Renzo Rivolta started building Isothermos refrigerators before World War II. Following the war, Rivolta recognized Italy’s need for transportation, and named his new car company Iso Rivolta. He built scooters and then the famous Isetta bubble-cars, which were later built by BMW. With the proceeds of the BMW deal, Rivolta resolved to build a GT car. The Iso Rivolta, a Bertone-styled four-seat coupe, appeared in 1962 at the Turin motor show, and was built near Milan. The sportier two-seat Grifo was sold from 1965 to 1974.
Rivolta relied upon American V-8 engines for performance and reliability. The Grifo had the Corvette’s small-block V-8 engine and gearbox and a competent chassis designed by Ferrari GTO designer Bizzarrini. It was all packaged under a svelte Bertone body by Giorgio Giugiaro. According to Motor Trend, Bertone referred to the Iso Grifo Coupe as his masterpiece. With a height of less than 48 inches, an aggressive design, alloy wheels, and details such as engine cooling grids on the fenders, the Grifo was quite visually impressive.
Although it was twice the price of a Corvette, it was lighter and more sophisticated. The lightweight pressed steel unitary body and chassis had four-wheel disc brakes, a De Dion rear axle with inboard brakes and coil spring suspension. The 327ci V-8 with high compression heads produced 350 bhp by 1967. With a top speed of over 165 mph, the Iso Grifo was capable of the same performance as its competition from Ferrari.
There were several versions of the Grifo over almost 10 years. The most important was the A3/C, where “C” stood for Corsa or competition. The Bizzarrini race version had a dramatic modified alloy body mounted on a tube frame chassis. The engine was moved back about 16 inches, making it one of the first front-mid-engined cars. Bizzarrini dubbed the A3/C as his “Improved GTO”, and 22 A3/C’s were built as Grifos before Bizzarrini and Rivolta parted ways in 1965 and the car became the Bizzarrini 5300 GT and American GT.
The street A3/L (L for Lusso) had the same pressed-steel unitary body and chassis of the earlier 4-passenger Iso Rivolta. The street Grifo was a success, but in 1970 Piero Rivolta, now running the company after the death of his father, upgraded the body with an elongated nose with hidden headlights, producing one of the most elegant looking GTs ever produced. These are referred to as the Series II and were in production from 1970 to 1974. In 1968 the spectacular Corvette L71, a Tri-Power version of the famous Corvette 427, Big Block, 7-liter engine was introduced. In the end there were 322 Series I and 78 Series II cars built for a total of 400 Grifos Lussos built.
Many Italian custom bodies from the 1960s are afflicted with rust, and more than half the Grifos were originally sold in Germany. The climate and salted roads were not kind to rust-prone Italian coachwork, and the stringent yearly state safety inspection is estimated to have resulted in about 40 percent having been junked. Many survivors were left in parlous condition, and exhaustive pre-purchase inspections are vital for these highly collectible Italo-American hybrids.