One of the most dramatic show cars of the 1960s was the Bizzarrini Manta, combining the engineering genius of Giotto Bizzarrini and the style of Giorgetto Giugiaro. Work began in the latter half of 1965, when Giotto Bizzarrini began work on one of his most sophisticated racing car - the P538. The P538 was Bizzarrini's attempt to take on the fiercest competition in international racing. The list included the Ford GT40, Ferrari 250 P and the Porsche 906.
The P538 would ultimately be the reason for the Bizzarrini's downfall and the foundation for an influential Italian automotive venture: Giorgetto Giugiaro's Ital Design.
The P538 was given a mid-engine layout and was designed strictly for competition use. The first two chassis created were given Lamborghini V-2s and sold an American client. The third example, chassis 003, was the first P538 constructed to Bizzarrini's intended speciations.
P538-003 was given a highly tuned Corvette V-8 engine breathing through four Weber side-draft carburetors. The car had a lightweight tubular space frame, ZF five-speed transaxle, fully independent suspension, disc brakes, alloy Campagnolo wheels and fiberglass bodywork. P538-003 was constructed in spring of 1966 and made its competition debut at the 24 Hours of LeMans as a Scuderia Bizzarrini works entry. It wore race number 10 and was driven by Swiss drivers Edgar Berney and Andre Wicky. Though the car had a dramatic spin-off the starting line, it was able to quickly gain ground and record impressive lap times.
During a routine pit stop early during the race - and during the rush to get it back onto the track - the pit crew jacked the car incorrectly resulting in a cracked radiator pipe and coolant loss. The damage caused the P538 to retire in the second hour. The only other Bizzarrini entry, A GT America driven by Sam Posey and Massimo Natili, was later disqualified for an illegal pit stop. P538-003 was campaigned only once more. It placed 4th overall at a local Italian hill climb event.
At the close of the season, the CSI announced new regulations that dramatically affected the prototype category. New rules limited engine capacity to just five liters and required a minimum of 25 examples to be built to conform with homologation requirements. The P538 was immediately rendered obsolete. This was very tragic, as proper testing and further development may have made the P538 a true contender.
Another unfortunate outcome of the new regulations was that it signaled the end of Bizzarrini as an independent manufacture. The development of the P538 had consumed much of the company's liquid assets, and Bizzarrini soon found himself in a compromised financial situation. In an attempt to recoup assets, Bizzarrini reconfigured P538-003 as a road-going coupe but found no willing buyers.
By 1967, Giugiaro had secured proper funding, but was in need of a suitable project. After learning of Bizzarrini's financial difficulties, Giugiaro drew up a plant to use the advanced sports racing chassis as the basis for a new supercar. Due to Giotto Bizzarrini's difficult financial situation, he was only too happy to oblige.
Giorgetto Giugiaro founded Ital Design on February 13th of 1968 and began work on his first independent project. His first project was to transform the P538 into a modern sports car. In just 40 days, Giugiaro transformed a basic sketch to the fully functioning prototype
The design features a continuous line from nose to roof and again from roof to tail. It has a radical 15-degree rake to the windscreen and a large surface area of glass that stretches beyond the B-pillar, allowing view of the intake trumpets. Giugiaro inserted two groups of five transverse louvers, a painted in a dramatic contrast in color. In the back was a split bumper that folded over onto the tail. At the bottom, in-between the front and rear wheels, are brushed aluminum rocker panels, with its industrial 'drilled' motif.
Along with its bold design, it has a rather wide width, at more than six feet across. Inside, there is an avant-grade interior, perhaps inspired by Pininfarina's 365 P Speciale of 1966. It has a three-seat configuration with a center-driver arrangement. The steering wheel was designed to collapse on impact.
Giugiaro named this new creation after the manta ray. The car was finished in acid green with orange trim. The inaugural Ital Design project made its world debut at the 1968 Turin Motor Show. Following the show, it appeared in countless automotive publications and even graced the cover of Road & Track's
March 1969 issue.
After the Turin Show, the car returned to Ital Design where it was repainted red with contrasting white and blue racing stripes. It was then shipped to Japan for the exhibit at the Tokyo Racing car Show and later to Los Angeles, California where it was displayed in the 1969 Auto Expo.
The history of what happened to the car during the 1970s remains (somewhat) a mystery. It disappeared on its return trip to Italy from the LA Auto Expo. In 1978 or 1979, it re-appeared at a Port of Genoa customs auction. From there, Giovanni Giordanengo of Cuneo discovered and purchased the Manta. The car was then entrusted to Carrozzeria SD to perform a thorough restoration. The small coachbuilder on the outskirts of Turin was owned and operated by Salvatore Diomante, Bizzarrini's former production line foreman.
In October of 1982, Ulf Larsson of Switzerland acquired it for his collection. In 1988, the Manta was shipped to Italy to take part in Ital Design's 20th anniversary celebration and repainted silver in honor of the special occasion.
In 1998, the Manta returned to Italy for Ital Design's 30th anniversary and a special display at the Turin Motor Show. A few years later, Texas collector Alfredo Brener purchased the car and commissioned a complete restoration to bring it back to its original 1968 Turin Motor Show configuration. In March of 2005, near the completion of the cars restoration, Mr. Brener sold the car to its current caretaker. The car's post-restoration debut was at the 2005 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance where it won First in Class in the Chevrolet Small Block with European Coachwork category. It was later shown at the Amelia Island Concours, Palos Verdes Concours, and Concoros Italiano. It has been shown at several significant design exhibitions and museum displays. In 2008, it was shipped to Europe where it was displayed at Villa d'Este where it appeared next to the Lancia Stratos prototype and the Dino Berlinetta Competizione. It then went to the Geneva Auto Show were it was included in a special 40th anniversary of Ital Design display. Next it was shown at the Dream Exhibition held at the World Design Capital in Turin.
This is the original Ital Design show car and the first independent design project of Giorgetto Giugiaro. It was created as a one-off design study that would have a profound influence on the automotive community.
The car is powered by a 5359cc overhead valve Chevrolet V8 engine with four Weber 45 DCOE carburetors. It produces an estimated 400 horsepower at 5400 RPM. There is a 5-speed ZF manual gearbox and 4-wheel servo-assisted disc brakes with an inboard configuration at the rear.
In 2012, this car was offered for sale at the Gooding & Company auction held in Pebble Beach, California. It was estimated to sell for $1,000,000 - $1,500,000. Unfortunately, a buyer willing to satisfy the vehicle's reserve was not found. It would leave the auction unsold.By Daniel Vaughan | Dec 2012
Bizzarini opened for business in 1962, and completed their first prototype work, the Iso AC3 Grifo, in 1965. After severing relations with Iso, Bizzarrini continued building a similar vehicle, the GT Strada 5300, mating exotic European coachwork with Chevrolet engines and transmissions. Bizarrini also produced competition cars, building four mid-engined P538 cars for the 1966 season.
Chassis 003 competed at the 24 Hours of LeMans, but subsequent rule changes excluded these cars from any future competition. This chassis, the Manta, became the basis for the initial project of ItalDesign, Giorgetto Giugiaro's new design house.
As often happens with one-offs, restoration is a very tedious and difficult process. The Manta passed from collector to collector prior to its purchase by the Spindles. They brought the car to Los Angeles restorer Rod Drew. And the rest is history, reborn.
Bizzarrini began his career by working with Alfa Romeo. His expertise and skills were quickly realized and his abilities were promising. Later in life he began working for Ferrari where he was given the responsibility of development of the 250 GTO. Near the end of 1961, he left Ferrari and became a consultant driven by desires to build automobiles that would outdo his former employer. Lamborghini commissioned Bizzarrini to modify their V12 power-plant, an engine that would be well used in future Lamborghini models.
After leaving Lamborghini, Bizzarrini was offered an opportunity by Renzo Rivolta, the owner of Iso. During his employment with Iso he created the Iso Rivolta and the Grifo A3 models. The A3C was a GT race car powered by a Chevrolet Corvette engine that had been placed in the front but pushed back to take advantage of weight distribution. The car proved itself at the grueling 24 Hours of LeMans in 1964 where it emerged with a class victory.
By 1966 it had become very evident that a mid-engine sports car was needed to be competitive and to remain at the front of hte pack. If an overall victory was to be obtained, the change was needed. This was very unlikely for the small company, as they lacked the necessary resources and time to create a machine that could do well against well-funded and seasoned teams such as Ferrari and Ford.
Design and development began in 1965 with the first chassis being finished near the close of that year. It was given a tubular frame designed to house a Chevrolet V8 engine and a ZF five-sped manual gearbox. The suspension was comprised of double wishbones and disc brakes could be found on all four corners. A lightweight and attractive aluminum body was used and the resulting vehicle was given the name 'P538'. The 'P' was meant to represent the word 'posterior' for its rear-engined placement. The 538 signified its 5.3-liter 8-cylinder engine.
With a workable prototype, the Bizzarrini was ready to attract customers. They found one, who asked if the car could be fitted with a Lamborghini V12 engine. So a new fiberglass body was created and the V12 engine installed into a rolling chassis.
Upon completion, the car was given to driver Edgar Berney to put it through its paces. The result of the test was indicative of a company that lacked the necessary experience, testing, and fine-tuning, to compete at a level of this magnitude. The prototype was flipped during its inaugural test session, badly damaging the car. Bizzarrini decided to salvage what was left of the wreckage; all usable components were removed and placed on a second chassis.
When the second car was completed, the 400 HP powered machine was sent to its customer. By this point in history, a third car had been created which served as the Works team car. Rapid preparation was made to get it ready for LeMan. It was ready in time for the race, but lacked any real test time. It took only seven laps before the car was brought back into the pits. While in the pits, the car was put on jacks and lifted into the air. During the process, one of the water hose lines inside the triangular tube chassis was damaged and meant it was officially side-lined for the day.
This was really unfortunate; the car was very attractive and it had potential to do well in the race. Had it had the resources available, such as those for the Ford GT40 project of the time, it may have been a serious contender for overall victory.
The problem was repaired and it raced again later in the year at a much smaller event, earning a respectable fourth place finish. It was brought back to LeMans in 1967 but mysteriously was not allowed to race.
Rule changes for the 1968 season made the P538 obsolete. Bizzarrini removed the roadster body and replaced it with a coupe body, hoping to attract a wider audience of customers. He found a very interested buyer, the Duke of Aosta, who probably would of purchased the car, had he fit into it. So Bizzarrini created a new chassis, the fourth example, and clothed it in a coupe body specifically designed for the Duke. It was dubbed the 'Duca d'Aosta' Coupe.
Giorgietto Giugiaro, of Ghia and Bertone fame, was interested in building a show car based on the P538 chassis. Bizzarrini supplied a chassis, and Giugiaro was to create the body. The profits made from the sale of the car were to be split between the two. The chassis supplied was the LeMans car, which had its body removed and sent to the newly formed ItalDesign Company. The resulting design was dubbed the 'Manta'.
The public was given their first glimpse of the car at the 1968 Turin Motorshow. It was painted in lime-green and certainly one of the highlight of the show. The car was later sent to the United States; while en-route, it was lost and not seen again until the close of the 1970s. When found, it was treated to a new paint job, this time in silver. It was shown again at the 20th anniversary party of Italdesign in 1988 as one of the highlights of the events and of the Bizzarrini career.
In recent times, the car has been treated to a restoration that brought it back to its 1968 livery. After its restoration, it was shown at the 2005 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance where it was awarded with a much deserved First in Class.
By Daniel Vaughan | Mar 2008