The Iso Rivolta was a well-styled Italian grand tourer with brutal power backing its sophisticated air. Why, then, is the name Iso uttered so infrequently and with so much less reverence than, say, Ferrari? Taking a look at Iso's history reveals a past less pedigreed than the stories behind more legendary Italian marques.
Ferrari, Maserati, and Alfa Romeo all produced racing cars from their infancies. The pilots of those rapid machines were often elevated to heroic status as children reveled in the danger and glory of their achievements. The vehicles toward which Iso first turned were not quite so awe-inspiring.
Saying that Iso began as a motorcycle manufacturer would be an optimistic stretching of the truth. Iso's first vehicles were, in reality, mere mopeds and simple scooters. Iso stumbled onto an ingenious idea, though, when they teamed up with aeronautical engineer Ermenegildo Preti to create the Isetta. BMW, the company that made the Isetta famous, is too often credited with the vision behind the egg-shaped car. 'Isetta' is short for 'Little Iso,' and Iso was in charge of the development of the tiny 3-wheeler whose rights were later sold to BMW.
Through its licensing agreement with BMW, Iso was able to establish financial security and focus its efforts on crafting more exotic machinery. The question as to why a company that was successful at creating transportation devices in miniature decided to make the switch to designing world-class machinery had a simple answer: Renzo Rivolta, Iso's founder, just couldn't find the right car.
Ferraris and Maseratis were gorgeous, but lacked durability. Jaguars were the same way. Renzo wanted a vehicle that could tote passengers around with style and speed while offering the peace-of-mind afforded by real world reliability. The car that would bear his last name was Renzo Rivolta's vision of the perfect exotic.
The Iso Rivolta was developed with legendary ex-Ferrari engineer Giotto Bizzarrini at the project's head. Both he and Iso's boss looked to the U.S. for their creation's heart, which throbbed to the tune of 300hp. The 327c.i. V8 was lifted right out of the then-new Corvette Sting Ray. Its rugged and simple design ensured longevity and reliability, two key goals apparent in the Rivolta.
The Detroit V8 wasn't the only component of the vehicle not produced by Iso. The available transmissions were a 4-speed Borg-Warner and a 5-speed ZF. The differential was from a Jaguar. Dunlop supplied the disc brakes all around, while Borrani wire wheels were available to reside within the fenders. All this outsourcing, though not of a particularly thoroughbred nature, meant that all the Rivolta's parts were the right ones for the job.
Cementing the Rivolta's claims as a GT car were its comfortable interior and large, 25-gallon fuel tank. These features allowed for comfortable long distance cruising with four people on board. The Veglia gauges sunk into the wood dash imparted a distinctly Italian flair to the passenger compartment, while the burbling V8 and spacious accommodations mimicked the very best of another country's automobiles.
Suspended up front by a conventional independent layout with upper and lower control arms with coil springs, the Rivolta also featured a De Dion rear axle design. The De Dion axle was popular on GT cars of the era, and offered better handling and a smoother ride thanks to its lower unsprung weight than a conventional live axle.
Though pieces of the Rivolta were brought together from all over the world, the car was still Italian in spirit. Accordingly, the lines of its body were taken very seriously. The famed Giorgetto Giugiaro was in charge of sculpting the Rivolta. He did a superb job, and created a rakish body with a clear intent of speed while retaining traditional GT proportions. The look was crisp and modern. Funny given Iso's historical connection to BMW, the Rivolta bears a definite resemblance to the later BMW 3.0 CS from the forward rake of the nose to the Hoffmesister kink.
While Iso set out to make a good car while developing the Rivolta, they clearly didn't aim to create a pure one. That fact can be attributed to how slowly the Iso is gaining regard as a real classic. Though it may be a very highly-regarded car in the future, the Rivolta today continues to be a largely underappreciated and unknown vehicle. With prices low for a 1960's Italian GT, now is a great time to experience the vision of Renzo Rivolta and the car which it inspired.Sources:
Donnelly, Jim. 'Red Blooded: Bowtie Power Motivates a 1965 Iso Rivolta GT.' Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car Feb 2007: 22-27. 'Iso Rivolta.' Motorbase (2008) 28 Feb 2009 By Evan Acuña