Iso Grifo: The Italian sports car you never knew existed

The Iso Grifo is a sleek sports car designed by some of the world's famed Italian designers. This is the story of how Iso went from air conditioners to Le Mans winning cars

The world of classic cars is full of fascinating stories once lost to the sands of time, but frequently rediscovered and shared again. Some of our favourites involve little-known car manufactures that even cause experts to scratch their heads today.

Popcorn Octane recently produced a great documentary on the little-known Iso Grifo Italian sports car, following the personal story of a man and his father who bonded over this rare machine.

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The Italian Iso company originally made household heating products and was very successful, but Renzo Rivolta, the company owner, was an ambitious chap who wanted to do something more exciting than air conditioners. His first automotive effort was actually the iconic Isetta microcar which was then licensed to BMW.

With the handsome sums granted from BMW in royalty fees, Renzo began thinking about building sports cars. Working with design legends such as Nuccio Bertone and Giorgetto Giugiaro along with engineer Giotto Bizzarrini, Iso created its first GT car dubbed the Rivolta. Powered by a Corvette engine, it offered Italian style with better reliability.

It was Bizzarrini who encouraged the company to build a sports car, a design that would become the Iso Grifo. Iso also created a racing variant of the Grifo which won its class at Le Mans twice in a row. Introduced at the 1963 Turin Motor Show, that’s where it caught the eye of the Frank family.

The father of the family bought one, a decision that would forge his son’s fascination with the car. Darren, the son, would later track down his own Iso Grifo built in its initial year of production. After a lot of restoration work he finally had the car of his dreams.

One day a truck is tailgating his Iso and flashing its lights. Darren Frank pulls over to speak with the truck driver who claims to have the exact same car. ‘I’m thinking, I don’t think so. This is a pretty rare car’ remarked Darren. It turns out this gentleman bought his father’s original Iso Grifo — what are the odds? Stored for 17 years, it was still on its original set of tyres.

It’s an amazing story that sheds light on a little-known classic, and a heartwarming family connection to it.

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