Mix Breed: 1973 Iso Rivolta Lele

1973 Iso Lele

A few years back Jesse and I had the pleasure of attending the events of automotive week in Pebble Beach. The entire weekend was fantastic, but one event stood out above all the rest for me, the Concorso Italiano. While I was wandering through all the Italian cars I came across a marque that I had only ever heard of, but never actually seen in person. The Iso Rivolta Motor Company was best known for creating the Isetta, but they also built a number of other extremely beautiful cars. When I spotted this Iso Lele here on eBay, I was rather excited to have found one of these rare machines. You rarely find these on American soil, even though they are powered by an American V8. So it isn’t surprising that this one is currently located in Europe.

Iso Rivolta Lele

To be completely honest, the Lele isn’t the most attractive member of the Iso family, which seems rather ironic given that the car was named after the owner Piero Rivolta’s wife. Bertone was commissioned to come up with the design for the Lele and after their previous work designing the Grifo, it seemed like a good choice. The only problem being that Giorgetto Giugiaro left Bertone a few years before the Lele was designed. With Marcello Gandini in charge of designs, the Lele ended up looking less like an Iso and more like a Urraco or a Dino. It’s still a beautiful car, but it just isn’t as attractive as earlier Isos.

Iso Lele Engine

Iso wasn’t a particularly large company, so developing and manufacturing their own engines was out of the question. Rather than turning to one of their Italian competitors, Iso looked to America. While the V12’s coming out of Italy were incredible, they were also fragile and demanded considerable maintenance. American built V8s were just as powerful, plentiful, and incredibly easy to work on. The Lele was initially powered by GM’s 327, which was tuned to put out 300 hp for automatic cars and 350 hp for manuals. Later cars would receive either a GM 350 or a Ford 351, both of which were tuned to produce similar power as the 327. By 1972, the majority of Leles received the Ford unit, making this car an interesting mystery. It’s possible that it is one of the few ’73s to receive the Chevy 350, but having a manual transmission should mean the engine was tuned to produce 350 horses. Perhaps the seller just listed the wrong power output, maybe the transmission was changed at a later time, or maybe the original owner ordered it with the detuned engine?

Iso Lele Interior

Overall, this car is in nice shape, although it could use some work. The interior looks to be in great shape and the seller claims it is all original. The engine bay looks clean and the seller states the engine runs great, they go as far as to say it is nearly perfect mechanically. It looks to have been properly maintained, but even if it hadn’t been it’s just a run of the mill Chevy V8! While the drivetrain might be perfect, the body isn’t. It is straight and the paint looks decent, but a careful inspection of the rockers and lower quarters reveals some poor quality repair work was done at some point.

Iso Lele

I will never forget seeing the Iso Rivolta’s at the Concorso Italiano and how I fell in love with their looks. Of all the high end Italian cars I saw that weekend, they were the only ones I could ever actually see myself buying. They offer all the flair and style of a Ferrari or a Lamborghini, but with an engine that you can work on yourself and that you can get parts for at your local parts store. Talk about the perfect balance! While I would rather have a Grifo or a Rivolta IR, I would still take this Lele. So would you rather have a thoroughbred Italian or an American powered Italian like this Iso?

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Comments

  1. scot

    ~ As you point out, Josh, not the prettiest Iso, but that’s a high bar to clear.

  2. Brian

    Looks like this one is sold now, but give me a mid sixties Iso Rivolta with that flowing body style, so much like a bigger version of a old Jag XJ6 sedan, but better!

  3. AMdeFM

    “It’s possible that it is one of the few ’73s to receive the Chevy 350”

    per the auction description: one of the early cars built in 1970 and registered in 1973.

    Mystery solved.

  4. Clay Bryant

    Looks like a baby Lambo Espada but the Chevy drivetrain makes it a good one for maintainance.Would rather tune this one.This one still “stands out in the pasture”with the mares.

  5. Robert J

    Looks like $60k well spent to me.

  6. John

    When they were new, I spent as much time examining the photos of the Iso Rivolta as I did the latest playmate of the month.

    The Iso has never left my mind. I can’t remember who the playmAte was. But I’d bet the Iso has aged better.

  7. jim s

    i do not think i have ever seen one in person but would love to. with the manual trans it sure would be fun to drive.

  8. Dan Strayer

    I wish I still had the Iso catalog that I sent for as a 12-year-old in 1968. Iso had a brief feature in Popular Mechanics magazine, and even at that age I was impressed by the Italian styling w/American power.

    The American office sent me a beautiful catalog and a very nice typewritten letter.

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