My Car Quest

September 19, 2019

Iso Fidia: For One Shining Moment, The Fastest Four Doors In The World

by Wallace Wyss –

Iso was an Italian automaker which sprang from making refrigerators to making small city cars (the Isetta) to making luxury GT cars, the first the Rivolta GT.

The first Rivolta four seater was designed by wunderkind Giorgetto Giugiaro when he was with Bertone, but time has not been so friendly to its design so it’s one that I judge not worthy of the adjective “timeless.”

Not so a later creation, the Iso Fidia (or Iso Rivolta Fidia), initially marketed as the Iso Rivolta S4. Unlike the Rivolta it was a four-door sedan also designed by Giugiaro when he was with Ghia. It was made from 1967 to 1975. First rolled out at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1967, it was the firm’s only only four-door model. They were a little slow getting it out on the market, and it wasn’t until a year later that it was being shipped to various markets. In February 1969 the “S4” name was changed to Fidia in reference to some Greek sculptor named Phidias.

Iso Fidia brochure

The car had polished wood inside and hand tooled leather. It was aimed at the same market buying Maserati Quattroportes and Ferrari four seaters. It didn’t hurt that one of the first customers was a rocker you mighta heard of, John Lennon, in a band named after some insects. Followed by a domestic mop-top, Sonny Bono.

John Lennon and his Iso Fidia

John Lennon and his Iso Fidia

The car had a redesign while still in production, with a leather dash not wood, and re-arrangement of the instruments.

It started with a 327 cu. in. Chevrolet V8 engine, which made it a hot accelerator (0-60 mph in 7 seconds) but some skulduggery on the part of a rival auto builder (I was told Bitter) got them in trouble with the General and GM, after 1973, wanted payment in advance, just at a time when Iso was coping with trying to adapt models for the new US emissions and safety laws.

So Iso switched over to the more accommodating FoMoCo, using the 351, oops Ford 5.8 liter V8, mated to Ford’s ‘Cruise-O-Matic’ automatic gear box or a ZF 5-speed manual.

Ya think a car with a cheap-as-dirt engine to fix as the Ford V8 would outsell the Maserati Quattroporte, but no, the Maser still outsold the Fidia. Sales dwindled to 15 cars in 1971 , had a brief up-spurt to 21 in 1972 and then down to 20 in 1973 before they gave up on it. In the meantime on the world market they had DeTomaso’s Deauville to contend with another car that was Italian design, Italian bodied and Ford V8 engine. The grand sum of Fidias built was 192 cars.

1973 Iso Fidia

DeTomaso had the advantage of Ford Motor Co buying him out by buying Ghia and importing his Panteras, which were US legal, so he had a source of income to allow him to sell cars in the rest of the world.

I knew a salesman, Dan Ward, back in the ‘70s, who drove about his daily rounds in Los Angeles in a blue Fidia and I thought he made a memorable choice. He also later had a Ferrari 400i, but methinks the Fidia would have been cheaper to keep going and you would likely never encounter another one on the road.

Now my design critique. (For those who haven’t read them, I know you want to ask: “What good does it do now—they can’t go back and change it.” But I think a car is worth reviewing to figure out why it became a timeless design.)

FRONT: The least distinctive view. It looks better with squarish headlights that were on some of them. The delicate band across the screen grille is needed, without it the car looks so anonymous. The shape of the front end lends credibility to the rumor that the Mangusta was designed as a “companion car” for the four door Fidia, as it has the same front shape.

Iso Fidia

Iso Fidia

Iso Fidia

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SIDE: Having the side window bottom line a couple inches below the windshield line was a great idea, it makes the car look low slung. The side is the car’s best view, a world class design, particularly the C-pillar. The gradual rise of the bottom window line in the rear door is a stroke of brilliance, it makes the back of the car look more powerful. The roof vents on the C-pillars and side air exhaust vents on the front fenders are also notable because the designer resisted surrounding either with chrome, giving a more powerful look. The wheels, mags, were also quite distinctive having that “flattened” spoke look that adds a lot of character to the car. Am I the only one that thinks the Ford four door Maverick might have been influenced by this design as it has a similar roofline though every detail aspect is hopelessly clumsy by comparison to the Iso.

Iso Fidia

The Iso Fidia Arrives in Norway

REAR: The downward slant of the rear deck lid is well done, echoed by the Ferrari 365GT4 2-plus-2 in 1972. The taillights, alas, look like they are from some Alfa parts bin, a common failing in European sports cars where they borrow from the shelves where an existing taillamp will do.

1973 Iso Fidia

INTERIOR: Hate the binnacle with two gauges under the wood steering wheel but I am always a sucker for unlabeled toggle switches, a la early XKE, because it makes you look like a jet pilot that only you, the driver, know what each switch is for.

Iso Fidia interior

IN SUM… It is a timeless classic, at least the side view could be revived. Giugiaro’s still around, still designing so there’s hope. Meanwhile the old Fidias are being brought out of barns and being fixed up…four doors are in.

Iso Fidia

Iso Fidia under restoration – by Maurice Mentens

Iso Fidia

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

Wallace Wyss

 
 
 
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss has been a guest lecturer on car design history at the Art Center College of Design. He will be selling his fine art at Concorso Italiano at Monterey in August.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Iso Fidia brochure

Iso Fidia Road & Track

Summary
Iso Fidia: For One Shining Moment, The Fastest Four Doors In The World
Article Name
Iso Fidia: For One Shining Moment, The Fastest Four Doors In The World
Description
The car had polished wood inside and hand tooled leather. It was aimed at the same market buying Maserati Quattroportes and Ferrari four seaters. It didn’t hurt that one of the first customers was a rocker you mighta heard of, John Lennon...
Author

Comments

  1. Alex Vazeos says

    Ah, one of the coolest 4-door sedans ever made. I own a gorgeous RHD one, I plan on selling it in the coming months, if any of you has a interest in such a car, I will gladly share all details.

    Feel free to contact me : scuderiapiccolino@yahoo.com

    Alex Vazeos

  2. Peter Heimann says

    I like Mr. Wyss‘s writing style and he clearly has a historian‘s knowledge on 20th century automobiles. But I strenuously beg to differ with his opinion on the original Iso Rivolta, certainly the most underrated 4 passenger GT out there. I‘m sorry, but in my humble opinion very few cars have been designed with such a combination of understated elegance and power. The Fidia appears a bit of a clunker by comparison. C‘mon guys….pile on :)!

  3. wallace wyss says

    Maybe the Rivolta’s design cues were copied by so many cars it is lost: in the forest where I think the Fidia is a stronger statement and thus deserves a re-looking at. as a collector car. I have seen a Rivolta being raced at Monterey but don’t know if anybody has ever made a race car out of a Fidia.

  4. morris glasser says

    As the proud long time owner of a 1971 Fidia (129) I believe it looks great from any angle,and more importantly is far superior a driver to comparable Italian and English sedans of the period. I think dark color exteriors suit it more favorably however

  5. Buddy Pepp says

    I believe the collector car community would overwhelmingly agree that Giugiaro’s Rivolta is a timeless design that, over time, will be regarded as one of the most beautiful and stylish four place vehicles ever designed. The Fidia is a good looking four door touring car that is “attractive” but will never be one of the most beautiful four door designs.

    For the past couple of decades Iso automobiles have dramatically gained respect and popularity with automobile enthusiasts. Grifo values are in the stratosphere and Rivoltas are becoming very collectible. My guess is that by 2025 Rivoltas will command at least three times the prices of Fidias even though there were 799 Rivoltas and only 192 Fidias.
    Thanks Wally for your continued interest in the Iso family of vehicles.
    Buddy Pepp

  6. Wayne Watkins says

    The Fidia’s tail lights are not out of Alfa parts bin , but are from a Fiat AC Coupe of the late 60’s . Often Ferrari in those days used many Fiat parts , including even keys , locks , door handles and other bits . Fiat now own Ferrari , so I guess it still happens , just as Maserati use cheap Jeep bits for their cars .

  7. Diamonte Randal says

    I saw that dark color Fidia at Concorso a few years ago, and I must say it was the nicest Fidia I have ever seen. Maurice seems to have a corner on all the top Iso’s! A friend of mine saw his copper colored Grifo 405 in Malibu recently, and he said it looks like it just drove off the showroom floor, a real time capsule with 6k miles, unreal..

    • Diamonte, here is a picture of Grifo 405 in Malibu. Indeed, when I got it it had clocked 5970 miles. However it didn’t look like this yet, it needed a sympathetic “restoration” but my goal was to not actually renew parts of this car. I did put new tires and rear mufflers to make the engine breath a bit more though, but that’s it. I just had the paint treated by the great Bill Larzelier, it is now in it’s last test stages and will have the distinction of being the lowest mileage, most original and authentic Iso Grifo in existence.

      Picture copyright by Ted7.

  8. SKIP HINOJOS says

    I JUST MISSED BUYING A FIDIA, BUY ONE DAY, ABOUT 20 YEARS AGO. RATS!!

  9. Cecilia Sullivan-Grant says

    NZ – My dad had one- dark blue, loved it. Didn’t scream look at me look at me so only those who knew picked what it was. Beautiful to drive, only thing I didn’t like was it was an auto.

  10. wallace wyss says

    Designers sometimes use the phrase “color sensitive” meaning, I think, some cars look great in one color but terrible in another.Lately I’ve seen an Iso Grifo long nose 351 in a beautiful copper but the same car in white would “bland out.” I agree the Fidia looks best in a dark color like dark blue. But then you wonder, there’s been many hues developed since, maybe an Iso would look good in one of those, but once you veer off the maker’s color chart you are devaluing the car as far as the purists and are starting down the road many Pantera owners went , so much so that an original one is hard to find.

  11. With less than 200 Fidia’s made, it makes you wonder how many have survived? I know that were not many imported into the US, so it seems like at current prices there is plenty of room for these cars to improve in the future. I personally like the auto in this car better as it is more a sedan, and less of a coupe.

    I would be interested in buying a top level car if I could find the right one, but they are VERY hard to find in great condition.

  12. Thank you Mike! What an incredible collection! I will let them know you referred me if I proceed..

  13. wallace wyss says

    Addressing Peter Heimann’s comment: car design has its cycles. When the Iso Rivolta was designd it was curves, but when the Fidia was designed it was a celebration of flat planes and curves. The Mangusta was a no-holds-barred car, impractical as hell, but an unsullied design statement. The Fidia, necessarily, is more compromised but still brought something to the table–flat planes melded into curves. Four door sedans are dying now because so few look good and SUVs and crossovers are more functional. But the Fidia showed a four door sedan could be stylish. It was more of a groundbreaker than the Rivolta.

  14. Hi Wallace, when we talked in Malibu last week you didn’t mention you were going to write an article about S4/Fidias! I now have two in my shop and clients have all kinds of opinions about the design. Most people who see them first (90% of clients) find the C-pillar treatment awkward. I did too at first. However when you look at the body lines Giorgetto Giugiaro came up with one can truly see his genius – especially in the sides as you stated correctly.

    That rear door, with that unique kick-up in it: it solves both the trunk line and the front door continuation in the most masterful manner. It also makes both the rear trunk area very light (which is not the case in for instance a Isorivolta Lele) and incorporates it into the overall body – which is not the case in it’s competitor Quattroporte where the trunk looks like a stuck on piece. In the Fidia it is an extension of the whole body. Also, if he had kept the rear door beltline straight it had looked like that line “missed” the rear body lines where the trunk lid line flows directly into the brake heat extractors in the quarter panels. He “missed” nothing there. The sharp horizontal line is instrumental to get away from the massive side look the Quattroporte has, which looks like a big boat compared to this nimble Fidia. Which is; of course a very massive car in itself but Giugiaros penstrokes made that disappear. I might be biased (yes I am 😉 but to me this is THE best executed 4 door exotic I know of.

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