1968 Bizzarrini Strada
Country of Origin: Italy
Design Info: A curvaceous but svelte, low-slung sports car, the Strada is only 44.1 inches tall (compared to the contemporary GT40 at 40.5 in). The Strada’s front-mounted engine was placed as far back as possible to improve weight distribution, and the lightweight aluminum body contributed to the car’s low curb weight of just 2650 lbs. De Dion tube suspension, a limited-slip differential, and all-around disc brakes also contributed to the sport/racing oriented performance of the car.
Engine Info: Most Stradas mounted the venerable Chevrolet Small-Block 327, rated for 365 HP (or 400 HP in the Strada’s racing sibling, the 5300 GT Corsa). Some late models of the Strada, however, were fitted with Chevrolet Big-Block 427s instead. In the light, sleek body, the 327 could propel the Strada to 60 mph in less than 7 seconds and a top speed of 174 mph.
Type: A powerful, high speed sports car, the Bizzarrini Strada was aimed at exotic GT cars like the Maserati 5000 GT and Ghibli, Lamborghini Miura, and especially Ferraris like the 275 GTB.
History: Giotto Bizzarrini built his first car as a student at the University of Pisa. Based on a Fiat 500 Topolino, this car (called either the Bizzarrini 500 or Macchinetta), he built the car as his design thesis and graduated in 1953. Bizzarrini had proven his performance chops almost immediately, nearly doubling the car’s power (from 16.5 to 30 hp) with engine modifications, rebuilding the frame as a racing style tube frame, and designing an aerodynamic teardrop body of aluminum. Together, these modifications allowed his car to reach speeds up to 95 mph (from the Topolino’s original top speed of 53).
He worked for 3 years at Alfa Romeo, originally assigned to the chassis development program for the Giulietta until he became a test driver. In 1957, however, he hopped into his Macchinetta and drove to the Ferrari headquarters in Maranello to look for new employment. Enzo Ferrari hired Bizzarrini, either impressed with the engineering of the tiny car, or else impressed with Giotto’s bravery in driving the small vehicle all the way from Milan.
Whatever the case, in 1957 Bizzarrini found himself employed at Ferrari. Promoted to chief engineer, he worked for five years in development of grand touring, sports, and experimental vehicles, and had a hand in some of the most important racing and road cars in Ferrari’s history: the 250s. The 3.0 liter Testa Rossa variant of the Colombo V12 was based upon Bizzarrini’s input, and the 250 GTE, 250 TR, 250GT SWB, and finally the 250 GTO were all projects of Bizzarrini’s influence.
However, it was not to last. As Enzo’s wife Laura became increasingly involved in the company’s operations, Ferrari Sales Manager Girolamo Gardini gave Enzo an ultimatum: It’s her, or me. Enzo chose her, and fired Gardini, who was friends with many of Ferrari’s high-ranking employees, Giotto among them. Bizzarrini, along with four other experienced engineers and several other executives, staged a walkout to protest Gardini’s dismissal. Ferrari accused them all of conniving to create a new company, and fired them all.
Unsurprisingly, this led to Bizzarrini desiring revenge upon Ferrari (a recurring theme in Enzo’s life). The first attempt would be with the formation of Automobili Turismo e Sport (ATS) and creation of the ATS 2500 GT. While the car was attractive, it failed to gain enough attention to be economically viable, and a poor attempt at Formula One racing by ATS also contributed to investors pulling their backing. Ultimately, ATS proved a stillborn venture.
Nevertheless, Bizzarrini wasn’t finished. An Italian-Algerian nobleman named Count Giovanni Volpi had been one of the investors of ATS and had created a racing team for both Formula One and sports car racing, Scuderia Serenissima. He had previously purchased a Ferrari for racing, but when Enzo refused to sell him more (another of Ferrari’s many relationship breakdowns) he turned to Bizzarrini. Giotto redesigned the body of the Count’s 250GT SWB with superior aerodynamic features to create the unique “Breadvan” Ferrari, which Volpi wished to use to beat Enzo’s 250 GTOs at Le Mans. In the race, the Breadvan quickly rose to 7th place, passing all the 250 GTOs in the process, but a driveshaft failure in the fourth hour of the race forced the car to resign.
Two attempts and two failures would not stop Bizzarrini’s quest. He formed a freelance engineering firm in 1962, Società Autostar, to outsource engineering solutions to other companies. One of his earliest customers was Ferrucio Lamborghini. A man who also sough revenge against a certain stubborn Italian, Lamborghini hired Bizzarrini to design an engine for his cars. It is said that Lamborghini offered a bonus for every horsepower above what Ferrari’s V12 could make. Bizzarrini’s V12 design, originally a 3.5 liter unit which made 375 HP, was enlarged, modified, and modernized for years, but was essentially the same design all the way to the 2010 Murciélago.
Another customer would be Iso’s Renzo Rivolta. While Iso was best known for the tiny Isetta bubblecar, Iso had left the microcar market in 1957, and Rivolta wished to instead focus on high-end luxury GT cars. Partnered with Bizzarrini, the essentially reborn company’s first new model would be the Iso Rivolta IR 300, a GT car with a Bertone designed body and a Chevrolet Small-Block V8. A more potent and dramatically designed car, the Grifo would follow, but it would be this car that split Rivolta and Bizzarrini.
While Bizzarrini worked on the Grifo that Rivolta envisioned, he also worked on a separate, racing oriented version of the car. Lower slung, with a significantly different body, the Grifo A3/C, as Giotto called it, was a racing machine first and foremost. This design philosophy difference between Bizzarini and Rivolta, as well as Renzo’s perceived disrespect at Bizzarini for using the Grifo name for his own cars, led to the partnership breaking down by 1965.
Bizzarrini took his design with him, adjusted it slightly, and began producing it as the Bizzarrini 5300 GT Strada (for the road car) and the 5300 GT Corsa as a race car. The entry to the 1965 24 Hours of Le Mans managed a class win, still under the Grifo name. The Strada, meanwhile, had gained some attention, and across all models of the 5300 GT, 133 cars were built and sold. Bizzarrini would also build small numbers of a smaller sports car resembling the Strada, the Europa (his original design for the Opel GT) and a handful of rear-engined racing roadsters called the P538, but neither of these would be as successful or prolific as the Strada.
Unfortunately, it was not enough. Though Bizzarrini S.p.A. lasted significantly longer than ATS, it finally fell by the wayside, bankrupt, in 1969. Giotto himself continued designing and consulting work, notably including the AMC AMX/3 prototypes and a series of BMW powered racing cars made by a company called Picchio. He remained a respected engineer and designer of cars until his death in May of 2023.
Why it’s cool/unique/significant: Some of the best stories are about revenge. Some of the messiest too. Giotto Bizzarrini’s own quest for revenge against Enzo, his involvement with Lamborghini, and his own feud with Rivolta are each worthy tales in their own right. But is that all there is to the story?
Bizzarrini’s greatest legacy could have been the dominant Ferrari 250s, which were incredible performers in their time and remain some of the most highly sough cars in the world. But he pressed on, unsatisfied, and created the Lamborghini V12 engine, a staggering work of engineering that endured for 50 years as a legend of performance. And he still wasn’t done.
Bizzarrini’s greatest influence on the automotive world, rather, is the creation of the modern concept of the supercar. Frequently credited to the Lamborghini Miura (a car which of course used his engine), perhaps it is the Strada which should have the title. The Strada was lighter, more powerful, and faster than the Miura – and beat it into production by two years. The Strada has equally dramatic styling, and an even more dramatic price ($20k for a Miura at the time, $35k for the Strada). And if exclusivity is a concern, almost six times as many Miuras were made as Stradas. It checks every box.