10 things everyone forgot about Iso and his cars
Iso started making radiators and coolers, as WWII raged in Europe the demand for these products was declining, but after the war they saw an opportunity.
There was a growing need for personal mobility, so they moved the business, retooled, and started producing small-displacement motorcycles and scooters at fairly affordable prices. It was not until the early 1950s that they became more ambitious, making their first real car. It wasn’t even really a car to be fair, it was the world’s first micro-car. A strange mixture of a motorcycle and a car, simply named Isetta (diminutive of Iso).
It turned out to be a big hit, with incredible mileage the noisy little single paved the way for the automaker to become a global player. Their ultimate goal was to start doing high performance sports cars.
The bubble car
After only moderate success in making motorcycles, Iso, before anyone else, saw the potential of the microcar. It really fell somewhere between a motorcycle and a car, and had none of the advantages of either.
What he had was good mileage, and for a cash-strapped Germany it was just the tonic. That’s right, Germany, not Italy, the original Isetta didn’t sell very well in its home country.
License agreement successful
From a distance, most of the Isettas made wore the now iconic BMW badge, and in a way, that made sense as a BMW. After all, they made both cars and motorcycles.
Over 170,000 of these have been made and if you find one today, it will likely have a BMW badge on it. It’s arguably their weirdest model, but it was the right car for the time, it played a big role in keeping their doors open. For ISO, it gave them the basics of what they really wanted to do.
Italian style meets American muscle
In the 1960s, Italian sports cars and GT cars were selling well around the world, making a name for themselves on the track. One thing they all had in common, however, were mechanical issues.
Their complex and highly tuned transmissions failed at an alarming rate, while sports cars in the United States demonstrated remarkable reliability, in large part due to their relative simplicity. If you could marry Italian style with American muscle, it would be a perfect match. So that’s exactly what Iso set out to do.
In 1962 they revealed their concept to the world, the design work was done by Bertone with the car hand built by Carrozzeria. It was striking, if not necessarily beautiful.
More importantly, it was powered by a 300 horsepower Corvette engine, something with proven reliability as well as admirable performance. Few cars at the time had so much potential.
A lifestyle icon
Being handcrafted, they never expected to sell these cars in high volumes, but to make their business model viable, they had to sell enough of them.
It became something of a lifestyle icon in the ’60s, selling relatively well in America, where wealthy enthusiasts were willing to pay more for the style. The Rivolta would become their best-selling sports car / GT.
A Grifo is born
With looks like this, it’s such a shame that only 400 were made and today even rusty pods are worth more than six figures.
It is arguably one of the most beautiful drawings by Giorgetto Giugiaro, written while he was working for Bertone. In the end, it may have won thousands of fans, but only a handful of buyers.
A flop or two
By the 1970s the oil crisis was looming, small car makers were shutting down all over the world as sales of all cars plummeted, let alone custom sports cars with gas guzzling V8s.
The match made in Heaven now looked more like hell, their Fidia and Lele weren’t that pretty or noteworthy and the sales were understandably appalling.
Misguided F1 adventure
The story was written almost by accident when they teamed up with a certain Frank Williams. It was just the timing that was so horribly out of step, and the resources they put into the race ended up wasted.
Williams would go on to become one of F1’s most famous brands, but that would spell the end of ISO, sealing their fate that had been in play for some time now.
Closed in 1975
The Rivolta family had already divested from the business in the early 1970s and were no longer involved, shortly after declaring insolvency and closure at the end of 1974.
After reaching the heights of Grifo and F1, it’s such a shame the company couldn’t get there. It would be easy to blame the oil crisis, but better management of resources could have helped them weather the storm.
A renewal underway
Today, the name Iso has cropped up again as a limited-edition Chevrolet-powered sports car.
At the time of writing, 19 Iso Rivolta GTZ sports cars have already been delivered. Zagato takes care of the design and build, Chevrolet of the powertrain and the Rivolta family is back in the driver’s seat. In a way, the dream continues.
The car is powered by a supercharged 6.2-liter LT4 V8 engine sourced from Corvette and produces an incredible 660 horsepower and 649 lb-ft of torque.
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