This Rare 1970 Iso Rivolta Lele Is A Gorgeous V8-Powered Grocery Getter
Photography by Ian Wood
As a young man living in Holland, Maurice Mentens had always been into owning “different” cars. It started with Alfa Romeos and Porsches, then moved on to American muscle. Then one day an Iso Grifo flew through his local town and changed his course again. It was the best looking car he had ever seen, and it marked the start of his life-long love affair with the short-lived Iso marque. He found the owner of that Grifo that started it all for him, and after a brief chat Maurice discovered it wasn’t something he could afford at the time.
Fast forward to September 11th, 2001, and an unhinged pyromaniac torches Maurice’s successful vehicle restoration business. He used that devastating event to start a new chapter in his life and moved from the Netherlands to Los Angeles, the land of fresh starts. He used his skills to open a new garage restoring rare cars, albeit at a smaller, more manageable scale than his last endeavor.
Today Maurice is one of the world’s experts on the restoration and maintenance of Isos, and my visit to his humble workshop revealed a handful of really impressive cars in various states of restoration as proof: a couple of Iso Fidias and a Grifo in for repair, a long term Bizzarrini restoration, and a stunning Monterverdi 375/L to count off a handful. But I was here for another rare car, one that I’d spotted a few weeks prior at the Best of France & Italy car show in Van Nuys, CA.
Featured here is an Iso (Rivolta) Lele, penned by the great Marcello Gandini himself while at Bertone. The model was positioned between the top-end Grifo, and the more practical four-door Fidia. The car rides on the common Iso chassis, originally designed by the great Giotto Bizzarrini (of Ferrari 250 GTO and Breadvan fame).
The Lele—named after Mr. Piero Rivolta’s wife—was the Iso answer to the Lamborghini Espada, the only other high-end 2+2 offered at the time. This lineage of Italian sports cars for small families continued with the Maserati Khamsin and Ferrari 400.
Only about 70 cars ever made it to the US, and only a few remain today. Thirty cars are for sure scrapped, and many more are just lost to time according to those with the chassis numbers—hopefully some good barn finds for the future! Despite the scarcity, Isos generally have a high survival rate considering how few were built. Paint aside, everything is original on this vehicle, like the black leather interior and mohair headliner that’s still in great condition.
Maurice bought the car early last year from a doctor in Los Angeles who’d contacted him when the car was imported into the States around 2007, wearing its then-new coat of yellow paint. He hadn’t called to sell Maurice the car he’d just imported though, no, the doctor needed parts. So Maurice, being the main Stateside Iso Rivolta parts provider, helped him out.
The Lele was left it at a repair shop for some time afterwards, where it sat for years. Unfortunately, pieces were being removed from the car then sold on, a discovery that prompted the doctor to sell the rest of the car that was being partially parted out. Maurice made an offer he could not refuse, and after a few mechanical repairs the car was on the road again.
The bodywork has been left as-is, that’s for the next custodian. For now, it serves him as a mechanically sound grocery getter.
It’s stamped with serial number 038, and was born on September 24th, 1970. It’s a very early example from a vague total of just 285 built. It was delivered new to a local Italian client in a metallic burgundy color, which has clearly been changed, likely not long before the car came to the United States. The power comes from a Chevrolet Corvette-derived 327 V8 with about 350bhp, which is mated up to a four-speed manual gearbox. Unlike a lot of foreign cars with American V8s in them, this one features air conditioning. In fitting style for the period, it rides on the original Campagnolo wheels made from their special Elektron magnesium alloy.
While it doesn’t feature the aggressive styling and sporty character of, say, a Grifo, the Lele still oozes ‘70s Italian muscle car character, and features the most balanced handling of the Iso line-up. It’s also perhaps the most accessible Iso, if you can find one, currently going for a percentage of the price of a Grifo. For that, you get a car that gets a thumbs-up on every drive, and a discussion that will inevitably start with “What is it?”