiberglass panels bonded to the birdcage space frame at Bizzarrini's shop in Livorno.
The car was supposed to race at Le Mans in 1966, as a follow-up to the two consecutive class wins of the Grifos in 1964-65, but it crashed. A second car was built for American racer Mike Gammino to race at Le Mans, but Gammino apparently wanted to use a real high-rpm Italian powerhouse of an engine instead of a cast-iron Detroit lump, so he asked Bizzarrini about the possibility of using, say, a Lamborghini V12. Use an engine that he had designed, in a car he designed? Why, of course! Thus was born the later, and last, version of the Bizzarrini P538.
Keep in mind that, unlike Ferrari and Rivolta and Lamborghini, Bizzarrini could not fall back on street cars or tractors or refrigeration systems when his racing car business went south. He built a beautiful, fast, but uncompetitive car for Le Mans that did not meet the new rules, and he was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1968. Before that happened, his former collaborator, Giorgetto Giugiaro, who had gone from Bertone to Ghia to freelance, used one of the existing cars to build a closed prototype which was shown under the banner of Giugiaro's new company, ItalDesign, as the Bizzarrini Manta coupe.
Those who have been through it can tell you that every bankruptcy is different and that Italian ones are certainly different from American ones. The creditors seldom take or liquidate absolutely everything. And that was the case with the Bizzarrini closing. Before the courts got involved, apparently the family stashed a few of these and some of those, a little of this and a little of that, in secret places.
And that's how this car came to be. It is alleged that Giotto, his wife Rosanna and former shop foreman Salvatore Diomante built this car a little at a time with their own hands long after the courts had liquidated everything else, and sold it. It's been working its way to its current owner since 1968, when it was built for a wealthy Swiss jeweler. It carries chassis number 005.