The ’60s saw the emergence of one of the more interesting trends the automotive world has ever seen, big American V-8s in smaller European cars. There was AC, Sunbeam, De Tomaso, and one of the more interesting examples, Iso. Iso was a small company that had started out making refrigerators in the days just before WWII, and then moving into motorcycles just after the war. In the mid ’50s, it produced the Isetta bubble car, a somewhat hilarious little car that became much more famous when BMW started producing them under license. The Bavarians would end up buying out the Isetta tooling, and Iso was freed up to pursue much more ambitious automotive goals.

That goal was to build a sports car, something originally intended to compete with the Fiat 2300. But, when the Iso Rivolta IR 300 didn’t sell very well, Iso decided to build a luxurious and powerful gran turismo, something to compete with Ferrari and Maserati. So Iso took its whole one year of sports car building experience and put it into making the Grifo. It might sound like a dubious plan, but the Grifo turned out to be an excellent car, with the combination of Italian style and American power working wonderfully together.

Continue reading to learn more about the Iso Grifo.

  • 1963 - 1975 Iso Grifo
  • Year:
    1963- 1975
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    5.4L V8
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    365@4800
  • Torque @ RPM:
    3400
  • Displacement:
    5359 L
  • 0-60 time:
    6.2 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    160 mph
  • car segment:
  • body style:

Exterior

1963 - 1975 Iso Grifo High Resolution Exterior
- image 658769

The Grifo has styling that is immediately recognizable as a ’60s Italian GT car. This comes as no surprise though, since it was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro while he was still at Bertone. Giugiaro was responsible for many of the classic Italian cars of the ’60s, and would go on to design cars for just about every car company in the world at one point or another. He also designed camera bodies, firearms, office furniture, computer prototypes and his own shape of pasta.

The Grifo has styling that is immediately recognizable as a '60s Italian GT car.

He was named Car Designer of the Century by the Global Automotive Elections Foundation in 1999, so it’s easy to see why the Grifo looks so good. After designing a competition version of the car, Giugiaro would often refer to it as the “improved GTO,” since he had also designed the Ferrari 250 GTO, but had some unresolved resentment toward old man Enzo.

Nearly all of the units produced of the Grifo were hardtops, but a total of 17 cars were built with Targa tops, 13 from Series I and 4 from Series II. The Series II cars came about in 1970 with some styling tweaks that included impressively integrated pop-up headlights. But, the easiest way to spot a Series II is by its “pagoda” (or sometimes “penthouse”) hood scoop, needed to accommodate the bigger engine.

Interior

1963 - 1975 Iso Grifo High Resolution Interior
- image 658780

Two different versions of the Grifo were made from the outset, the A3/L and A3/C. The L stood for “lusso” (luxury) and the C for “corsa” (track). The majority of the Grifo units built were Ls, these being the only ones that were really intended for street use. The interior of the car was quite spacious for an Italian GT of the day, and the mix of wood trim and leather upholstery is a classic look for a reason. There is technically a back seat, but it’s really more of a parcel shelf and it’s clear that the Grifo was never intended to be a real 2+2. But, as a two-seat grand tourer, it has an excellent interior, one comfortable for the kinds of long road trips it was intended for.

Drivetrain

1963 - 1975 Iso Grifo High Resolution Interior
- image 658791

The drivetrain is what sets the Grifo apart from the other Italian GT cars in its price bracket. The C2 Corvette debuted the same year as the Grifo, and Iso used the 327 engine and transmission out of this for the Grifo. The engines were taken apart in Italy and blueprinted before being reassembled and put into the cars, but Iso never made any claims that they were anything other than Chevy engines. They were available with either 300 or 350 horsepower, an above average amount for such a car in 1963, and the Grifo immediately became the fastest production car in the world until the 427 Cobra (another European car with an American V-8) broke its record in 1965.

the most powerful engine offered was a Chevy 427 (7.0-liter, as it was called on the fender badges) V-8 that produced 435 horsepower.

A few other engines were offered over the years, including, toward the end, a complete switch over to Ford with a 351 Cleveland engine. But, the most powerful engine offered was a Chevy 427 (7.0-liter, as it was called on the fender badges) V-8 that produced 435 horsepower. The result was unfortunately not enough to take the fastest production car back from the Ferrari Daytona, but it came close. For the Series II, the higher-spec version of the car switched from the 427 to the bigger 454, but this actually made less power, for a total of 395 horsepower.

The real advantage of the American V-8 was that it allowed a small Italian company to compete with Ferrari even in markets like the U.S., despite not having the same service network. It was easy to find parts for the American engines wherever you lived, as well as someone who knew enough about them to work on them. The car didn’t have to be gone for months at a time while you shipped it off somewhere to be repaired. This formula was used to even better effect by De Tomaso a few years later with the huge hit that was the Pantera. There is also the fact that the V-12 engines in contemporary Ferraris were relatively small, high-strung racing-derived engines that only hit peak power way up in the rev range. This wasn’t an issue for the bigger American engines, and the result was a much more drivable car in real world conditions.

Prices

1963 - 1975 Iso Grifo High Resolution Exterior
- image 658793

A total of 413 units of the Grifo were produced before Iso eventually went bankrupt. The car’s more common American parts haven’t kept it from being just as valuable as other Italian luxury GT cars from the same era. In general, the higher-performance 7-liter units are the most valuable, with prices averaging around $400,000. 327-equipped Series I cars being the most common will sometimes go for as low as about $150,000, but something in excess of $200,000 in more usual.

Competition

Sunbeam Tiger

1963 - 1975 Iso Grifo
- image 658800

You’d probably think of the Shelby Cobra first when considering a British sports car with an American V-8. But, the Cobra was a race car, not nearly civilized enough to compete with a GT like the Grifo. For that, we look to the Sunbeam Tiger, also British, and also powered by a Ford V-8 thanks to Carroll Shelby. It was very quick, but didn’t sacrifice a very attractive interior (or a roof) to get there. They’re also a lot more common, with more than 7,000 units having been produced.

De Tomaso Mangusta

1967 - 1971 De Tomaso Mangusta High Resolution Exterior
- image 564272

An Italian company founded by an Argentinian using American engines, De Tomaso had an international sort of flavor that made for a more accessible brand of exotic. The Mangusta wasn’t technically the company’s first model, but it was the first one built in really serious quantities. It was styled by the same designer that had penned the Grifo, and is very similarly good looking. It had either a Ford 289 or 302 engine that was mid-mounted, giving customers a bit of extra exoticism over the Grifo.

Read our full review on the De Tomaso Mangusta here.

Conclusion

1963 - 1975 Iso Grifo High Resolution Exterior
- image 658770

It’s a shame that the Grifo isn’t better known today, but it isn’t all that surprising. The company only made a few different models, and total production over the whole history of the company adds up to fewer units than Toyota builds of the Corolla in a day (seriously). But, it is a seriously cool car, just the right mix of fantastic looks, lots of power and an excellent interior. It’s exactly what a grand tourer should be, and it might make you wish there had been more Italian-American collaborations through the years.

  • Leave it
    • * A V-8, even a big one, doesn’t sound like a V-12
    • * The 250 GTO is still worth a hell of a lot more
    • * Constantly having to explain what it is
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