Renzo Rivolta made a considerable fortune following World War II. He also loved cars. In the early '60s, he became a victim of the popular musing that begins with, "Let's marry a sophisticated European chassis and coachwork with a cheap, reliable, and powerful American V8."
Giotto Bizzarini, father of the 250 SWB and the immortal 250 GTO, left Ferrari at the end of 1961 following a major clash of egos. Giotto met Renzo, and the Iso Rivolta was born. On Campari napkins, Bizzarini sketched the new car, which featured a Corvette drivetrain and beautiful Italian body. Bertone was the chosen coachbuilder, and his newly hired designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro, was given the task of drafting the 150-mph family express.
The first Iso Rivolta prototype was shown at the 1962 Turin Auto show. It featured a pressed-steel monocoque chassis, reinforced with numerous cross braces. The 327 Chevy engine was connected to a Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed transmission and it was offered in two states of tune, 300 and 325 hp. The front suspension was conventional wishbones with coils and shocks. There was a de Dion rear axle with Watts linkage, and parallel radius arms on each side. Inside the Borrani 15 x 6.40 wire wheels were Amadori disc brakes. (In use, the Amadori brakes proved to be awful, and were replaced with slightly less-awful Dunlop units.)
At $10,000 a pop (almost the same as a Ferrari 250 GT, Maserati 3500GT or Aston Martin DB4), the Iso Rivolta was a showroom dud. To compound problems, Renzo Rivolta died shortly after the launch, leaving his 19-year-old son Pierro to cope. The youngster did the best that he could, and kept the company going until the early '70s.
In 1967 I got my own taste of Iso Rivolta by becoming the proud owner of a "like new" gold Iso, with less than 10,000 miles on the clock. At the first stop-light Grand Prix on Hollywood Boulevard, I discovered one of many of Iso's idiosyncrasies: the reverse gear lock-out had been removed and I lurched backwards when the light changed. Let me go on: the beautiful Nardi steering wheel was offset 3 inches to the left, making the seating a crossways proposition. Furthermore, the recirculating-ball steering was equally painful: six turns lock to lock, with a turning radius like a school bus (60 feet or so).
Even features that are normally beneficial worked against the unfortunate Iso: the seven-quart alloy oil pan leaked like a sieve and had poor ground clearance; the large radiator and oil cooler made the warming-up period quite long; the electric windows were slow when they worked at all; and the rear bench seat must have been designed by a chiropractor in need of new clients.
However, the car did have decent enough acceleration while making good burbling sounds from the exhaust. And unlike a Ferrari 250 GTE, where an engine rebuild will set you back $25,000, you can find another drivetrain for your Iso in the local Auto Trader.
When looking at a used Iso, you should follow the familiar drill. Walk away from anything that has been hit hard, is rusty, or has a chewed-up interior. Don't worry about original drive-trains; who cares if one 327 V8 has been swapped for another? Check the sump carefully to make sure it hasn't smacked a curb one too many times. Isos have a small following so bargain hard; you may be the only buyer the seller sees for months.
In a world where I've watched rubber-bumper MGBs sell for more than $10,000, the Iso at $12,500 or so should be considered a bargain. For that price you get pure Italian styling (for better or for worse) along with reliable, economical American performance.

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