The Iso Grifo 90
Until a few months ago, I have to admit I wasn’t much of a fan of the original (1963) Iso Grifo. Thought it was a really nice car don’t get me wrong, but the styling on the front end just felt a bit boring to me, so only recently did I learn to properly appreciate it (I admit I was dead wrong, I do). Despite this, I have always been a huge fan of the Grifo’s evolution…you see, by 1970 the Grifo got a hell of a nose job; better lines and hide-away headlights brought the design together and made the car achingly beautiful. Plus, the big American muscle under the hood demanded vast, tall scoops which stand to this day as one of the best looking unions of form and function ever embodied in a car. You can read all about my favorite Grifo, the IR8 Can Am in a previous AV post here and you’ll see why these machines are revered by classic cars enthusiasts everywhere: they have grace, charisma and timeless beauty.
The Grifo 90 however had absolutely none of these things. Back in 1974 Iso Rivolta went broke. A – shall we say – less than exciting season at formula 1 with no wins, pole positions or podiums coupled with the oil crisis/embargo sealed the fate of the company. However, in 1991 Piero Rivolta decided he was gonna take another stab at it and the Grifo 90 took shape. Designed by Lamborghini legend Marcello Gandini whom we’ve already talked about extensively on part 1 of this series, the Grifo 90 isn’t exactly his greatest work. You can’t exactly call it pretty or particularly well proportioned…but you can call it striking, that’s for sure. Low, wide and with a tubular steel chassis frame wrapped up in an aluminum body, the 90 was supposed to be equipped with a Callaway tuned ZR1 Corvette engine. I say “supposed to be” because all Rivolta managed to come up with was a non functioning prototype, a styling buck.
At this point you may be saying “No, no, no! This is wrong! You never said you were going to talk about styling exercises. I wanted proper, functional machinery and now, I feel cheated.” Well not to worry hypothetical reader, because the Grifo 90 got on the road…well, sort off. You see, the reason why Rivolta failed in his Grifo rebirth plans was because he partnered up with an Italian bus builder in order to have the proper financing for the project. However, when an economical recession hit and new bus orders dropped, the partnership fell through and the Grifo 90 prototype ended up being sold off. Fast forward to 2002 when a gentleman by the name of Frederico Bonomelli found the Grifo in a private car collection somewhere in Tuscany. Bonomelli, a massive Iso Rivolta aficionado, happens to be the owner of Mako Shark Designs, a company which works in carbon fibers applications for several industries; now, it would be a shame to be so versed in such materials and not put them to use in order to make something fun and special, right? Well, that’s what Signor Bonomelli thought. So he scanned the original Grifo 90 and got to work on making 5 brand new carbon fiber bodies in order to bring the 90 back from the “dead” (the production was later increased to 12 units). Piero Rivolta gave 2 thumbs up to the endeavor and the man who knows absolutely everything there is to know about Iso and Bizarrini machines – Roberto Negri – worked on the final assembly. Negri’s “il Bottegonni” workshop is THE place to take anything Iso related for parts or repairs because when the company went belly up in the 70’s, Signor Negri bought the whole inventory.
So what’s the reborn 2010 Grifo all about? Underneath the new carbon threads the reborn 90’s are C5 Z06 Corvettes with a few upgrades in the suspension and exhaust departments; nothing hyper exiting, but not too shabby either. The Z06 C5 is a terrific car even by today’s standards it holds up well, making it very easy to forget that it is already 10 years old.
If you want a new old Grifo, that’s too bad because these cars were meant for Frederico Bonomelli and friends, so it’s highly unlikely that one pops up for sale anytime soon. You can however take some degree of solace in the fact that this was an extraordinary rebirth of a car that appeared doomed to spend eternity as an obscure 90’s oddity. Welcome back to the light, Grifo 90!
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