This feature appears in Auto Italia - Issue 124
"Not a lot of people know what it is,"
says Barry Twitchell as we stand admiring his 1971 Grifo.
"Most of them think it’s a Ferrari. There was this sharp
young bloke who came wandering up at the Brooklands Auto
Italia event this year; he looked like a footballer, I
thought, and he had this nine out of ten bird in tow who
fell in love with the car at first sight. "They walked round
it slowly a couple of times and finally he comes up to me
and says, ‘What is it?’ and before I could answer, he says,
‘She loves the style, especially the colour; I’ll give you
90 grand for it. I’ll write a cheque now.’"
Barry was not tempted. Maybe, you might
think, he should have torn the man’s arm off before he
changed his mind but Barry has owned this car since 1976,
when he bought it for £2800. In 30 years of ownership he has
driven only 2000 miles in it. Instead, he has spent the last
28 years restoring it to utter perfection. He knows exactly
what the restoration has cost – getting on for £50,000 – and
it seems he’s not in a hurry to part with it at any price.
It has been the labour of love to end all such things. Now
he wants to enjoy driving it at last.
Auto Italia readers, unlike the
rest of the world, will not be so mystified. Along with
Barry Twitchell himself, you and I know exactly what the
problem has been with the Iso Grifo right from the start.
It’s as simple as this: it’s not a Ferrari, a fact which
made it that bit harder to sell when it was new and it has
probably kept its value unfairly low ever since.
Back in 1971 this actual car was
displayed at the British Motor Show, Earl’s Court. The UK
concessionaire was Peter Agg’s Trojan company. The first Iso
Grifo had appeared in 1963 but this model, eight years down
the line, was the new-look IR8 with a restyled front end,
still by Bertone, featuring ‘drop eyelid headlamps’. A
five-speed ZF gearbox was another new feature and the
interior of the opulent 2+2 Grifo had been completely
revised, only the best materials being used to trim it out.
Priced from £8750, it was offered with 300bhp or 350bhp
engines, a seven-litre option also being available, and the
Italian opposition at the time included the Ferrari 365
GTB4, from £9572, and the £9152 Lamborghini Miura S. Today,
of course, a perfect example of either of those would be
expected to fetch well over £100,000. In all honesty, loopy
footballers apart, the best Grifo is very unlikely to get
near the magic six figures. That’s life – and life, as we
know, is not fair!
If the Grifo was largely overlooked in
its day simply because it was not a Ferrari, that did not
stop it from being a very fine car. The mechanical layout,
designed by Giotto Bizzarrini, was exceptionally good, the
engine being unusually well back in the chassis, which was
an immensely strong and complex platform, fabricated in
steel, on which the bodies, also steel, were mounted. The
sophisticated suspension system was by de Dion axle at the
rear, with radius arms and Watt linkage, and double
wishbones with an anti-roll bar at the front. Coil springs
were used all round. Final drive was via a Salisbury
limited-slip differential and the ZF gearbox, new to the
Grifo for 1971, was pretty well bullet-proof and a pleasure
to use, if slightly ponderous by modern standards.
No one should have been put off by the
use of American engines in an Italian supercar. The
Chevrolet V8s – a classic in their own right – were not
simply taken from crates and bolted into the Grifo. They
were rebuilt to a special specification by Iso,
strengthening the bottom end and improving the breathing
among other modifications. Far from being the lazy lumps
used in so many American cars, Grifo engines gave tremendous
high performance and a very lively feel in the higher rev
Back in 1966, the great John Bolster had
described a Grifo as superb to look at and a sheer delight
to drive, being an ideal combination of limousine luxury and
racing performance. He wrote that in one of his regular
Autosport magazine road tests after visiting the factory
and driving one back to the UK for the importer, Peter Agg.
Like so many others, Barry would probably have bought a
Ferrari if he’d had the money. When he spotted the much more
affordable Grifo, it was five years old, with very low
mileage, and had been owned by a series of successful
businessmen who had kept it properly serviced. He snapped it
up and then realised that, as a used car, it was already in
need of fairly serious restoration. The tell-tale signs were
there, suggesting that rust was forming deep in the
structure. With a young family soon coming along, Barry
decided to keep the Grifo as his long-term project, his very
long-term and highly treasured project. The car was stripped
and slowly rebuilt over the years, the most painstaking
attention going into the restoration or recreation of every
Before long, naturally enough, Barry had
become one of the most committed and knowledgeable Iso
enthusiasts on the planet. As a family man, he then acquired
his 1972 Iso Lele. That was a straightforward restoration
project which he got on with at some speed because, as a
proper four-seater, it was rather more useful to him then
than the Grifo. Barry’s target to complete the Lele was the
Auto Italia day in 1985, than held at Syon Park.
Back in 1966, the great John
Bolster had described an Iso Grifo as superb to look
at and a sheer delight to drive, being an ideal
combination of limousine luxury and racing
Back in 1971 this actual car was
displayed at the British Motor Show, Earl’s Court.
The UK concessionaire was Peter Agg’s Trojan
company. The first Iso Grifo had appeared in 1963
but this model, eight years down the line, was the
new-look IR8 with a restyled front end, still by
Bertone, featuring ‘drop eyelid headlamps’.
The mechanical layout, designed
by Giotto Bizzarrini, was exceptionally good, the
engine being unusually well back in the chassis,
which was an immensely strong and complex platform,
fabricated in steel, on which the bodies, also
steel, were mounted.
No one should have been put off
by the use of American engines in an Italian
supercar. The Chevrolet V8s – a classic in their own
right – were not simply taken from crates and bolted
into the Grifo. They were rebuilt to a special
specification by Iso, strengthening the bottom end
and improving the breathing among other
Taking the top prize there, Barry’s Lele became the
magazine’s first ever Car of the Show and has since been
covered extensively by us. Meanwhile, the Grifo continued to
take shape step by step, whenever Barry had time to get at
it. He had started by removing the engine and gearbox. The
rolling chassis went to Clive Smart at Bodylines in 1980 for
new front and rear valances, a new boot and door skins.
Progress on the Grifo was also halted for a time by a new
business venture but he always came back to it, keeping at
it persistently. With the bare chassis exposed, the
predictable rust spots around suspension pick-up points and
behind the sills were revealed. The rot was far from
catastrophic but it all had to be cut out and freshly
fabricated sections welded in. The rebuilt chassis platform
was then given the proper protection against future rust
which no cars of that age, however exotic and expensive,
received when new. Barry sandblasted it himself, then primed
it with 769 Rustoleum ready for undercoating.
By about 1990, Barry was working on suspension components
and brakes, sandblasting, priming or applying powdercoat as
necessary. Meanwhile, Parts and Panels fabricated a new boot
floor and many other items, including a new bonnet with
cooling louvres and a new aluminium fuel tank with details
to Barry’s own design. While the car was still a bare body
shell, he discovered that the original door-sealing rubbers
were unobtainable. He therefore reduced the door aperture
flanges very slightly so that modern push-on rubber sections
could be used. "Much fettling and filing was needed to get
the doors to fit correctly. It took me about six weeks."
When it came to the brightwork and other body details, Barry
made many of the parts himself from scratch. He feels that
his louvres in the side of the body are exactly as the
originals were meant to be, just better!
Adrian George at Spraytec did the
bare-metal respray after much research into the
specification for the correct original Champagne Cocktail
finish. Barry made several trips to Italy to get that right
and eventually an old friend there, Roberto Negri, very
kindly obtained an original Glidden Salchi colour sample for
Final assembly – as he fondly thought! –
began in 2000 but endless small problems still had to be
sorted out. Never once did he lose his patience and
everything was dealt with to his perfectionist’s standard.
"Fitting up the electric window mechanisms alone took an
absolute age," says Barry, "about one week or so per door,
having to shim it all up to work correctly." Towards the end
the engine came back from Real Steel. It had been rebuilt to
a higher specification, including a forged steel crank,
special con-rods and pistons. With the rebuilt gearbox and
back axle, the whole car finally came together.
On the road at last, and through its MoT,
Barry then found he had to dismantle the gearbox as it was
sticking in second. "That was the most gut-wrenching thing,"
says Barry. "The gearbox had been assembled incorrectly, and
I had to remove the engine to put that problem right." (The
gearbox company responsible has since gone into
In March this year, out it came and all I
can say is that it’s the best Grifo I have ever seen, or am
likely to see. On the road, it is just as John Bolster
described the Grifo in his road test 40 years ago, though he
failed to mention the huge turning circle and the classic
Italian driving position – short legs, long arms. Barry is
not entirely happy with the handling yet, and I’m sure he’s
right that the standard damper settings are the problem.
There’s a slight sense of wafting vagueness that could be
eliminated without spoiling ride quality, and he’s now
consulting top guru, Rhoddy Harvey Bailey, to perfect the
settings. More than is the case with mass-produced
machinery, handmade cars like the Grifo can benefit from
intelligently applied ‘sorting’ of this kind, and Barry has
done a truly fantastic job from start to finish.
Iso Grifo IR8 Technical
Specifications: Engine: 5785cc (bored +0.020 from
original ‘350cu in’); Bore x stroke: 102.1mm x 88.4mm;
Compression ratio: 9.8:1; Ignition and fuel: Mallory
magnetic distributor and Holley 670cfm 4-barrel carburettor;
Power: 362bhp @ 6200rpm; Torque: 404lb ft @ 4120rpm;
Transmission: ZF S5-325 5-speed manual gearbox, rear-wheel
drive; Brakes: 4 solid discs; Wheels: Campagnolo mag alloys
7x15; Kerb weight: 2804lb (1272kg); 0-60mph: 6.4-7.4 seconds
(estimates); Top speed: 165mph (claimed); Cost: £8750 in
1971; value in 2006, at least £40,000 but maybe much more
(agreed insurance valuation is £50,000).
Story by Tony
Dron / Photography by Michael Ward
This feature appears in Auto Italia, Issue 124,
October-November 2006. Highlights of
this month's issue of the world's leading Italian car magazine, which is now on sale, include road tests of the
Alfa Brera Q4 V6 and Autodelta 156 JTS Super, as
well as features on the Maserati Quattroporte
IV, Alfa Tipo 33 Sportscar, Ferrari 330P and Le
+44 (0) 1858 438817 for back issues and subscriptions.