Giotto Bizzarrini's first design after his eponymous car maker folded, the 128P was prototyped for a shot at Targa Florio glory. It's now being sold in Paris early next year

Giotto Bizzarrini simply couldn’t kick the habit. The legendary Italian automotive designer, who’d penned icons like the Ferrari 250 GTO and its ‘Breadvan’ counterpart, had been forced to close his eponymous Bizzarrini company in 1969. But it didn’t stop him from penning new designs.

Having been a test driver at Alfa Romeo early in his career, the thrill of racing was in his DNA. Aiming to compete in the iconic Targa Florio road race, set in the mountains of Sicily, Bizzarrini designed the 128P Sport Barchetta in 1971. Two were produced, one a prototype and one for competition, with the former popping up for sale in Paris with Bonhams next year.

More classic Bizzarrini designs

His days of mass production manufacturing behind him, Bizzarrini dovetailed consulting and lecturing at the University of Pisa with designing one-off specials. The 128P was an open-top thoroughbred racer with space for driver and co-driver, sporting aerodynamic fibreglass bodywork placed atop a tubular space frame chassis. It was designed with lightness in mind, with a 1.3L Fiat engine dropped in behind the driver to be eligible for the commonplace 1.3L racing regulations of the late 1960s and ‘70s.

For the tight, twisty roads of the Targa Florio it was theoretically perfect, with 130bhp extracted from its compact Fiat motor thanks to some twin Weber carburettors. There was one very obvious difference between this prototype model and the one which went on to race at the Targa Florio, though – the driver’s seat switched from left to right.

Rare Bizzarrini 128P Targa Florio prototype heads to auction
Rare Bizzarrini 128P Targa Florio prototype heads to auction
Rare Bizzarrini 128P Targa Florio prototype heads to auction

Before the finished article hit the track, the prototype was shown off at the 1972 Turin Motor Show and would remain in the city for most of its life, housed at the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile for public display. Its racing counterpart was not so lucky, crashing out on the very first lap of the 1973 Targa Florio.

Though the second chassis ended up in a tangle, the first was never forced to participate in such roughhousing, meaning it’s still in top concours condition. Literally. While the right-hand drive racing version failed to score silverware, its prototype scooped the Camille Jenatzy Award for the most audacious exterior at Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in 2017, adding yet more proof that Giotto Bizzarrini’s designs were timeless classics.

It might not have the legendary status of Bizzarrini’s crowning achievement, but it costs a fraction of what a 250 GTO would set you back. Rather than requiring millions, the 128P Sport Barchetta prototype is a relative snip at an estimated €175,000 – €225,000 ($200,000 – $225,00, £160,000 – £200,000) in Bonhams’ upcoming Paris sale on February 7, 2019. If it does sell in that region, it’ll also be a rapidly appreciating piece of Bizzarrini history, having sold for only $77,000 (£60,000, €68,000) back in 2013.

Gallery: Rare Bizzarrini 128P Targa Florio prototype heads to auction