By Wallace Wyss
Back in the early ‘60s I fancied myself a poet, and had even won a prize for poetry.
So, maybe around ’63, I was in the library at my University and came across, not a book of poetry, but a magazine called Autosport, with an article on the exciting new Iso Grifo A3C.
That picture changed my life. Oh, I had liked cars before and spent a good deal of time cruising Woodward Avenue (where there were impromptu drag races between stoplights) but had never lusted after cars that much. Once I saw that picture I decided I was an Italian car nut, and to hell with poetry.
Then, a few years later, while working at an ad agency, I had a copy chief (supervising my copywriting) who did a little promotion of a Corvette shop on the side. One day he said “Hey,you oughta go over to the Vette Shop. They got some sort of weird Italian car over there with a Corvette engine.”
I dutifully went down there and saw a strange car that was somewhat related to the Iso Grifo A3C I’d seen pictures of years earlier,(that car model became the Bizzarrini when Ing. Bizzarrini left Iso’s employ, taking that design with him) This one was a T-top (well, I use that terminology now but fact was, the T-top Corvette hadn’t been introduced yet). I said “let me know if the owner wants to sell it?” and the answer that came back was “No.”
So decades pass. I am driving through Vegas. I spot the exact same car in a gas station with a tire being changed. I leave a note.
More decades pass. I am driving through Malibu. In the hills above Pacific Coast Highway. Same car. Again. I leave a note.
So that brings us to 2016, the owner of the red T-top car contacts me and says he’s going to display two of his Bizzarrinis, both open cars, two of the three made, at Pebble Beach. We meet for dinner at Clint Eastwood’s eatery. By now, a half century gone by since I first saw his red t-top , am now longer offering, priced out long ago.
In the intervening years, I had quite a bit to do with Bizzarrinis. I had joined the Iso and Bizzarrini Owner’s Club in the early ’80s. I had also become a barn finder, a gun for hire for an East Coast client. My best find was when I found a mint GT5300 Strada in Lancaster, CA. It was odd that I was able to buy it because the owner was a developer who owned vast acreage in the town and didn’t really need the money. On the other hand, he wasn’t driving the car. So I just developed a price that my client agreed with and toodled up there with a cashier’s check and didn’t say “Will you take this amount?” No it was more like “I’m here for the car” and he rolled it out. It was like he knew selling it was inevitable but no one had ever driven up there, cashier’s check in hand. (In my books I go into buying strategies and one is go there with a cashier’s check,their name on it)
I also flew back East to buy a rusty one (rusty underneath, because it had aluminum body) in Ohio.
And then, one time, because I was a member of the Ferrari Owner’s Club, I discovered that, Ferrari owners used to list all the other cars they owned besides a Ferrari.There was one guy with a Bitz.
I called him. His car was all apart. He had two homes, one in SF area and one in Los Angeles and didn’t want to bother moving the car up North so he figured he might as well sell it. I remember sweating bullets for months that I would lose that one because I had loaned the Register to a guy in the IBOC who was notorious for buying and selling Iso Grifos. I was worried that he would read the Ferrari Register and notice that this guy was listing a Bizzarrini as one of his other cars owned. But fortunately I got the Register back and the Iso guy had never noticed it so I was able to buy it for $18,000 and sold it to a custom car painter, who preceded to install 275GTB headlamp surrounds. Later on I found another fan who wanted to buy it and restored it to stock. I would say it has appreciated 400% since then.
I bought a fourth one from a stunt driver, the same bloke who drove the Mustang in BULLITT, doubling for Steve McQueen. I had met him by chance years earlier when driving through the San Fernando Valley and I saw a green Bizzarrini (that car visible for a second in BULLITT) parked in front of a bar. When I went in, it kind of reminded me of some scene from a Western movie (maybe SHANE) me striding in, hands on my ‘45s, demanding “Who owns that Bizzarrini?” A tall ruggedly faced man stood up and answered and Carey Loftin and I became friends.
A few years later, when I towed it out of his garage in Huntington Beach, his wife was in tears, knowing that a lot of her husband’s macho image was due to the fact he owned a Bizzarrini (he once had owned three of them simultaneously) . His secret of keeping them running was that they were maintained by legendary mechanic Max Balchowsky, owner of “Ol Yaller.”
I got to drive that mint one I bought in Lancaster for three days, taking it to all by buddy’s houses and taking each for my version of a thrill ride until finally I frazzled the clutch, and had to put it on the truck for shipment to New York.
I saw the car several decades later at a display of Italian cars in a Nashville museum. I think it’s the same car, because it was still wearing the USA oval sticker on the rear valance panel that had been there when I bought it.
I since have painted half a dozen portraits of Bizzarrinis and written about my quests for them in my “Incredible Barn Finds” books (Enthusiast Books, Hudson, WI). I’d like to think I am free of their seductive power by now, when we are, after all, in the Age of Ecology and all…but I’m still lookin’….