Mike Maez, courtesy of Gooding & Company
At the 1963 Torino Motor Show, one of the decade’s most celebrated berlinettas, the Iso Grifo A3/L, was introduced on Bertone’s stand. Powered by a Corvette V8 and built on the Iso Rivolta’s short-wheelbase chassis, the Grifo was designed by legendary engineer Giotto Bizzarrini with substantial input from Bertone stylist Giorgetto Giugiaro. Company principal Renzo Rivolta was so impressed with the prototype that he immediately approved production, and the model quickly achieved a faithful following for its handsome aesthetics and powerful mechanical specifications. Chassis 001, offered here, is the prototype shown on the Bertone stand. The one-off car features numerous subtle differences from subsequent production examples. With a lower roofline and beltline, the coachwork is even sportier than the cars that followed, featuring unique details such as a stainless-steel wrap-around roof band. Likewise, the interior was more luxuriously appointed, including a special shifter and steering wheel, among other unique features. Following display at Torino, the prototype toured auto shows throughout Europe and was exhibited at the 1964 New York Auto Show before becoming a development car at the factory. By the early 1970s, the Grifo reportedly had been imported to the United States by an actor, and while in Southern California it was purchased by well-known collector Ron Kellogg. It then passed to an intermediary in Yucca Valley, CA, by which time the body had been repainted orange and the nose was replaced with one taken from a standard production Grifo. In the late 1970s, this rare prototype was discovered by Winston Goodfellow, the well-known motoring author who founded the Iso & Bizzarrini Owner’s Club and is recognized as one of the world’s foremost experts on the marque. Amazed that he had located the one-off A3/L prototype — and that the car had only 50,000 km recorded at that time — Goodfellow gently circulated word of the car’s existence. By the early 1980s, it was purchased by John Ling, a respected concours judge and collector. Mr. Ling eventually sought to return the Iso to its authentic auto show appearance and opted for a full restoration. The front-end work was entrusted to the respected restorer Scott Grundfor. He utilized a CAD program to digitally map the original nose (based on period photos) and precisely fabricate an identical copy. The beautifully restored prototype was then presented at the 1989 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, winning a class award and the Gwenn Graham Memorial Trophy for Most Elegant Closed Car (a first for any post-war automobile). In spring 1991, the A3/L was featured in Road & Track’s Exotic Cars Quarterly, and its build was explained at length in Goodfellow’s deeply researched 1995 book, IsoRivolta: The Men, the Machines. Around this time, Mr. Ling sold the Grifo to Dr. Frederick Reeser, and he returned the car to Pebble Beach in August 1995, winning First in Class. The car also garnered awards at Concorso Italiano and the Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance. A few years later, it sold to an enthusiast residing in New York and then to the consignor. It was maintained and displayed at the Blackhawk Museum in Danville, CA, for many years. Surely the most historically significant Grifo ever built, chassis 001 would make a crowning addition to any collection.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1963 Iso Grifo A3/L Prototype
Years Produced:1963
Number Produced:One
Original List Price:n/a
SCM Valuation:$1,760,000 (this one-off prototype)
Tune Up Cost:$250
Chassis Number Location:Metal plate on top of right front shock tower
Engine Number Location:Stamped in block ahead of passenger’s cylinder head
Club Info:Iso & Bizzarrini Owners Club
Alternatives:1965 Ferrari Dino 206 P Berlinetta Speciale, 1964 Porsche 901 Prototype, 1963 Lamborghini 350 GTV
Investment Grade:A

This car, Lot 28, sold for $1,760,000 at the Gooding & Company auction in Scottsdale, AZ, on January 19, 2018.

I am well known for being passionately attracted to prototypes, one-offs and design studies.

This comes from both a deep appreciation for the artistry and imagination of stylists and the craftsmanship and pride of creation of the artisans who build such cars. When it comes to prototypes of vehicles that make it to series production, it’s also fascinating to observe the differences between a designer’s original vision and what the production engineers, or far worse, the accountants, determined could be built.

A one-off Iso Grifo

It was amusing to stand beside this car during the auction preview and see a few folks who identified themselves as “an Iso Grifo owner” come up to the car and declare some variation of “Wow — I can’t believe all these details that are wrong on this car…” At once it looks exactly like every other Grifo, but after a few minutes, its many differences reveal themselves. Once seen, those differences show how truly special this car is.

It has a lower greenhouse than the production car, the nose and hood styling are more intricate, and the side exhaust-pipe fender grille and sill bulge have a sensual feel matched only by the elegant castings of 1930s Alfa Romeo manifolds.

Completing the show-car aura is the incredibly luxurious and well-detailed interior, which is leagues more sophisticated than the production model. The dark brown leather covering the floors and parcel shelf alone is magnificent.

Although the restoration is certainly showing its age at this point, it still remains striking. Some adhesion bubbling and stress cracking could be seen in the paint, especially on the hood, and the overall superb panel fit was spoiled by a driver’s door that didn’t shut well. However, the overall impression the Grifo made was breathtaking. The Grifo in production form is a beautiful car, and this one just keeps your eye coming back for more.

Like any Iso Grifo, it’s an almost perfect blend of sleek-but-muscular Italian style and detailing that more than hints at the power lurking inside. For that reason, the Grifo appeals equally well to devotees of Italian and American high-performance cars. With a history known from the last 45 years or so of its 55 years in existence, this is a very well-documented vehicle for one of its type.

It is also interesting that after it left the factory grounds a decade after it was built, it also suffered a similar fate to that of the Alfa Romeo Sprint Speciale Prototipo — many of its unique details were modified to make it appear more “normal.”

The changes to the front end and the loss of its subtle greenish silver paint for a more dramatic orange are hard to understand today. We can be thankful for the diligent detective work and detailed expert body restoration that reclaimed this Grifo’s special nature. It’s a testament to how far we’ve come in appreciating the nature of prototypes and show cars.

This car’s appearance at the 1964 New York International Auto Show makes it all the more special for me. That was the very first car show I ever attended, and it set me on my journey into auto madness — one that has yet to wane. I still have the program from that show, and on the bottom of p. 106 is a photo of this very car. The Iso was displayed on the second floor, on Stand 6 — right next to the Alfa Romeos and Lancias on 6A. I know I left more than an inconsequential amount of pre-teen drool in that spot.

A sign of maturity

Something that never gets old for me is the opportunity to repeat a point. Friends and folks not so close can find this trait alternatingly reassuring or annoying. I’m hoping here for the latter.

The point to which I keep returning is that as the vehicle-collecting hobby matures, it seems to be steadily moving towards the norms and behaviors of more-established areas of collecting.

Just as unique works of great masters bring more interest and hold and gain greater value than more common ones, vehicles that cannot be replicated are doing the same.

I can cut right here to my conclusion on the transaction — does the record price set here for a car with visible paint deterioration and less-than-perfect driver’s door fit make it “well sold”? To that I simply ask the question, how much would you pay for “the other one”? Oh, wait — there is no other one. The buyer is unlikely to regret what was spent on an irreplaceable object, and it’s likely that the seller did just fine as well. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of Gooding & Company.)

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