ISO Rivolta (pronounce it Eee-zo) Initially in Genoa in 1939 as a refrigeration manufacturer.
Renzo Rivolta was born in Desio, a town just north of Milan, into a family of well-respected industrialists, who were very active in the community.
In 1936, Renzo married Marion Barberi, whose family was based in Turin, shared a similar heritage and also was known to have a great cultural and artistic tradition. Renzo and Marion both exhibited a passion for nature and for beautiful, fascinating things. The core business of the Rivolta family was in milling wood and related products. This instilled in Renzo a deep appreciation for trees, which he planted wherever he could; but he also had a passion for speed and mechanical devices, which was the true spark that ignited the ISO and ISO Rivolta story.
In 1939, Renzo bought a small company called Isothermos that was producing refrigerators and heaters. He later relocated his family and business to a XXVIII century villa surrounded by a large tract of land situated in Bresso, right on the Milan city limit. Renzo and Marion put a lot of love and effort into restoring the classic mansion—which is known to this day as Villa Rivolta.
They also planted many new trees in the grounds of the existing estate to create a lovely area that later was dubbed the Renzo Rivolta Public Park, following the wishes of their son Piero. In line with the family’s industrialist nature, they built their new factory next to the park.
After WWII, the demand for new means of transport increased. Being a field that had attracted Renzo since his youth, he eagerly dedicated himself to building scooters, motorcycles, small vehicles, and then the famous Isetta Bubble Car. It was in this evolutionary period that the company name was shortened to simply 'Iso'.
In 1962, the time was ripe for a sports car venture, and so the first Gran Turismo, called the ISO Rivolta GT, was completed. It was based on a visionary concept for that time: a large displacement engine, powerful and reliable, combined with an exceptionally performing chassis resulted in a car that was pleasant and safe to drive, especially at high speeds.
Following that theme, in the mid '60s, Piero Rivolta - Renzo’s son - continued to produce exciting new models and decided to change the name of the company to ISO Rivolta, as a tribute to the first GT. In 1971, a new, more modern factory was built in the nearby town of Varedo. By that time, ISO Rivolta had become internationally famous among the most sophisticated car enthusiasts for their innovative approach in marrying Italian design with American powertrains, thus producing exceptional and reliable performance automobiles.
ISO Rivolta sports and racing models participated in some of the world's greatest motoring competitions, such as the 12 Hours of Sebring, the 1000 km of the Nürburgring, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and two seasons in the Formula 1 Championship under the Marlboro sponsorship.
(Thank you to ISO Rivolta doer the information)
Meant as a Christmas present for Piere Rivolta's wife Rachelle (LeLe) Rivolta,it was decided to put the car into production to succeed the IR 300. It was first presented to the public at the 1969 New York International Auto Show and was made to compete against the Lamborghini Espada.The car was initially powered by a 350 hp (261 kW) General Motors V8 and was available with a 4-speed manual (later a 5-speed unit from ZF Friedrichshafen) And a 4-speed automatic transmission sourced from General Motors. In 1972, after about 125 cars had been produced, General Motors demanded that Iso pay in advance for the engines.Iso chose to replace the Chevrolet engine with Ford's Cleveland V8 rated at 325 hp (242 kW). The automatic transmission was also sourced from Ford, while the manual transmission remained unchanged.
The chassis was the same Bizzarrini designed unit which had found use in Iso automobiles since the IR 300. It had an unequal-length double-wishbones front suspension with coil springs while the rear suspension consisted of a de Dion layout with a Salisbury axle unit. Disc brakes were used on all four wheels and were mounted inboard on the chassis.
Telescopic shock absorbers and coil springs completed the unit. The Lele came with a ZF power steering which was the same unit used by Maserati and Campagnolo alloy wheels, wrapped in 215/70 VP15 Michelin XWX tyres.
In 1973, the standard version (now known as Lele IR6) was joined by the Lele IR6 Sport, with an engine modified to generate 360 hp (268 kW) and only available mated to the ZF 5-speed transmission. The engine was based on two bespoke versions made for Iso-Marlboro Formula One team drivers Howden Ganley and Nanni Galli. The variant featured removal of sound deadening components, a new dashboard and engine modifications.
The angular Gandini styled body and the comfortable nature of the car did little to help sales and only 285 cars were made. About 160 Ford-enginedLeles had been built by the time production wound up in 1974 due to Iso's bankruptcy.
Following the agreement with Philip Morris that led to the creation of the Iso-Marlboro brand in Formula 1, Philip Morris commissioned Iso to construct two specially modified Lele's for their Formula 1 Team Drivers. Modified by Bizzarrini these two cars were stripped of creature comforts to reduce weight. The cars had subtle differences from each other and no car was identical. The cars, which were made for drivers Howden Ganley and Nanni Galli, had a unique dash layout that did not appear on any other Lele.
Painted in Marlboro Red with Marlboro badges on the front fenders Ganley's car debuted on the Iso Rivolta stand at the 1973 Geneva Auto Show. Galli's car was painted in white. The exterior styling cues from these two cars were used to develop the Lele Sport which also had a modified version of their dash layout.
Philip Morris also commissioned at least two more cars for promotional purposes to resemble the Marlboro cars given to its drivers, called the Marlboro Replicas. These cars were essentially Lele Sports with Marlboro badges on the fenders. They also retained the creature comforts removed from the original Marlboro cars.
A breakup of total production of 285 units is as follows:
This particular ISO Rivolta original right-hand drive Lele Sport has been in the current ownership Lele enthusiast for the past large number of years and comes with a very large carefully documented history file which shows how rare this car really is.
Due to the very extensive metal fabrication work that was carried out on the body and frame (with several hundred pictures) the owner can confidently state that there is absolutely no rust remaining anywhere on or in the car. Apart from the essential and mainly precautionary recommissioning work carried out, it has additionally had an engine rebuild, completely new clutch assembly, new rear light units and front side lights, all weather seals, all chrome replaced, new carpets, boot compartment retrimmed, and undoubtedly much muchmore, and the new Vredestein tyres have covered zero miles.
The emphasis on retaining originality extends to the engine, which has had no modifications or additions and, unusually it seems, still retains its original carburettor, intake manifold, and ignition system.
This car was manufactured in 1974, since when it has covered 34,880 miles.
Its original registration number of TML 373M has also been reinstated and the number plates display the correct period font and the originating dealer name "Van der Steen".
Article in Motorsort March 1974 written by Denis Jenkinson
The first time I became fully aware of an ISO Lele was back in the early part of last season when I got stuck behind a red one in a creeping crocodile of traffic travelling from Dijon to Geneva. Traffic in both directions was crawling along behind slow lorries or 2 c.v. Citroens and neither the driver of the Lele nor I in my E-Type Jaguar were making any headway at all. Reading the name ISO Rivolta Lele on the tail of the red car caused me to give some thought to it as we crept along, and slowly my brain worked and I remembered that the Frank Williams Racing Team had conjured up some sponsorship from ISO and Marlboro, thereby causing his racing cars to be called ISO-Marlboros, and I then recalled that Marlboro, the cigarette people, had given Lele Sport cars to the Williams team drivers, Howden Ganley and Nanni Galli, the publicity blurb referring to the cars as ISO-Marlboro Lele, which I felt was a bit hard on Mr. Rivolta who was making some bits for Frank Williams. The driver in the car in front of me was Howden Ganley and after some miles of this bad Monday-morning traffic I turned off down a country lane, with a map in one hand, and enjoyed some B to C motoring, leaving him to crawl along on the A to B route.
The firm of ISO (pronounce it Eee-zo) started in the wheeled world many years ago when scooters were all the rage in Italy and then progressed to the infamous Isetta bubble car, eventually emerging into the big car world with the Giotto Bizarrini-designed Chevrolet-powered Grifo. Recently the Rivolta family sold the firm to another Italian industrialist, by name Perra, and the operation moved from the Rivolta engineering works in the northern suburbs of Milan to Varedo, some 15 miles out in the country. Over the years the Grifo was refined and joined by a four-door version and then gave way to the present series which are powered by Ford. There are two versions of the Lele (pronounce it Lay-lee), the standard model and the Sport, while there is a longer wheelbase, four-door, four-seater sports saloon called the Fidea. All three models are powered by an American Ford “Cobra Jet” V8 engine of 5.76 litres giving a nominal 325 SAE horsepower, while the Sport version has this uprated to 360 American horsepower. These engines are 101.6 x 88.9 mm. bore and stroke, with an 8.6 to 1 compression ratio with pushrod o.h.v. and a rev.-limit of 5,800 r.p.m. and they gobble petrol at an alarming rate if used to the full. Transmission is optional, the choice being an automatic box or a ZF 5-speed manual box in unit with the engine. Front suspension is independent by unequal-length double-wishbones and coil springs, with an anti-roll bar and at the rear a de Dion layout is used, the Salisbury axle unit, like a Jaguar, with inboard disc brakes, is chassis mounted, with universally jointed driveshafts out to the wheels. Radius rods locate the de Dion tube fore-and-aft and sideways motion is resisted by a Panhard rod, while the springing medium is by coil springs and telescopic shock-absorbers. The power steering is by ZF, similar to that used by Maserati on the Indy and Ghibli, and the Lele runs on Michelin XWX tyres on 215/70 VP15 radial type, these being mounted on Campagnolo alloy wheels. The bodywork is designed by Bertone and made by ISO in their own factory, the body/chassis structure being in one.
While the firm has been changing hands in Italy so has the Concession in Great Britain and it has now passed into the energetic and enthusiastic hands of Nicholas Van Der Steen Ltd., of 72 Upper Thames Street, London EC4, their smart showrooms being on the north side of Southwark Bridge over the River Thames. Van Der Steen has an infectious enthusiasm for rare and expensive cars, deriving pleasure from selling such things as Daytona Ferraris, Maserati Boras, BMW CSL coupes, Lamborghinis and the complete ISO range; if you want exotic, he’s got it. The firm’s whole thinking is in the £10,000 range, which is around the figure the ISO models will sell at, and nobody thinks about fuel consumption, the price of petrol, or mundane things like insurance. It was from Nick Van Der Steen that I borrowed a yellowy-gold Lele Sport, with 5-speed ZF gearbox, lightweight bumpers, the minimum of unnecessary outward trim, and an airspoiler across the front below the radiator, and the 360 SAE rated engine. Although the Bertone body is a two-door coupe, there are four seats in the 2+2 idiom, access to the rear door being by tipping the front seats forward after pressing a bulge in the seat back. The front seats are very good indeed, providing good all-round location without any gimmicks, and the leather-bound Nardi steering wheel is adjustable in-and-out and up-and-down. Quite often when a car design is changed from left-side steering to right-side steering the driver suffers on gearchanging with a central lever, but in the ISO Lele he gains, for the ZF box has an H-pattern for 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th with the lever spring-loaded to 2nd and 3rd, while 1st is away from you and back, being very much a starting-off gear. As long as the wheels are rolling the big V8 picks up in 2nd with no strain at all. Reverse is opposite 1st which makes for easy to-and-fro movements in small spaces. In 2nd and 3rd gears the car is typical V8, with a lot of “rush” and not much result, but in 4th it really gets on its way and using a mere 5,000 r.p.m. it is all happening pretty quickly when you pull the little stumpy gear-lever back into 5th. A nice ambling 90 m.p.h, is achieved at a mere 3,000 r.p.m. in 5th gear and 125 m.p.h. cruising on the Autostrada would not strain the 5.76-litre engine. The wind-noise with everything closed up is commendably low, as is the engine noise, so that there is no strain on the driver whatsoever. The ZF steering is so good that you would not know if it was power-assisted and like the Maserati system it gives a nice feel.
The general handling characteristics at normal road-going performance, is pleasantly neutral, with a small degree of stabilising understeer on long, fast, sweeping bends. On tight bends, such as a roundabout, you can feel the de Dion layout taking control just when you think the rear is going to take up an attitude of roll like the front, and at this point you can accelerate hard without any drama whatsoever. In fact, the whole character of the Lele is that it has no particular character. It is a refined, luxurious and quiet means of transport that covers the ground quickly and effortlessly with no drama. It is one of the easiest high-performance cars to drive that I have come across, almost too easy in that it does not leave any impression other than being “nice and easy”. The ride is good, so that undulating secondary roads can be taken at any speed, there never being any feeling of the car “flying off the road”, though hump-back bridges can catch the suspension out, the front end giving a couple of flops, after the rear end has dealt with the situation.
The Bertone styling has a rather heavy looking rear three-quarter view and the large rear window looks a bit flat, but from the driver’s seat there is no problem over visibility, apart from the Continental wipers leaving an unwiped part of the windscreen in the vital right-hand corner. This, and one or two other interior details, are in the process of being put right for the British market, such as re-positioning the switches for the electric windows, improving the sun visors, changing the rather bizarre Italian carpet colour for something more appropriate to the interior styling, and dimming the warning lights for the rear window heater and the air blower. In front of the driver are large speedometer and tachometer, with the oil pressure gauge between them, and away on the passenger side of the facia, but angled towards the driver, are four matching dials reading Amps, Water temperature, oil temperature and petrol in the 22-gallon tank. If the water temperature rises in heavy traffic a thermostatically-controlled electric radiator-fan switches on, and if that is not enough a second fan can be switched on manually. The four headlamps are only partially covered by hinged “eye-lids” which raise up when the lamps are switched on, but in daylight with the lids down there is sufficient area of lamp showing to allow instant “flashing” from the left-hand stalk on the steering column.
Driven fast or slow the Lele Sport presents no problems at all, and there is nothing that you have to get used to, or make allowances for, as with some high-performance or specialist cars. Although it is an amalgam of engineering from America, Germany, Britain, France and Italy, clothed in Italian coachwork it seems to be a highly successful amalgam. In the specialist market it would seem to fall between the way-out exotics like Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini, and the good, large production cars of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar. It is not a car that attracts attention, like an Espada, while you won’t see one on every street corner, and there are no “peasant’s models” as with BMW. It could well appeal to those who want something different but not startling, and a testdrive in one would not disappoint such an individual.—D.S.J.