The Strada had dramatic looks, a competition pedigree, and abundant
power, and it was not finicky to run


Giotto Bizzarrini was hired by Enzo Ferrari in 1957 for his test-driving and engineering skills. In the midst of developing the 250 GTO, however, Bizzarrini left the company in the infamous "palace revolt" of 1961.

Together, the defectors formed ATS to rival Ferrari in both sports car and single-seater racing, but Bizzarrini quickly left the new concern. He then worked as a consultant for Count Volpi, for whom he created the "Breadvan" Ferrari, and for Ferruccio Lamborghini, for whom he designed the V12 engine that would power Lamborghini sports cars for decades to come.

In 1962, Bizzarrini teamed up with Renzo Rivolta, and his first job was to help develop a chassis for the Iso Rivolta 2+2 coupe. He was then commissioned to turn the Iso Grifo two-seater into a race-winning machine. He conceived the exceptionally low A3/C that was an Iso Grifo in name only. Both cars shared a shortened Rivolta platform chassis, the double wishbone front suspension, and the DeDion axle. Comparing the finished products, it was hard to imagine both cars shared the same underpinnings.

In 1965, the relationship between the two men quickly deteriorated. While Rivolta wanted the Grifo put into series production, Bizzarrini thought the car required further development. Eventually all ties were severed. Bizzarrini was now fully independent and while Iso continued to deliver parts, he was not allowed to use the Grifo name. From then on the cars were marketed as the Bizzarrini 5300 GT. The racing cars received the "Corsa" moniker and the road cars were badged "Strada." Not much later, the Strada was joined by the "America" model, which sported a fiberglass body and a double wishbone rear suspension.

Production of the 5300 GT lasted until 1968, and a combined total of 115 examples were produced. The company's racing efforts were focused on the mid-engined P538 from 1966 onwards. There was no replacement for the 5300 GT, and in 1972 Bizzarrini was forced to close his factory. He returned to his consulting and has since only produced a number of one-off prototypes.

The 1967 Bizzarrini Strada 5300 coupe offered here is a stunning restoration inside and out. Finished in silver with a black suede interior, this 5300 Strada represents the ultimate in period Italian automotive styling, with the bulletproof reliability and proven performance of the Chevrolet small-block. Inside the low-slung doors, the interior is finished in fine black suede, cloth, and carpet set off only by a few instruments and a beautiful wood steering wheel.

{analysis} This car sold for $572,000 at Russo and Steele's auction in Monterey, California, on August 16, 2008.

Giotto Bizzarrini is an automotive engineer and designer with a talent as great in his field as that of the renaissance painter from whom his first name was taken. From his years with Alfa Romeo, through Ferrari, ATS, Lamborghini, and Iso, he either was responsible for or collaborated on some of the most memorable cars, engines, and chassis built in Italy in the 1950s and '60s.

The Giulietta, Ferrari Testa Rossa, 250 GT SWB, GTO, and the Lamborghini V12, which launched the brand, all felt his creative genius. He still works today in his design consultancy business at 82 years old.

It's also clear that he was not suited to work well with others, as shown by a resume which saw him leave jobs often and quickly. However, we can certainly be thankful for the personality trait that caused the problems, as it allowed him to spread his gift in many places.

From early on, Bizzarrini was most interested in creating cars for competition. Since Ferrari was a closed door, ATS stumbled and failed, and Ferruccio Lamborghini was famously opposed to racing, Bizzarrini must have been quite pleased that he would have the opportunity with Iso to create both the road-going GT and the racing version he had longed for.

The very capable chassis he designed for the Iso Rivolta GT and adapted for the Grifo sports car proved to be the perfect base for a racer. The story does get a bit complex at this point, with seemingly inevitable personality conflicts coming into play. The initial A3/C competition version of the Grifo was launched as an Iso and achieved its first GT class win, 14th overall, at Le Mans in 1964, so badged. When it returned to finish 9th overall and claim its second class win, the entry read as "Iso Prototipo Bizzarrini Iso Grifo A3/C-Chevrolet." Shortly thereafter, Bizzarrini was able to take his marbles and leave, building and selling his car as the Bizzarrini GT Strada 5300.

Bizzarrini far more aggressive than the Grifo

While it's easy to think the Strada 5300 is identical in appearance to the Grifo, in reality the overall shape is the same, but many details differ, with the Bizzarrini a bit rounder and much more aggressive in aspect. The Corvette 327, while sharing the same four-barrel Holley carb and 365-hp rating with the Grifo, is tuned to give additional torque, and the competition option brought four Webers and 400 hp to the party.

The Strada 5300 was aimed at a clientele who wanted dramatic looks, a car with a competition pedigree and abundant power that was not difficult or finicky to run. The 1960s were a golden era for American-powered European GT cars, and the Bizzarrini seemed to have it all. Unfortunately, very few were made, as Bizzarrini had a small factory in which to assemble them and an owner who was not really interested in production cars. Production was meager and petered out after three years, with no real replacement for the model.

The car sold at the Russo and Steele auction appeared to be a very high-level restoration in attractive colors. The history was well known in club circles, with one very long-term owner in its provenance.

The Bizzarrini is a very usable car for rallies and track days, where the bulletproof Detroit engine will have you sailing past your fellow participants who are nursing yet another potentially expensive problem with their exotic multi-cam engines.

For the concours circuit, it's also a guaranteed entry, thanks to the rarity of the cars and the importance of the builder; events that might think twice about an Iso will almost certainly take a Bizzarrini. Of course, there's also a downside to owning a car like an Italian-American hybrid that has to be explained-and this is doubly so here, as many of the people who will believe they recognize it will think it's an Iso Grifo and then another explanation is required.

Regardless, the market has come to realize how good the best of these Italo-American hybrids can be, and for my money, this is arguably the best of them all to have. It's a Giugiaro design, has Le Mans success, rarity, and it bears the name of the man responsible for some of the most memorable cars ever conceived. The price paid seems just right, if not a bit low for all the Strada 5300 has to offer. {/analysis}

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