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Sunday, November 1, 2015

Giotto Bizzarrini: The Man Behind Some of Italy’s Greatest Cars


Copyright © 2015 Bold Ride LLC.

The Italians are known for building some of the most passionate cars in the world, so it should come as no surprise that the men behind these cars are equally hot-blooded. Enzo Ferrari is a prime example, but another great Italian that built incredible cars was Giotto Bizzarrini.
Bizzarrini was the son of a wealthy landowner and his grandfather helped Guglielmo Marconi develop inventions, including the radio. As a result, part of the Livorno Library is called the Bizzarrini Library. Aspirations to be an engineer drove the young Bizzarrini, who earned an Engineering degree from University of Pisa in 1953.

At first, Bizzarrini briefly taught, but would join Alfa Romeo in 1954, and worked there until 1957 when he joined the still-relatively-young Ferrari. Enzo himself worked for Alfa for a number of years before splitting off in 1939. (Enzo was allowed to break off so long as he promised not to race for four years.

 He built the Tipo 815 race car in 1940 under the name Auto Avio Costruzioni.) Bizzarrini would work his way up to head of experimental sports and GT car development. He developed some of the most important cars in Ferrari’s history, including the 250 TR, 250 GT SWB (short-wheelbase), and the 1962 250 GTO.


Within the company, tensions were building. Ferrari’s longtime sales manager Girolamo Gardini had voiced disapproval of the involvement of Enzo’s wife, Laura, and in 1961 threatened to walkout. Gardini was given the boot, and as a result, key members of the company walked out including the race team manager Romolo Tavoni, Chief Engineer Carlo Chiti, and as you may have guessed, Bizzarrini. The exodus was called the “Palace Revolt,” and the newly unemployed engineers started a new company called Automobili Truismo e Sport (A.T.S.).

While at A.T.S., Bizzarrini helped develop a single seat Formula 1 racecar, and a GT car called the 2500 GT. In 1962 Count Giovanni Volpi commissioned Bizzarrini and ATS to upgrade a Ferrari 250 GT SWB to 250 GTO specs. The resulting car was the Ferrari 250 GT SWB Drogo. It was affectionately called the “Breadvan,” and has gone down as one of the most recognizable cars of all time.


When A.T.S. folded, Bizzarrini began work for Iso Grifo, but all the while was developing products through his engineering firm, Societa Autostar. Perhaps the most significant was the 3.5-liter V12 that found its way under the hood of a car belonging to another dissatisfied Ferrari customer Ferruccio Lamborghini.

As the story famously goes, Lamborghini was a wealthy industrialist, known for building farm equipment. Since his youth he was a tinkerer, and so once he had the wealth to buy high-end cars, be began to mess with them. He found the Ferrari 250 GT that he bought very noisy and rough. He brought these qualms to Enzo, who dismissed them. Lamborghini decided to build his own car.

So Bizzarrini and his Societa Autostar constructed a fire-breathing V12 for an all new road car, called the 350 GT. For production use, the Bizzarrini-built engine had to be detuned so it would not be as loud and could deliver power more smoothly. The chassis also needed to be softened out from the Bizzarrini specs. The 350 GT would become Lamborghini’s first production car, with 120 built between 1964 and 1966.


Back at Iso, Bizzarrini developed cars such as the Iso Griffo, but in 1964 complications of their relationship resulted in him changing Societa Autostar to Societa Prototipi Bizzarrini in 1964, and eventually to Bizzarrini SpA in 1966. The car he created was the Bizzarrini Strada, which also went by the name 5300 GT.

The Strada looked a lot like the Iso Griffo, and even went by that name in development. Unlike the Griffo, it featured American power. A Chevrolet small-block 327 (5.3-liter) V8 made its way under the hood. It produced between 365 horsepower and 385 hp in street form, and made 400 hp for the track. Incredible that one of the most important Italian engine builders would use a powerplant not of his design, but from General Motors.


Giotto Bizzarrini would eventually return to what he did first, teaching and working with Rome University. The company that bears his name has a new owner, and released a concept at the 2005 Geneva Motor Show, which was planned for production in 2007.

As for Giotto, he still develops his own sports cars, but despite is incredible impact on the automotive world, he remains humble, stating, “I am not a car designer, I am a worker.”