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One spicy sausage
Having left Ferrari and then the short-lived Automobili Turismo Sport (ATS), Giotto Bizzarrini still longed to build race cars. In 1962, he signed on with Renzo Rivolta, who, having successfully licensed the Isetta bubble car to BMW, now wanted to mass-produce high-performance GTs--"like sausages," in Bizzarrini's words. Their four-seat Iso Rivolta mounted Corvette power and Italian running gear in a handsome steel unibody styled by Bertone, as did the two-seat Iso Grifo that joined the line for '64. A Grifo Competizione variant appeared, too, its engine relocated 16 inches rearward and wearing a wantonly voluptuous aluminum body created by draftsman Piero Vanni, refined by Giotto himself and by then-Bertone-designer Giorgetto Giugiaro.

Bizzarrini managed Iso's racing program while selling the Grifo Competizione and, later, a street-tuned version of it called the Grifo Stradale under his own label. His relationship with Rivolta was stormy--far too complex to describe in these few short lines--and was definitely over by 1966. The Grifo Stradale became the GT Strada, as Giotto traded the Grifo name to keep parts flowing from Iso.

Also in 1966, Bizzarrini presented an experimental silver-painted roadster, followed in 1967 by a red targa and a blue T-top; all three were called Spyder SI, for Turinese coachbuilder Stile Italia. A Southern California collector found this T-top in Europe in 1982 and consulted with Bizzarrini on its restoration. Don and Diane Meluzio have owned it since 2006.
As the Spyder is primarily a show car, we drove Don's all-original '68 GT Strada, which is identical from the beltline down. Getting in requires sliding across the high, broad doorsills while simultaneously maneuvering under the steering wheel. Once ensconced, however, we found the Bizzarrini to be more snug than tight, with seats that hug comfortably. The bottom-hinged pedals are well spaced for U.S.-size feet. Visibility is miserable, but we were about to have too much fun to care.

The 350-hp 327 idles race-car-rough and loud but proves smooth and flexible when under way, whether prowling suburban streets or delivering oh-God-help-us acceleration. With a 3.07 rear, maximum speed likely tops 150 mph. The short, forward-angled shifter toggles through four forward Muncie gears with a succession of tight click-thunks. Even the clutch seems to snap between on and off, albeit with surprisingly reasonable effort. Dunlop race tires wander and hunt for straight ahead, and the chassis trembles over pea-size pebbles. But the formula-car-small steering wheel moves easily, its recirculating-ball mechanism returning race-prompt response and feedback that's first-class. The brake pedal barely budges but provides easy modulation for fantastically powerful four-wheel-disc brakes.

Overall, the Bizzarrini is neither as light on its toes as a Porsche 911 nor as brutally stiff as a Chevrolet C3 Corvette. It drives as Giotto no doubt intended: like a '60s Vette with '60s European sophistication, refinement and flair. Fewer than 150 of the coupes were completed through 1969; the T-top remains unique.


CURRENT ARKET VALUE: $700,000-$800,000 (est)
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