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
The Manta was Giorgetto Guigiaro first car under his new 'Ital Design' Company. It was based on a retired racing chassis, the P-538, provided by Bizzarrini. Purportedly, the car was created in forty days in order to make the 1969 Turin Auto Show. The Manta is a one-off and re-numbered as 6901. Current owner purchased the manta in March 2005 in an 'almost finished' restored condition which was completed in 2006 by Rod Drew of F.A.I. in Costa Mesa, California. It won First in Class at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in 2005 and a class award at Amelia Island in 2006.