Collectible Classic: Iso Grifo

A. J. Mueller

Schorr knows the car well, not surprising given that he's owned it for forty-one years. "I had allotted $10,000 to buy myself a toy," he recalls. "A Ferrari 275GTB/4 and a Mercedes Gullwing were two cars that I wanted. For $10,000 in 1969, you could buy either of those in decent condition. But [after looking at a few] I realized I didn't know anyone to take care of them for me."

Then Schorr, who at the time was the editor of Hi-Performance Cars magazine, was offered an Iso Grifo to drive for a story. "It had a 427 in place of the standard engine. I could not believe how fast this thing was-and how well mannered."

Schorr's car came equipped with a 340-hp, 327-cubic-inch Chevy V-8. Tall 3.07:1 gearing gave the Grifo a 150-plus-mph top speed on the autostrada, but he was driving the car from Long Island to his office in Manhattan. Over drinks in New York, he told Corvette chief engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov about the Grifo. "Not to worry," said Duntov, and shortly thereafter a 1970 370-hp, 350-cubic-inch LT1 engine arrived from Chevrolet. It was fitted with a different camshaft, a Holley carburetor, and Edelbrock headers and was installed at Long Island's Motion Performance.

That same engine starts easily and idles happily under the Grifo's aluminum hood today. Easing the car onto the street, I am amazed at how easy the clutch is to modulate, with short travel and moderate effort. The LT1 pulls so smoothly from low revs that you hardly need to shift, but it's worth doing anyway just to enjoy the positive action of the close-ratio T10 four-speed as it snick-snicks through the gears. The unassisted steering is slow, but there's no slop and it's very communicative; the wheel, though, is a long reach away. An unfussy American powertrain and well-engineered chassis make the Iso Grifo an Italian sophisticate that's easy to drive.

It may be easy to drive and easy on the eyes, but it's not so easy to find one nowadays. Schorr found his Grifo in 1969 at a New Jersey Chevrolet dealer who also sold Iso vehicles. It was listed as a '67 model (although the low serial number correctly marks it as a '66); it was under a cover and had never been registered. The dealer had ordered it for his wife, but when she discovered that it had a stick shift and no air-conditioning, she said no thanks. The window sticker was more than $14,000.

"I offered them $5000," he says. "They threw me off the lot."

When he came back and offered $7500, a deal was made. Needless to say, it's worth considerably more now. Grifo prices start at more than $100,000, but as an early-build car with less than 13,000 miles and one-owner provenance, not to mention the period-upgraded powertrain, this example would likely bring considerably more.

Not that it's for sale.

"My kids grew up with it being at the house," says Schorr. "It's become part of the family."

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