Photos by Alessandro Gerelli
Story by staff
Last week Alessandro Gerelli sent us these photos from a small but interesting group of Isos gathered at the old Bresso plant on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the Iso Lele. Looking for additional information, I resorted to my copy of Winston Goodfellow’s book, ISORIVOLTA, The Men, the Machines,* published in 1995 by Giorgio Nada. It brought to mind the years that shook the world of the automobile as we knew it. The ten years of Iso cars, from 1963 to 1973, witnessed enormous changes in the industry, and the history of Iso is a chronicle of those times.
Winston expertly lays out the often-tragic account of the Iso factory, which under Renzo Rivolta had produced the Isetta in 1953-4 and a series of motorcycles which sold very well. Rivolta then went on to introduce the Chevy-engined Iso Rivolta GT in 1962. Initially, due to problems with the importer, U.S. sales were not what they had hoped for, and stressed out by the increasing debt, Renzo suddenly died in 1966, leaving his 25-year-old son Piero to run the company. Under Piero’s leadership, the firm continued to develop the existing Iso Grifo, introduced the Iso Rivolta S4 and the subsequent four door Iso Fidia. Eventually, about 800 examples of the Iso Rivolta GT were produced. By 1968 a replacement for the GT was needed, and the young Piero called on Bertone and Marcello Gandini to design the Iso Lele. The new car was named after Piero Rivolta’s wife Rachele (Lele is the diminutive). Since his wife had given him a daughter so he thought he’d give her something in return, he once said. But it would be the last car produced by the factory.
By 1969, life was good but the company was still underfinanced. Piero decided to move the factory from Bresso to Varedo, which was actually a downsize but saved money. But he still lacked capital, until financier Ivo Pera came along and provided the much-needed funds to continue to grow. But Pera did not get along with Rivolta and forced him out of the company, and for the first time in decades the family-oriented Iso factory was not headed by a Rivolta. For both Piero and the employees, the sudden removal was devastating.
Then, in a series of events beyond anyone’s control, a perfect storm formed which would change everything. Expensive cars had become objects of derision in an Italy plagued by social unrest and strikes; in the U.S. the DOT EPA requirements made it almost impossible for small firms to comply with the new regulations, ending market opportunities in the States. In October of 1973 came the Arab oil embargo, which lasted to March of 1974 but had widespread effects that lasted much longer. Even Pera’s deep pockets couldn’t take the downturn and he was forced to close Iso in late 1974. It was not only the end for Iso but the end of an era.
With that in mind, we look at a variety of Isos seen at the old Iso factory at Bresso. Only four Leles were present, but the small event included several other Iso as well as an Isetta, and all the cars were in great condition. The event attracted many visitors who were enjoying the wonderful world of Iso.
*Goodfellow’s book was republished as paperback. Both hard bound and paperback copies can be found at Amazon.com.