A superstar talent from Ferrari makes his own racer

There’s plenty of interesting, high-value sports and race cars heading to Monterey Car Week this year, some of which will make it up on the auction block and exchange hands at one of the many top-dollar car auctions taking place at the annual event. One such vehicle is this svelte, sexy-looking red Italian speed machine: a Bizzarrini P538. This ultra-rare, ultra-curvy dream-on-wheels will go under the hammer at the Mecum car auction between August 18th and 20th as Lot S111, and it’s expected to fetch close to a million dollars. It’s got Corvette power and super exclusivity, plus the performance potential you’d expect just from its appearance.

Stateside enthusiasts might not be up on the specifics of European race builders like Giotto Bizzarrini, but in Europe, the name carries serious weight. Bizzarrini is the builder behind such classics as the Iso Rivolta, Iso Grifo, Ferrari 250 GTO, and Lamborghini 3500 GT V-12. And of course, you gotta add the P538 to that list, as this thing is a true connoisseur’s delight.

Update 08/22/2016: The P558, Mecum lot No. S111 went under then hammer on August 20, 2016. Check out the "Prices" section below to see the results for yourself and the "Pictures" section for some images we took during the 2016 Monterey Car Week.

Continue reading to learn more about the 1965 Bizzarrini P538.

History And Background

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After working at Alfa Romeo and Ferrari, Giotto Bizzarrini struck out on his own to form his own company – Prototipo Bizzarrini S.a.r.l, Progrettazione e Costruzioni Automobili, which was founded in 1964.

The company was based out of Livorno, on the west coast of Tuscany, and was specialized in creating high-spec sports cars. But in order to help establish his company’s sporting credentials, Bizzarrini needed a race car, and thus, the P538 was born.

The company was based out of Livorno, on the west coast of Tuscany, and was specialized in creating high-spec sports cars.

Unfortunately, the P538 had a rough few years at first, and although it saw a bid at Le Mans in 1966 (it’s not clear which chassis was used), the car was shelved after a rules change from the FIA. Adding insult to injury were financial problems at the company, so Bizzarrini dismantled the first few prototypes of the P538 and squirrelled away the various components, just in case investigators decided to swoop them up.

Once Bizzarrini was back on stable ground, he decided to build a limited run of P538’s, teaming up with Salvatore Diomante to do so. This particular car, chassis serial number P538 B04, was part of that first batch of cars.

Jacques Lavost, a Frenchman who now holds the position of Director at the French Iso and Bizzarrini Owner’s Club, was responsible for the original commission. Although it was first put together in the ‘60s, this P538 was reconstructed at Bizzarrini’s home in Gabbro, and was tested at Salvatore Diomonte’s shop in the mid ‘70s. It was completed in 1978, and uses the original components Bizzarrini created in the mid-‘60s.

This particular car is also referenced in the book Bizzarrini: The Genius Behind Ferrari’s Success.

Exterior

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The impressive bodywork you see is the product of Guigiaro, and is made from fiberglass to keep the curb weight as low as possible. It’s classic old-school Italian flair, with plenty of intakes, cuts, swoops, and dives, looking like a wedge of speed ready to take the grid and hang the tail out at the apex.

It’s classic old-school Italian flair, with plenty of intakes, cuts, swoops, and dives, looking like a wedge of speed ready to take the grid and hang the tail out at the apex.

The fenders are flared high, encapsulating the wheels in a wave that runs from front to back. The roofless design falls into a rear section that calls forth an invisible roofline from a targa or coupe body. It looks wafer thin, but hugely purposeful, with handcrafted loveliness that calls you to look deeper.

Across the elegant red exterior, we find a host of unique features for this car in particular. In front, there’s a new primary intake in the nose, which lends the car a grinning fascia complemented by rounded headlights in oval housings. The windshield is upright and extends along the cars flanks, following the dips and rises as it goes.

In profile, we find new side intakes, which are placed in the miniscule doors, as opposed to the rear wings. More vents are placed behind the front and rear wheels, and the rear end is a squared off in a tight formation.

Quad exhaust tips are incorporated into the rear bumper, while the taillights are located at the outer edges of the tail.

The whole thing looks like its ready for some intrepid racer to jump into it, fire it up, and take off in a Le Mans-style start.

Interior

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Inside, the black interior looks like it’s all business. The bucket seats are fixed units with four-point racing harnesses draped across them, covered in what appears to be a tweed-like fabric that’s finished in beige. The steering wheel is large, thin-rimmed, and trimmed in wood, as appropriate for the time period. Various buttons and switches adorn the dash, while twin gauges provide instrumentation behind the steering wheel. The shifter is gated and comes with a polished plate.

Behind the seats, the headrests/roll bars are triangular, mimicking the engine cover that hides the burbling V-8 powerplant mounted just behind the fixed bucket racing seats.

All in all, there’s not much space to maneuver, which probably made it difficult for any taller drivers to fit into the cockpit. But that’s okay – you don’t wanna be sliding around in your seat at all when wheeling this thing towards an apex.

Drivetrain

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The Bizzarrini P538 uses a rear/mid-engine, RWD layout. The engine is a V-8 from the Chevrolet Corvette, rated at 327 cubic inches in displacement, or 5.3-liters (hence the name). Later versions of the car incorporated a 3.5-liter and 4.0-liter V-12, both of which were sourced from Lamborghini.

Back to the V-8. This powerplant incorporates side draft Weber carburetors, with four individual intake horns per side, plus a Campagnolo intake manifold. There are 180-degree headers, and the whole thing looks like a complex maze of pipes that wind their way towards the rear of the car with flat-black purpose.

Output is rated at roughly 365 horsepower, while top speed comes in at a staggering 174 mph.

Routing the muscle to the rear axle is a manual five-speed gearbox form ZF.

Both the engine and transmission on this particular example were rebuilt in 2013.

Chassis And Handling

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Underneath the gorgeous-looking fiberglass bodywork, you’ll find a tubular space frame chassis incorporating squared tubes. The layout actually mounts the radiators further back in the chassis and closer to the engine, rather than in the front, presumably to help maintain proper weight distribution.

The suspension set-up is independent at all four corners, while the brakes are four-wheel discs mounted in-board.

Prices

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One of the characteristics of the Bizzarrini P538 that makes it so desirable is its rarity, a factor compounded by conflicting and incomplete reports as to how many cars were completed.

For the moment, there are at the very least two examples of the 5.3-liter, Corvette-powered V-8 racer, as well as two examples of the V-12-powered racer. However, there are some who say that there could be as many as four V-8-powered cars in existence.

Either way, this particular Bizzarrini P538 heads to the central California coast later this month carrying an estimated price that ranges between $750,000 and $950,000.

Included with the car is all of the original French paperwork from its commission, plus a certification from the Italian ASI as to its authenticity.

If you’ve got the means and would like to try your hand in grabbing chassis P538 B04 for your own personal collection, you’ll be able to catch it at the Mecum Auction in Monterey between August 18th and 20th.

Update

Despite the fact that the P538 had an estimated selling price of $750,000 to $950,000, bidding topped out at $450,000. According to Mecum’s website, the car could still be available for sale. If you’re interested in making an offer, you can contact a Mecum agent about the lot here.

Competition

Lamborghini Miura P400

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The Miura was one of the first cars to come from Lamborghini, first introduced in 1966 as a follow-up to the 350GT and 400GT. It’s sometimes referred to as the world’s first supercar, given its designation as the first road-legal production car to feature a mid-mounted engine. Mecum auctions will be bringing one such vehicle to Monterey, and estimates pin its worth between $750,000 and $900,000.

Read the full review here.

Toyota 2000GT

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That’s right, a Toyota. Classic Japanese sports cars have really hit their stride in the collector car market as of late, as evidenced by the meteoric rise of vehicles like the 2000GT. And rightfully so – it’s got the history, respect, and jaw-dropping good looks to back it. Mecum auctions will have one of these beauties on hand as well, with estimates ranging between $750,000 and $900,000.

Read the full review here.

Conclusion

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Although it may not have an extensive competition history, the Bizzarrini P358 does have pretty much everything else you could ask for in a classic mid-‘60s Italian race car. Made by the same hand that crafted the legendary Ferrari 250 GTO, you could argue the car enjoys the same DNA as anything produced with a Prancing Horse badge. With a classic American soundtrack in back and eye-catching good looks on the outside, not to mention unicorn-like rarity, the P538 is a surefire showstopper no matter where it goes. I can’t wait to see what this thing will do in Monterey.

  • Leave it
    • * Not much in terms of competition history
    • * Not as well known as an established marque like Ferrari
    • * Very, very expensive

Source: Mecum

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