Escaping Budapest With The Italian Style And American Horsepower Of An ISO Rivolta IR300
Photography by Máté Boér
I saw an ISO Rivolta for the first time at an exhibition in a sports hall under garish neon lights and I have to admit I wasn’t captivated by it. Years later though, photographing this dark green example on a summer afternoon in appropriate light and atmosphere, I fell in love with this unique blend of Italian form and American thrust. It took some time for me to fully appreciate the masterful lines created by the then-20-year old Giorgetto Giugiaro (while working for Bertone); the Rivolta’s unique, but otherwise clean design may seem simple at first sight, but the simple lines of the car are deceivingly complex when taken as a whole.
After a short ride out of Budapest we parked the car in a field where the first pictures were taken. At this point, while already having a first impression of the Rivolta on the road, the ISO origin story became clear to me: the world needed a car with a less sophisticated 5.3-liter Corvette V8 tastefully dressed up by the Italian masters. Maybe they didn’t “need” it, but there was clearly some demand for this mix.
Though the Grifo is the most well-known, the Rivolta was the first member in the family of post-war grand touring cars manufactured by Iso Autoveicoli S.p.A in Italy, and the company’s first car took its name straight from its creator: Renzo Rivolta, a man whose story is reminiscent of the path of Ferruccio Lamborghini. Being a wealthy industrialist, Rivolta drove the very best cars of his era—he loved Maseratis, Ferraris, and Jaguars—but in his opinion they lacked durability and he wasn’t satisfied with them overall. This recognition led him to build his own brand of automobile.
Iso Aitoveicoli grew out of Isothermos, a company that produced refrigerators before WWII. When the war came to a close, the need for cheap transportation ignited the “scooter-boom” in Italy, and in 1948 Rivolta began to produce the Isothermos Furetto, a small motorcycle, followed by the Iso 125, Isomoto, and Isoscooter. At the same time as all this two-wheeled production, microcars began their conquest of the city street by offering more comfort than a motorbike at a still affordable price. Rivolta’s prompt answer to this was the Iso Isetta bubble-car, which became famous with BMW badges when the Germans bought the license and the complete assembly line in 1954.
At the beginning of the 1960s, Rivolta elevated his motoring aspirations and began to work on a two-door, four-seater gran turismo. In parallel, Giotto Bizzarrini and Carlo Chiti had left Ferrari after the so-called “Palace Revolution” in 1962, and as such Bizzarrini became available to be a key player in the creation of the first ISO sports cars. He joined forces with ISO’s chief technician Pierluigi Raggi, an aircraft engineer, to build a lightweight, rigid box-section-type chassis for the 2+2 that would become the Rivolta GT. Before the GT project, Raggi already had a main role in the development of the Isetta along with another aeronautical engineer, Ermenegildo Preti.
The Rivolta’s great handling is provided by a coil-spring suspension setup with an anti-roll bar in the front, and by a DeDion rear axle with coil springs in the back; four-wheel disc brakes came standard. And to achieve the desired durability, the developers chose a Chevy small-block and mated it to a proven four-speed BorgWarner transmission. The combination of the 300hp V8 and the robust gearbox resulted in highway cruising speeds at incredibly low revs, with the burbling American V8 providing the foreign soundtrack for the Italian GT. 340 and 350hp engines, five-speed manuals and three-speed automatic gearboxes, sunroofs and air-conditioning—there were plenty of ways to configure your Rivolta.
Ádám is the third owner of this outstanding and largely original Rivolta IR 300, which rolled out of the Bresso-based factory on the 20th of December, 1966. It was first registered in Rome on the 2nd of March, 1967, when the famous architect Mr. Rampelli presented it to his wife. They used the Rivolta until 1976, when the clutch cable broke and for some reason they didn’t get this simple issue sorted with a new cable; this is how barn finds born.
The Rivolta sat patiently under a blanket held down with a number of glass jars in a dark corner of the garage for some time. This loneliness lasted until a German collector discovered it while arriving to the family’s home to buy their Fiat 124 Spider in 1985. The next twenty years passed by almost eventless for the Rivolta except for a repaint and a mere 6,000 kilometers clocked on German roads.
Being a classic car collector and having experiences with a colorful range of classics along the way, Ádám was looking for an original, unmolested example to avoid the dive into a long restoration. Since only 799 examples were built between 1963 and 1970, it wasn’t an easy task to find any of them, let alone the ideal example. He finally acquired the green second-series Rivolta after long negotiations in 2004, and it wore its first Hungarian number plates after the necessary maintenance work was carried out and the car was registered for the road again.
While immersing himself into the ISO community, Ádám got to know Roberto Negri and his workshop, called ISO Restorations in Italy. Roberto Negri is a former ISO engineer and now the only official supplier of original ISO parts and the most experienced ISO restorer, AKA the guy you’d want looking after yours. As such, Ádám left his car to be cleaned to its bare metal and repainted in its original Verde Aintree color in 2008, with the wire wheels having been restored by Borrani not long ago to match the condition. Otherwise though, he preserves the irreproducible patina and originality of the car, and isn’t afraid to floor it on the way to Italy for a club meeting on occasion.
During the afternoon drive we realized that the odometer would roll into 80,000km, and I relished this opportunity to see a responsible man, father, and managing director of a communication agency recalculating his precisely planned schedule for the rest of the day just to drive his beloved car a bit further in order to watch the odometer rolling into a new episode of the Rivolta’s life. It was one of those moments we rarely get to see; something that to most seems insignificant or arbitrary, but very symbolic and significant to the right people. Riding in it was a treat, but I consider myself luckier to have experienced this moment in the relationship between a passionate man and his lovely machine.