My Car Quest

June 26, 2019

Lost And Found: The Bizzarrini Manta

by Wallace Wyss –

Rule 1, when you are founding your own car design firm, is to make a dramatic-as-all-hell show car and I think the Bizzarrini Manta qualifies. This was Giorgetto Giugiaro’s strategy when he started his own design firm, ItalDesign.

It was basically a car created by one engineering genius and went to another who was a genius in styling. The first genius was Giotto Bizzarrini, who created a number of front engine cars, in the ‘60s, which went into production first as the Iso Grifo A3C and A3L and then some front engine versions under his own name and finally a few mid-engined ones, the P538. All of which used an American-as-apple-pie 327 Chevy V8 (except one P538 had a Lamborghini V12 which Bizzarrini designed for Lamborghini).

Bizzarrini Manta

This was just when Ford was spending millions to put the 289 Ford powered mid engined GT40 on the track. With resources only a fraction of what Ford was pouring into LeMans, Bizzarrini was making cars that were competitive on the track.

You would think GM, which had a not-invented-here attitude toward sponsoring racing, would slip him some money under the table to run the cars but they already had Jim Hall of Texas running the Chaparrals, but that was a real low budget operation (think I saw one picture where Hall hauled the car around Europe on an open trailer pulled by a pickup truck).

Bizzarrini Manta

Bizzarrini Manta

The P538 supposed started with Lamborghini V12 power. It was only the third one, P538-003 that got a highly tweaked Corvette V-8, true iron block, and pushrod, but looking formidable with a quarter of Weber side-draft carburetors. The frame was lightweight tubing, the gearbox a ZF five-speed transaxle, the suspension independent all the way around and brakes four wheel discs.

Bizzarrini Manta and Monteverdi Hai 450SS Prototype

Bizzarrini arranged to get it entered at LeMans, as a Scuderia Bizzarrini works entry with two Swiss pilots, Edgar Berney and Andre Wicky. There was a bit of panic when the car turned left coming off the line when the traffic was heading right but they straightened that out and recorded some competitively impressive lap times.

But as often happens, a mistake during a pit stop can cripple you in the race and this time, jacking the car up wrong, they cracked a radiator pipe. It lost coolant, overheated and was out of the race after only one hour. A front engine Bizzarrini was also out of the race for an illegal pit stop. The mid-engine Bitz was run one more time finishing 4th overall at a small Italian hillclimb.

Then the CSI came out with new rules that said you had to have 25 cars built to qualify for homologation so the P538 was out of contention. Bizzarrini thought, well, maybe I can sell it as a street car.

Now some accounts say that this is where he bodied the car for the street for a Duke in Italy. But I have seen pictures of the white coupe at Pebble Beach in recent years, at a time when the Manta was still out and about so I doubt that the Duke’s car became the Manta. When questioned about which chassis it was, neither Giugiaro or Bizzarrini could remember. Ironically the Duke’s wife supposedly put the kibosh on him racing the car.

Bizzarrini Manta

That was about the time Giugiaro was starting ItalDesign and designed the very dramatic Bizzarrini coupe which he called the Manta, a name used earlier by GM on a concept car (Manta Ray).

Bizzarrini Manta

If any car put Giugiaro’s new design biz on the map it was this car, which he designed and built in a mere 40 days. One thing that makes the car so unusual is the windscreen angle, just 15 deg., dramatic yes, hard to see out of yes.

The interior was a little controversial, sort of an aqua with red trim. The interior, copying Ferrari’s 3-seater 365P concept car, had the steering wheel in the middle with the instruments all around it, circling the center of the wheel.

Bizzarrini Manta

After making its debut at the ’68 Turin show it got the cover of Road & Track so it wasn’t long before Giugiaro’s ItalDesign was known as much as carrozzerias that had been around for decades.

Bizzarrini Manta on cover of Road & Track

After the Turin Show, the car went back to Giugiaro who repainted it red, often done to get more “life” out of a show car, but then went to Japan for a show and then to LA for the 1969 Ric McBride and Bob Topaz produced Auto Expo, then the happening auto show .

LOST IN TRANSIT

You know how when you are doing a lot of International travels, one of your suitcases gets lost? Well, it’s a little worse when you lose a whole car. But the car was going back to Italy and somehow disappeared. The next time anybody saw it, it was just another car for sale at the Port of Genoa customs auction. Now you have to ask why didn’t Giugiaro go and buy it back? Because his new company was just getting off the ground he didn’t have time to go over and mess with retrieving what was “last year’s car.”

Bizzarrini Manta

Fortunately the man that bought it, Giovanni Giordanengo of Cuneo, was an enthusiast, He took the car to a restoration shop that has made a name for restoring Bizzarrinis, Carrozzeria SD, founded by Salvatore Diomante, Bizzarrini’s former production line foreman.

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The car was restored, and bought in October of 1982, by Ulf Larsson of Switzerland in 1988. About this time it’s “daddy” so to speak, Giugiaro, got to see his long lost child again when the owner gladly lent it for ItalDesign’s 20th anniversary celebration. It was repainted silver in honor of the special occasion.

Then ten years later it went to ItalDesign’s 30th anniversary and a special display at the Turin Motor Show. Then the car came to America a few years later when Texas collector Alfredo Brener bought the car. He decided to bring it back to the aqua color of the 1968 Turin Motor Show. Then it was sold to the well known Bizzarrini collector Ron Spindler in March 2005, appearing that same year at Pebble Beach, where it won first in class in a class for “Chevrolet Small Block with European Coachwork” category.

Bizzarrini Manta

Eventually the car went to an auction. This would be the test as to whether it was in same category as a Ferrari concept car, for instance like the Tre Posti. In 2012, Gooding & Company rolled it across the stage at the Pebble Beach, auction where it was estimated to sell for between $1,000,000 – $1,500,000. But no buyer surpassed the reserve so it didn’t sell.

The car continues to impress bystanders wherever it is shown and continues to complement its original designer, who recently passed his 80th birthday and is still designing cars….

Read The Bizzarrini Manta by ItalDesign – The Brochure here.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

Wallace Wyss

 
 
 
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is the author of 18 car histories. As a fine artist, he reports he is working on a commissioned painting of a car for an owner. Write mendoart7@gmail if you want information on commissioning your car’s portrait.

 
 
 
 

All photos and scans by Mike Gulett.

Bizzarrini Manta Logo


Summary
Lost And Found: The Bizzarrini Manta
Article Name
Lost And Found: The Bizzarrini Manta
Description
The dramatic Bizzarrini Manta was the first design by ItalDesign, Giorgetto Giugiaro's new design firm after he left Bertone.
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Comments

  1. Nice article, here’s a very rare photograph from my archive. Manta in red!

  2. wallace wyss says

    I think the car’s failure to sell at auction was partly because of the aqua color (with red trim!) . It looks so much better in silver. I still think the”silver” would have been an authorized color because Giugiaro I think redid it in silver for the owner, so it could appear at his shop’s 25th Anniversary, so it was officially applied by its creator, though it was 25 years later.

  3. SKIP HINOJOS says

    I SAT IN THIS CAR WHEN IT WAS AT THE LOS ANGELS CAR SHOW, BACK IN THE DAY. HOW THE HELL CAN ANYONE MISPLACE LET ALONE LOSE A CAR LIKE THIS???

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