Classic Italian Sports Cars That Time Forgot
Time isn’t kind with everybody, so here’s a bunch of cars you might’ve forgotten aboutby Michael Fira, on LISTEN 20:18
Italy is the purveyor of the modern supercar and home to some of the world’s most famous and lusted after cars. We all love and know our Ferraris, Lamborghinis, or Maseratis but Italy is also about Alfa Romeo, Fiat, and Lancia, all of which have been behind some truly iconic cars as well as some that should’ve broken through but, instead, have remained stuck in the doldrums of automotive history - even recent history. Here’s a list of some less well-know Italian sports cars.
You’ll surely raise a few eyebrows driving either of these
The Ferrari 250 GTO is the world’s most expensive car and, more recently, a track-bound Ferrari 550 GT1 from the early noughties became the most expensive car ever sold at an online-only auction. Then there’s stuff like Pagani or the re-born De Tomaso brand, both producing exotics with jaw-droppingly high price tags. These are cars you can’t miss and that everyone’s talking about - just check the Instagram stories of some well-known celebrity and the flow of Lambos and Ferraris will shock you - but there are also other Italian sports cars that are less-than-famous and some are even affordable to buy. This story is all about that have had to wait far too long to get the praise they deserve so we’re trying to make up for it right now.
B Engineering Edonis
We’re kicking things off with the Edonis, a car that may not be considered a proper ’classic’ having been conceived in 2001 but it surely is one that few can recall.
Developed in just 47 days starting from the carbon-fiber tub of the Bugatti EB110, the Edonis was Nicola Materazzi's stab at building a modern supercar, over two decades after designing the fabled Ferrari F40.
As an early consultant for Romano Artioli’s incarnation of Bugatti, Materazzi knew precisely what had to be changed in order to turn the EB110 into a truly capable machine and, when Jean-Marc Borel, former Vice-Chairman of Bugatti International came in with a desire to build a car, Materazzi got to work. The old Bugatti Automobili factory in Campogalliano was retained by the new-born automaker, B Engineering (surely among the lesser-known Italian sports car names out there), that also purchased 17 EB110 tubs after Bugatti’s liquidation. The engine of the Bugatti was also retained but the output was raised from 3.5-liters to 3.8-liters and the troublesome quad-turbo setup was dumped in favor of a more traditional twin-turbo layout. The first engine developed 671 horsepower at 8,000 rpm but Materazzi claims that an even more powerful mill was assembled later on.
Still, with the whole car tipping the scales at just 3,300 pounds (271 pounds less than the EB110) thanks to a new aluminum body, the Edonis was massively fast.
Driving flat-out around Nardo’s high-speed ring, it reached 359.6 km/h (223.4 mph) falling inches short off Materazzi’s target to build a car that could travel at a speed of 100 m/s or 360 km/h (223.6 mph). With 542 pound-feet of torque and a 0-60 mph time of 3.8 seconds as was advertised in period news stories, the Edonis could’ve been up there with any supercar to come out in the early ’00s but didn’t.
Despite being praised by everyone who took it for a spin, the project was sold on and production stopped after the first two prototypes were born. Since then, there’s been a debate over how many cars have actually been built with some sources claiming that over 10 cars have been made and, more recently, it was announced that the remaining rolling chassis would be turned into an updated version of the Edonis called the SP-110 Edonis Fenice but nothing came of it - maybe because the asking price was $860,000.
|Engine||3.8-liter, twin-turbocharged V-12|
|Output||671 horsepower at 8,000 rpm|
|Torque||542 pound-feet of torque at 3,200 rpm|
|Top speed||in excess of 223 mph|
|0-60 mph||3.8 seconds|
|Transmission||six-speed manual, RWD only|
|Weight||>1,500 kg (3,300 pounds)|
We’ll be the first to admit that ’Lele’ is probably not the best name for a sports car but you can’t deny the charm of Iso’s lesser-known grand tourer. Born as a gift to Piere Rivolta’s wife Rachelle (Lele) Rivolta, the car of the same name was a hodge-podge of older bits and pieces.
The chassis, for instance, was that of just about any other Iso product and the engine was, once more, of American provenance - first a Chevy V-8 and then a Ford Cleveland V-8.
The latter unit, rated at 325 horsepower, was mated to either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic that sent all of the oomph to the back wheels. The rather large coupe (183 inches long, to be precise) and its somewhat bemused face with semi-exposed pop-ups deserved more power and it came in 1973 with the 360 horsepower Sport version.
The car was identical in spec to the two ’Marlboro Specials’ given to the two drivers of Iso’s F1 team, Howden Ganley and Nanni Galli. Sadly, the additional power did little to help the Lele move off showroom floors and the oil crisis proved to be the last nail in the coffin for the ailing Iso marque that bowed out of both racing and the road car business marking the end of the less appreciated of the Italian sports car names.
|Engine||Chevrolet 5.4-liter V-8 at first and then Ford Cleveland 5.7-liter V-8|
|Output||350 horsepower (Chevy), 325 horsepower (Ford), 360 horsepower at 5,700 rpm (Ford in Sport trim)|
|Torque||380 pound-feet o|
|Top speed||143 mph|
|0-60 mph||6.4 seconds|
Fiat Abarth 2400 Coupe Allemano
Allemano was a coachbuilder known for its classy interpretations of well-known sports car models such as the Maserati 3500 GT and it was Serafino Allemano’s take on the 2300 Sedan’s front end that Carlo Abarth chose when he decided to make a coupe version out of Fiat’s latest family runabout. The well-known tuner established his reputation by racing the products of the Turinese automaker as well as cars designed in-house that merely utilized Fiat internals.
Abarth, however, also had a go at making civilian automobiles and, in the late ’50s and early ’60s there was an entire lineup of Abarth-prepped coupes and convertibles to choose from including the 850 Coupe Scorpione, the 850 Spider Riviera, and the 2200 Coupe.
The latter was, effectively, a modified Fiat 2100 but then, when Fiat introduced the 2300, Abarth followed suite.
As per usual, the six-pot’s capacity was increased from 2.3-liters to 2.4-liters for 142 horsepower thanks also to Abarth twin tailpipe exhaust, lighter, lighter pistons, and three double-barell Webers.
The 2400 Coupe was assembled by Allemano although the coachbuilder could only lay claim to the design of the front end as the tail section was the work of Ezio Ellena (the Fiat 2300 was designed by Giovanni Michelotti). Sadly, the now-classic Italian sports car never found a customer base and Abarth retired it after making just a few dozen copies, one of which was retained by Carlo Abarth himself.
|Engine||2.4-liter, naturally aspirated inline-six|
|Output||142 horsepower at 5,800 rpm|
Lancia Hyena Zagato
Isn’t it sad how the proud Lancia brand has been kneeled, humiliated, and reduced to making only the Ypsilon, one of the more affordable Italian cars but also one that is currently for sale only in Italy. Once upon a time, though, Lancia was dominating the world of rallying with the Fulvia, the Stratos, or the Delta but those days are long gone and a Lancia fan can’t even dream nowadays of a collaboration between Lancia and Zagato such as the one that led to the creation of the Hyena.
While probably not what you'd have in mind when you think about classic Italian sports cars, the Hyena Zagato is one of those quirky cars that you should appreciate at least because it dared to be different.
Moreover, the underpinnings of the Hyena are on point as they come straight from the famed Delta. In fact, the whole drivetrain is from the Delta as the man behind the Hyena, a very wealthy collector by the name of Paul V.J Koot, loved the Delta Integrale Evo but throughout it would look better as a two-door coupe. He approached Zagato with this risky proposition and the Hyena, complete with a ’double-bubble’ roof, was unveiled in 1992.
While the public liked the Hyena, Fiat’s top brass in Turin was less enthusiastic upon finding out about the rogue project and refused to supply Zagato with rolling chassis that would allow the coachbuilder to assemble a limited number of Hyenas for budding customers. As a result, Koot had to source second-hand Delta Integrales on his own and then dispatch them to Zagato who’d strip them down completely before putting them back together in Hyena form - a tough job considering the bodywork was made out of hand-beaten aluminum and the cabin was different too featuring a new dash. In the end, 24 cars were made and one of them sold for almost $200,000 earlier this year which isn’t surprising when you factor in the Hyena’s Porsche-matching MSRP.
|Output||250 horsepower at 5,750 rpm|
|Torque||220 pound-feet at 3,500 rpm|
|Top speed||143 mph|
|0-60 mph||5.4 seconds|
Former Lamborghini Director and Chief Engineer Paolo Stanzani said in an interview that he liked the Jarama but, in spite of that, he reckoned that putting it into production was a mistake on Lamborghini’s behalf because the company’s customer base was looking for something else, even the American clientele for whom the car was conceived in the first place.
Introduced in 1970, the Jarama sat on a slightly modified version of the Espada's chassis and was intended as a replacement for the Islero.
Built to meet the American safety standards of the time, the Jarama was styled by Bertone’s Marcello Gandini who’d also worked on the Iso Lele and, previously, on Lamborghini’s first hit, the Miura.
The first Jaramas featured the same 3.9-liter V-12 engine as seen in the Espada and Islero although the Jarama was slightly heavier than the car it had replaced tipping the scales at 3,200 pounds.
While said to develop 350 horsepower, the V-12 engine’s heads and carburetors were revised in 1972 and, in tandem with an updated exhaust system, the changes pushed the power up to 365 horsepower. But the more powerful Jarama, known as the S or the GTS, wasn’t just about power as Lamborghini gave the whole car a once over and poured improvements all over it, especially inside.
The cabin now came with a more user-friendly dash trimmed in aluminum and, on top of that, there was better sound insulation, and power steering was standard. There was even a three-speed automatic offered as a factory-fitted option but nobody bought into what turned out to be Ferruccio Lamborghini’s favorite Lamborghini. Only 326 units were sold during the car’s six years on the market and just 150 of those were of the improved Jarama S variety. Luckily, Lamborghini would soon ditch front-engined GTs for good and go mad with the Countach, its first wedge-shaped supercar.
|Engine||3.9-liter, naturally aspirated V-12|
|Output||350 horsepower (up to 365 horsepower in the Jarama S) at 7,500 rpm|
|Torque||302 pound-feet at 5,500 rpm|
|Top speed||165 mph|
|0-60 mph||6.8 seconds (for the Jarama S)|
|Transmission||five-speed manual or three-speed automatic|
Read our full review on the Lamborghini Jarama
De Tomaso Guara
People know their Mangustas and they know their Panteras but the Guara has been left behind by the sands of time despite it being a rather significant car - the last car to wear the De Tomaso badge that made it into production under Alejandro De Tomaso’s command as the head of De Tomaso Automobili. The Argentine-Italian was, by the dawn of the ’90s, involved in the development of another lesser-known sports car that the Guara shares its DNA with, the Maserati Barchetta.
Born as a track-only, roofless sports car (as the Barchetta name suggests), it was the road-legal version of this Maserati that morphed into the De Tomaso Guara. While a limited run of cup-spec Barchettas did get assembled and even raced in a short-lived, Maserati-sanctioned single-make series predating the Trofeo series, the street-bound version was axed once Maserati became part of the Fiat Group.
Designed by Carlo Gaino at Synthesis Design, the Guara is akin to a ’90s Lotus Elan that’s been amped up to twelve and is sort of true when you glance over the car’s specs.
While built in Modena and featuring a composite body bolted onto a backbone aluminum chassis, the Guara first rolled out powered by the same engine as the BMW 840ci, namely the 279-horsepower 4.0-liter M60 V-8.
Later on, however, an iron-block, supercharged V-8 of Ford origin could be found inside the Guara as BMW retired the M60 engine towards the tail end of the ’90s and that’s where things get weird. Despite the fact that almost nobody bought these not-so-affordable Italian sports cars, De Tomaso kept offering them going into the early ’00s all the way until the beginning of the company’s liquidation in 2005. In all, about 50 cars were built and some of those are open-top spyders or barchettas. A coupe would nowadays set you back at least $200,000 and it’s not a car for the faint-hearted.
|Engine||4.0-liter, naturally aspirated BMW V-8 (later 4.6-liter, supercharged Ford V-8)|
|Output||279 horsepower (BMW engine), 316 horsepower (Ford engine)|
|0-60 mph||5.0 seconds|
|top speed||170 mph (BMW engine)|
|Gearbox||Getrag six-speed manual|
|Weight||2,646 pounds (BMW-engined Guara Coupe)|
In an arguably weird twist of fate, the three surviving Maserati brothers bailed out of the company bearing their family’s name before WW2 broke out and, by 1947 were back making cars under the O.S.C.A. name while Maserati soldiered on after the death of Alfieri Maserati under the guidance of the Orsi brothers.
O.S.C.A. stands for "Officine Specializzate Costruzione Automobili - Fratelli Maserati" which translates to the 'Specialized Car Building Workshops of the Maserati Brothers'.
Just like early Maseratis, the first few OSCAs were small-engined race cars that fared well in the 1.0-liter class by virtue of weighing as much as an empty briefcase (all of them tipped the scales at under 1,000 pounds) but, as the years rolled by, bigger models emerged. In 1961, the 1600 GT emerged and, while surely not a member of the Pantheon of Classic Italian sports car, nor on the list of affordable Italian sports cars, the 1600 GT was mildly successful during its three-year production run.
As was the case back then, OSCA would send rolling chassis to a variety of coachbuilders that would, in turn, send them back as finished cars featuring distinctive styles. Fissori, for instance, went for a more angular style with dual quad headlights in the front while Zagato came up with a double-bubble coupe body with small overhangs, round edges, and dual headlights up front placed up high with a ’smiling’ grille in the middle. Just 98 Zagato coupes were assembled until 1963 and all were powered by the dual overhead cam, inline-four engine developed in-house by OSCA (128 1600 GTs were made in all).
|Engine||1.5-liter, naturally aspirated DOHC four-pot|
|Torque||102 pound feet|
|Top speed||124 mph|
First unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show of 1988, the boxy Maserati Karif was "designed for pure driving fun," according to Maserati’s own website. Built during Alejandro De Tomaso’s spell as the owner of Maserati, the Karif was powered by the same 2.8-liter, twin-turbo engine as used in the 228 (that’s another dull, almost BMW-looking Maserati two-door coupe from the ’80s that only Maserati anoraks remember).
Just like the Mistral, for instance, the Karif was named after a wind and, sadly for Maserati, the market's interest in yet another luxury coupe from the Italian company marred by dodgy build quality soon blew over.
Let’s not forget, also, that Maserati was also making the strikingly similar Biturbo at the time, a car you probably remember as one of the many that have fallen victim to the ire of Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear. Unlike the Biturbo, however, the Karif was less practical as it was almost 4.5 inches shorter which, in turn, led to the disappearance of the back seat.
As the Biturbo was often criticized for offering tepid levels of performance (a mid-80s Biturbo E only developed 185 horsepower when an M3 of the same vintage put out 197 horsepower), the Karif came to the market with more oomph but that too eventually went away with the advent of a catalyzed version.
However, when it did breathe (somewhat) freely, a Karif made 281 horsepower and went from naught to 60 mph in just under five seconds as opposed to 7.5 seconds in the case of the Biturbo E. With only 221 units made and prices averaging $30,000, the Karif is some sort of a steal but it’s not necessarily a sports car that collectors flock after.
|Engine||2.8-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6|
|Output||281 horsepower (catalyzed just 243 horsepower)|
|0-60 mph||4.8 seconds|
|Top speed||158 mph|
|Gearbox||ZF five-speed dog-leg manual|
Alfa Romeo 2600 Sprint
Everyone, here’s a friendly reminder from all of us here at TopSpeed before we delve any deeper into the story of the 2600 Sprint by Alfa Romeo. That’s right, it’s Alfa Romeo, not ’Alpha Romeo’, nor ’Alfa’ on its own, and, more to the point, we don’t really refer to the products coming out of Arese as ’Romeos’ either. With that out of the way, here’s more on the 2600 Sprint, a car introduced all the way back in 1962 as Alfa Romeo’s flagship six-cylinder coupe based on the 2600-series chassis.
The car is a strange one in the company’s history because, for once, the ’Berlina’ (sedan) version did not outsell the sporty offerings, be it the open-top Spider or fixed-head Sprint coupe.
That's despite the fact that the 2600 model came with a brand-new, all-alloy 2.6-liter engine with six cylinders in line and twin overhead camshafts that was praised in period for its usability and performance.
The 2600 Sprint was a laid-back, 2+2 GT that even attracted the interest of the Italian Polizia that purchased a few to use as police cars in the rapid response unit (the so-called Panteras). More interesting of a fact is that the 2600 Sprint was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro and was the legendary designer’s first big job at Bertone. The 2600 Sprint was the top seller in the 2600 range between ’62 and ’68 when the range was sidelined in favor of the much more successful 1750. Nowadays, you can find coupes for as little as $40,000 although the rarer spiders are much more expensive.
|Engine||2.6-liter, naturally aspirated six-cylinder|
|Top speed||120 mph|
Bizzarrini 1900 GT Europa
Giotto Bizzarrini is regarded as the father of the Ferrari 250 GTO, the most expensive car in the world right now, although the engineer left Ferrari before the GTO was finished. While also heavily involved in the development of the first-ever Lamborghini V-12 engine, Bizzarrini is known too for founding a car company bearing his own name. The company’s better-known product is the 5300 GT Strada, a relative of Iso’s gorgeous Grifo (both designed by Bizzarrini), but Bizzarrini also planned to introduce a cheaper sports car to complement the large Strada.
Named the 1900 GT Europa, it was literally a scaled-down version of the Strada right down to its styling but it never got to live up to its promise and do battle with similarly-priced offerings from Lancia or Alfa Romeo.
While originally conceived around a 1.5-liter Fiat engine, the few Stradas that did leave Bizzarrini’s factory before it went under were powered by a 1.9-liter Opel engine good for a 110 horsepower. You may think that’s barely enough for the Europa to deserve to be called a sports car but, then again, one of its nearest rivals was the much-revered Lancia Fulvia Coupe that, in Rallye 1.3-liter HF guise, cranked out 101 horsepower. That was an improvement courtesy of the new 1,300 cc HF engine as the original HF had to make do with 90 horsepower.
The fiberglass Europa, then, is more powerful than the Fulvia and a lot rarer with experts now believing that around 20-30 cars were assembled after Bizzarrini’s downfall using the existing rolling chassis. While all of these cars feature the Pietro Vanni-penned body, they were not assembled by Bizzarrini (only about 12 cars were put together by Bizzarrini themselves). That doesn’t mean, however, that getting your hands on a Europa is easy - one sold for $220,000 back in 2018.
|Engine||1.9-liter, Opel inline-four|
|Top speed||128 mph|