This Beautiful 1900 GT Europa Was The Bizzarrini That Barely Survived Bankruptcy
According to some sources, only 12 of these cars were built, while others say the production ceased at 17. Whatever the truth may be, this is a car you aren’t bound to see that often. Back in 1966 however, the 1900 GT Europa was the star of the Bizzarrini stand at that year’s Salone dell’Automobile in Turin and one of the most notable prototypes in the whole exhibition, holding its own in the popularity contest with more well-known cars like the Dino 206, Maserati Ghibli, and De Tomaso Mangusta. The “baby” GT by Giotto Bizzarrini—whose own history was touched upon in connection with last week’s film—sadly didn’t find its way to large scale manufacturing because the company went bankrupt and closed its doors in 1969 before it became a viable plan.
This example, chassis number B510 519, is one of those derived from the Bizzarrini establishment in Livorno after the company had closed its figurative doors. It’s a wonderful piece of a special but short-lived piece of Italian motoring history, and even beyond its significance as a Bizzarrini-badged car, it just looks downright pretty. There are hints of Alfa Romeo 33, maybe a bit of TVR, and certainly a nose piece borrowed from the cars Bizzarrini worked on under Renzo Rivolta at Iso.
Personally, I couldn’t say I knew what the roadholding would be like, so after admiring the looks for a bit longer I had a short ride in the GT Europa as a passenger. I’ve sat shotgun and driven plenty of faster cars in this line of work, but this thing is a formidable little projectile. It feels faster than it’s going, and that’s an important part of driving that doesn’t translate well to paper (virtual or otherwise). The 1900 refers to the engine, and the car is equipped with a robust four-cylinder 1897cc Opel engine making around 110 bhp. It’s pushed way back towards the firewall, and is mounted between the front axle and the driver, aiding in the go-karting abilities of this rather compact sports car. Other notable features include a limited-slip differential, four-wheel disc brakes, independent front and rear suspension setups with dampers and stabilizer bars. Its aerodynamic shape was tested in the wind-tunnel at Pisa University, while the fiberglass body was penned by Pietro Vanni, a man that Bizzarrini used to call his exclusive car stylist.
The GT only weighs 650kg (about 1,430lbs), but the drive and the handling feel more stable than a similarly not-heavy Lotus perhaps, and the owner tells me that in the bends the car always responds neutrally and behaves exactly how you’d want and expect something of its size and layout to. The interior’s look is not what you’d call refined, as this is more or less a working prototype with plates on it, but it’s black, mean by way of eschewing any luxury beyond basic upholstery and gauges—it looks racing-oriented, and in short, it’s just so Bizzarrini!
When it was first purchased in the late 1960s, this 1900 GT Europa consisted of the tubular chassis and the complete body with all glass, front lights and some other details, but had no engine. Incredibly, the man who later found that engine was Giotto Bizzarrini himself.
“I just left everything in a garage for years,” the owner tells me. He then settled down abroad at the end of the 1970s and later on, before returning to his Tuscan hometown in 1990, he was introduced to the great Italian engineer, Giotto Bizzarrini. “He offered to finish the car for me, making it ready to go.” They are still friends to this day, no matter how much time has passed. Owning a very rare and special car is one thing, but being buddies with the guy whose name is on it is a bit better, I’d say.
From conversations with people who came into contact with the Livornese genius over the years, I can only assume that he is something of a gentleman if prone to stubbornness at times, a man who has always been motivated by a genuine passion for his profession. He is one of the masters of car design, and the father of some of the most desirable vehicles on the planet. The Ferrari 250 GTOs, the Breadvan, the Iso Grifo A3/C, the Bizzarrinis 5300 GT Strada, and the P538 racer, just to mention a few. But the impressions I got from some of his friends were that he has always had a spontaneous, matter-of-fact attitude towards everybody.
When Giotto Bizzarrini consigned this 1900 GT back to the owner in the early 1980s, there was still a problem to resolve; the side window uprights of the door frames. They curve gracefully into the roofline along with the glass, a spectacular feature of the sophisticated styling, but as you can imagine they aren’t the most simple things to rebuild. “It might look straightforward, but it’s not at all,” the owner explains. “Because the uprights are made of a single piece of bent steel section, no welds or seams or anything. After a lot of searching I finally found it in a workshop that at the time used to make authorized replicas of Ferraris, Maseratis, and so on.” However, the completion of the car was thwarted yet again by even greater difficulties, as some nameless individuals from Northern Italy decided to report the car to public authorities as a potential fake. Therefore, instead of starting its road life, the coupé didn’t move at all for several years because it was taken under sequestration thanks to this “tip.”
“In 2008 the court’s consultant declared that it was authentic,” the owner tells me. It then took some further time, as is normal in Italy, to obtain the certification of identity by the ASI, Automotoclub Storico d’Italia. That paperwork arrived in 2012, but by this time the Bizzarrini was already joyfully living its intended life on the road. So this “slightly sinuous little Italian delicacy,” as it was defined by the automotive press when it was first presented in Turin, was finally complete, much to the delight of its owner and his youngest son, who also loves driving it. The maximum speed? The manufacturer’s claim for the model is “more than 210 km/h” but in this case it is “a little less, because the gears of the differential have been swapped, so the car has rather faster acceleration. And… I do uphills in the fourth gear!” Anyways, we all know that question reveals but a sliver of the driving experience, especially in something like this.