The story of this Italian sports car begins, oddly enough, with Isothermos, an Italian refrigerator manufacturer founded in Genoa Italy in 1939. The company was taken over in 1942 by Renzo Rivolta, a car-crazy engineer and industrialist who soon ended refrigerator production and moved the company to Bresso, Italy where they began production of high-quality motorcycles. Isomotos, as they were known, were very well-built bikes with excellent performance, and despite being rather more expensive than the competition, proved popular with the Italian public. While motorcycles were critical in getting war-torn Italy back on wheels, buyers needed something more practical for year round use and runs to the shops. The solution came in the form of the Iso Isetta bubble car, a cheap, simple three (or four, depending on year and spec) wheeled micro car with a motorbike engine and room for two adults and some groceries. The Isetta was a moderate success in the home market, but it was Rivolta’s decision to sell the design rights to other companies that proved his biggest stroke of genius. Most notably, BMW produced a version of the Isetta that became one of the most popular microcars in Germany, exactly what the physically and economically devastated nation needed post-war.
Renzo Rivolta’s business acumen afforded him the cash he needed to move decidedly upmarket with a line of elegant and stylish GT cars to take on the likes of Ferrari and Maserati. His new cars utilized Italian designed chassis and bodies built by the legendary Carrozerria of the day, but to save on development costs, he utilized affordable and reliable American V8 horsepower, first from Chevrolet, and later from Ford. After Renzo’s death in 1966, his son Piero took over operations and continued to expand upon his father’s dream by adding additional models and even making a moderately successful foray into motorsport.
The Lele (named for Piero’s wife Lele Rivolta) debuted in 1969 as part of a three-car lineup that included the 2-seat Grifo and the four-door Fidia with the four-seat GT Lele positioned between the two. The Lele was Piero Rivolta’s answer to the Lamborghini Espada, Maserati Mexico and the Ferrari 365 2+2; a uniquely styled GT coupe which bore more than a passing resemblance to the Espada, particularly in the long and dramatic fastback roofline and slightly chunky proportions. This is hardly coincidence as both cars were styled by Bertone at about the same time. From 1969 through 1972, the Lele was powered by Chevrolet’s 327 and 350 V8 engines. From 1972 through the company’s demise in 1974, the cars utilized the big Ford 351 Cleveland engine. Regardless of the power plant, the Lele proved a formidable competitor in the GT car class, delivering excellent performance and handling in a stylish and distinct body. Approximately 260 examples were produced through all series until Iso closed its doors in 1974, making them exceedingly rare and desirable today.
This fine example is chassis 50.0087, a 1971 model equipped from new with Chevrolet’s 350 cubic inch, 300 horsepower engine backed by a 5-speed manual transmission. Finished in white over a rich dark red leather cabin, this is an extremely well-maintained and highly original car that has never been fully restored. It is crisp and stylish in its white paintwork, which is a very high quality respray. The Bertone-styled bodywork is straight and tidy, with excellent panel gaps and nice, sharp feature lines. Fine details abound, such as the double-hash vents behind the wheels, and the distinct half-covered headlamps that recall other famous Bertone designs such as the Lamborghini Espada, Jarama, and Alfa Romeo Montreal. Chrome trim is used sparingly, on the bumpers, window trims and in delicate strips along the sills, all of which presents in excellent condition. The car rides on the signature, funky knock-off alloy wheels cast by Campagnolo for Iso.
The luxurious four-place cabin is trimmed in dark red leather which is in lovely original condition, having taking on a warm and welcoming patina. The leather has been very well cared-for, and remains supple and free of excessive wear or damage. Dark red carpets are also excellent and likely original, as are the door and interior quarter panels and the ivory headliner. Switchgear is all in good order, and the original Personal steering wheel, Jaeger clock, and Becker Grand Prix AM/FM stereo remain in place and in great condition.
Importantly, the Iso Lele is a very well sorted and soundly engineered automobile that returns fabulous performance from the stout and reliable Chevrolet small-block V8. The Chevy engine is backed by a sophisticated 5-speed ZF gearbox which allows the V8 to stretch its legs, giving the Lele continent-crushing ability, even with four passengers aboard. The engine is tidy and well-detailed, showing signs of regular and professional maintenance, even retaining the original quilted hood insulation pad. This Lele runs and drives beautifully, emitting a glorious growl that is part American muscle, part Italian sophisticate. This rare and stylish Iso Lele is a wonderful and well-sorted example in very desirable specifications that benefits from many years of attentive care, now ready for its next keeper to fully enjoy.
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