The Bizzarrini 5300 GT Is One of the Most Beautiful Race Cars in the World

It’s a car as dramatic as its name implies.

Conner GoldenWriter, PhotographerMichael ShafferPhotographer

Double Z, double R—there may not be a more romantic-sounding historical automotive marque than Bizzarrini, so it's a damn good thing the hundred or so cars the Italian automaker produced in the 1960s are as stupendously dramatic as the name. Despite the brand's relative obscurity, the name sticks with you. Sometime during my childhood, my family and I found ourselves in some dusty car museum while on a road trip. I don't remember anything about the location, the museum's name, or the other contents of the collection beyond a mysterious sports car that was both bright red and wildly attractive. I do recall that for the remainder of the road trip, I periodically mouthed the name I saw on the display placard: Bizzarrini.

 

This memory came flooding back when I recently stumbled on a red competition-spec Bizzarrini 5300 GT, a sibling car to the stunning coupe I saw before. Situated in one of the wooden paddock bays at the Goodwood Revival, I was able to stick my nose in every nook and cranny of the 5300 GT.

Despite its exotic-sounding name and its cars' aesthetics, the Bizzarrini brand had a bit of a tumultuous history. Its namesake is Giotto Bizzarrini, a brilliant automotive engineer who made quite the name for himself at Alfa Romeo and Ferrari. At the latter, he would serve as one of the chief forces behind the 250 Testa Rossa, 250 GT SWB, and the 250 GTO (which was just legally named a work of art)—no less than three of the most revered and highly valued cars on the planet.

Unfortunately for Ferrari, Bizzarrini took his talents elsewhere in 1961 as part of the infamous "Palace Revolt" that saw the departure of a key group of engineers and managers. This defection resulted in the founding of the short-lived Automobili Turismo e Sport (ATS), one of the great "almost was" automotive companies, as it was on a path to challenge Ferrari in terms of engineering excellence. However, after an unsuccessful run at Formula 1 and the failure of the cutting-edge but expensive ATS 2500 GT sports car, Bizzarrini moved on.

Soon after, a certain Ferruccio Lamborghini commissioned Bizzarrini to design an engine for his new company; the resulting 3.5-liter V-12 would stay in production in some fashion until 2010, when it was replaced with a new engine in the Aventador.

Finally, Bizzarrini found a home with Renzo Rivolta and Iso automobiles. After developing the famed Iso Grifo road car, Bizzarrini took the Iso nameplate racing with a heavily modified Grifo A3/C and took first in its class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in both 1964 and 1965. Just like the roadgoing Grifo, the competition-spec A3/C utilized a modified Chevrolet Corvette drivetrain, although the A3/C packed a race-ready 5.3-liter (327ci) Corvette V-8 that provided all the reliability and outright muscle needed to win the legendary endurance race.

After these two incredible successes, Bizzarrini was hungry for more racing, but Rivolta wasn't interested. The resulting conflict saw Bizzarrini split off into his own brand, retaining the design of the A3/C in return for allowing Iso to continue the use of the Grifo name, as somehow Bizzarrini owned the rights to the latter.

Armed with his impeccable resume and the rights to a fully developed race car, Bizzarrini prepared the A3/C for road duty by installing a full leather interior and other luxurious niceties requisite of that era's best grand-touring sports cars and opened the order books. Paralyzingly beautiful and impeccably engineered, the resulting Bizzarrini 5300 GT Strada is to my eyes the most dramatic example of a classic Italian-American hybrid, combining the relative reliability and world-beating performance of the Chevrolet 327 in a sultry Italian shell.

Of course, Bizzarrini never stopped racing, and the competizione-spec 1966 5300 GT seen here was one of his attempts to reclaim Le Mans glory. Built in 1965, chassis number BA4 0106 is the lone right-hand-drive 5300 GT to leave the factory floor, and it made its motorsports debut at the 1966 1000 KM of Monza, where according to previous owner/consignor Fiskens, it retired early due to a lack of rain tires when the weather turned foul. Two weeks later, the car retired from a promising Targa Florio run with a blown head gasket.

Le Mans was next. Sam Posey and Massimo Natili charged around the famed circuit until the team was disqualified "for crossing the 'pit wall' line two laps in a row." An attempted return to the Le Mans grid in 1967 was unsuccessful, as the coupe failed the FIA's rigorous scrutineering. That failure was all the more a shame, as the 1967-spec BA4 0106 was powered by a massive 7.0-liter (427ci) V-8.

After the company Bizzarrini went bankrupt in 1971, the car was sold without its 427 and promptly put into storage for 34 years. After reemerging in early 2000s, the car underwent a full restoration and is now a regular competitor on the international vintage-racing scene.

Seeing a 5300 GT outside of a climate-controlled garage is an experience; seeing one thunder down the main straight of a racing circuit makes you break out in goosebumps. Watching trackside at Goodwood, I found myself once again, as on that road trip so many years ago, mouthing the wild-sounding name of a stunning red sports car.