2023 Bizzarrini 5300 GT Revival: Beautiful beast on track
Racer Reborn. Bizzarrini is back, with a British-built revival inspired by the car won its class at Le Mans in 1965.
Story by Tim Pitt
Images by Sam Chick
Old Italian car brands never die, they just go into hibernation. De Tomaso, Iso and ATS are among the famous names roused in recent years – not forgetting Abarth, of course. Now, 53 years after the original company was declared bankrupt,Bizzarrini is back. What chance a second shot at success?
The revived Bizzarrini – now under the wing of Kuwaiti-owned Pegasus Brands – is celebrating its past before looking to the future. Its first car, the 5300 GT Corsa Revival, is an exacting recreation of the racer that won its class at Le Mans in 1965. Only 24 will be made, priced at £1.65 million each.
Before priming the fuel pump and firing up the Revival’s all-American V8, it’s worth a brief recap of how we got here – in particular, the story of Giotto Bizzarrini himself. Still alive today at 96, this engineering genius made his mark on many of Italy’s most revered cars, including the Ferrari 250 GTO. The first car built by Bizzarrini, then studying at the University of Pisa in 1953, was rather less exotic. The Macchinetta Berlinetta was a one-off project based on a Fiat 500 Topolino, with an aerodynamic aluminium body and twin-carb engine. It served as his graduation thesis and showcased his talents. Legend has it he drove the pretty coupe to a job interview with Enzo Ferrari, who hired him on the spot.
“ The engine feels brim-full of muscular torque as the wall of noise fills the cabin ”
Still in his thirties, the ambitious Giotto quickly rose through the ranks to become chief engineer at Ferrari, overseeing the development of legendary 250-series models such as the Testa Rossa, SWB and GTO. Like Enzo, his real passion was for racing, and the Scuderia flourished under his tenure, winning Le Mans and the World Sportscar Championship multiple times. Sadly, this purple patch came to a sudden end with the ‘palace coup’ of 1961, when Bizzarrini and four fellow engineers were summarily dismissed for protesting about the growing influence of Enzo’s wife. For Ferrari, this wasn’t a business decision. It was personal.
Thankfully, Bizzarrini’s brilliance wouldn’t go to waste. With Piero Drogo at Count Volpi’s privateer race team, he developed the famous Ferrari 250 GT ‘Breadvan’. He designed a V12 engine for Ferruccio Lamborghini that served from the first 350 GT of 1964 until the final Murciélago SV of 2010. And he founded his own car company: Automobili Turismo e Sport, which raced – albeit briefly – in Formula One and built the beautiful, mid-engined ATS 2500 GT. Bizzarrini also teamed up with Renzo Rivolta in 1962 to work on a new Chevrolet V8-powered GT car for Iso, which became the Iso Rivolta. Bizzarrini was keen to make an even sportier model, resulting in the Iso Grifo, which appeared at the 1963 Turin Show in two distinct versions: road-going A3/L and racing A3/C. The latter had its V8 engine sited further back in the chassis and unique bodywork designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro.
Bizzarrini and Rivolta eventually fell out in 1965, leading to a gentleman’s agreement that Bizzarrini could produce the A3/C under his own name as the 5300 GT Strada. This was powered by the same 5.4-litre smallblock Chevrolet V8 as the original (C1) Corvette but using Weber carbs and a four-speed manual ’box.
The racing ‘Corsa’ iteration is what has inspired today’s comeback – specifically chassis number 0222, as driven by Régis Fraissinet and Jean de Mortemart at Le Mans, which beat the odds (and the Ford GT40s) to win its class in 1965 and finish ninth overall.
Stage one of the Revival project was to painstakingly laser-scan chassis 0222, which survives today as part of Bruce Meyer’s collection at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. The team also had access to hundreds of period technical drawings and photos, supplied in boxes when Pegasus Brands bought the company (a Bizzarrini-liveried classic car transporter and Fiat 238 van were part of the deal, too).
While the original 5300 GT was assembled in Livorno, near Pisa, the Revival is made in Britain by RML of Wellingborough, Northamptonshire. Founded by racing driver Ray Mallock, the company has a long history of building specialist, low-volume cars, such as the Saleen S7 and road-legal versions of the Aston Martin Vulcan. It also launched its own-brand supercar, the RML Short Wheelbase, earlier this year, inspired by the Ferrari 250 GT SWB. The tie-up with Bizzarrini thus seems very apt. I meet the Bizzarrini team at Millbrook proving ground in Bedfordshire. Other ‘traffic’ pounding the test tracks today includes the Gordon Murray T.50 and Mercedes- AMG One hypercars, yet the 5300 GT Corsa Revival, resplendent in ‘Rosso Corsa Bizzarrini’ paint, still stands out. It looks dramatically long and low, with flat sides and a chopped Kamm tail – both designed to boost stability at speed. The 1965 version could theoretically touch 189mph – perhaps on the Mulsanne straight – but shorter gearing limits this car to 165mph.
The most significant difference versus chassis 0222 is a carbonfibre body, which helps towards a dry weight of just 1230kg. However, period-correct glassfibre (used only for the 5300 GT Corsa – the roadgoing Strada was clothed in aluminium) is available if you want to compete in historic motorsport. Further concessions to modernity – and indeed safety – include an FIA-spec fuel cell instead of sill-mounted tanks, glassfibre bucket seats with five-point harnesses and a second windscreen wiper.
In most other regards, though, the Revival is a faithful recreation of the car that raced at Le Mans in ’65. Spot the yellow ‘prototipi’ roundels on both front wings, the unique upright door handles, the tiny lights to illuminate each race number and the dished magnesium wheels. “They’re shod with Dunlop crossply tyres, so there isn’t a lot of grip,” says Bizzarrini test driver Tommy Erdos, as I pull on a crash helmet and clamber clumsily through the rollcage.
My first laps are in the passenger seat, with Erdos – a former Le Mans winner himself – showing me what the car is capable of. The Chevy V8 sounds totally different to the Colombo V12 of many contemporary Ferraris. It rumbles menacingly like a muscle car at idle, then takes on a harsher, more metallic timbre as the revs rise. Officially, I’m told, the furious snarl from the twin exhausts breaks Millbrook’s decibel limit, but nobody here is complaining – least of all me.
As the tyres warm up, Erdos starts to slide the car around, pitching it into the kind of graceful four-wheel drifts that look familiar to anyone who’s watched classic sports car racing (or attended the Goodwood Revival). He makes it seem easy but assures me it was a huge adjustment after driving modern cars with slick tyres and downforce. Now it’s my turn.
From the driver’s seat, the Bizzarrini hardly puts you at ease. It demands the long arms/short legs driving position of Italian car cliché, while the gauges are blunderbussed across the simple dashboard. Want to check the oil pressure or water temperature? No problem, look straight ahead. Need to check your speed or engine revs? The dials are in front of the passenger, and require taking your eyes off the track. The Roman numerals on the gear knob are another carryover from chassis 0222.
Despite its ergonomic eccentricities, though, the 5300 GT Corsa Revival proves quite easy to drive. Its engine feels brim-full of muscular torque, so you can tackle most of Millbrook’s tightly coiled handling circuit in third gear. And the wall of noise filling the cabin means you can rely on your ears when it comes to timing each upshift. Dare I suggest this American V8 will be more robust than a classic Italian V12, too? It will certainly be cheaper to maintain.
The Revival’s steering box isn’t as direct or accurate as modern systems and there’s always a sense of midcorner movement from its tall tyre sidewalls. What shines through most, though, is the progressive chassis and finely judged balance: a result of independent rear suspension (also unique to the Corsa – the 5300 GT Strada used a de Dion tube) and the front-mid-engine layout, which provides perfect 50/50 weight distribution. When it came to building race cars, Giotto Bizzarrini clearly didn’t compromise. Indeed, the engine is mounted so far back it almost bursts into the cabin. Work it hard and the heat-soak through the bulbous bulkhead feels intense. After even a couple of laps at Millbrook, I’ve already broken sweat; doing this for 24 hours at Le Mans must have been exhausting.
I suspect that the majority of the 24 Bizzarrinis to be built will be tucked away in private collections, rarely glimpsing the light of day. If so, that’d be a real shame, because driving the Revival is a visceral and lifeaffirming experience – and racing one would be even better. Bizzarrini has big plans, including a new hypercar coming soon. But what a way to wake up.
HYPERCAR ON THE HORIZON
Once all 24 examples of the 5300 GT Corsa Revival have been completed, Bizzarrini’s next project is a clean-sheet modern hypercar. Powered by a naturally aspirated V12 developing “in the region of 1000hp”, marketing chief Simon Busby says the as-yetunnamed new Bizzarrini will be “a car for connoisseurs… with a focus on comfort”. Not forgetting outrageous performance, we might add. Like its classic forebear, the latest car is styled by Giugiaro. The man named Car Designer of the Century in 1999 was a friend of Giotto Bizzarrini and also designed the Grifo/5300 GT. “Giugiaro still recalls standing with Steve McQueen at Le Mans in 1965,” explains Busby. “He said they were both listening for the Bizzarrini to come into the pit lane – its unsilenced V8 was so loud.”
The desire to “make a great noise” ruled out an electric powertrain for the 21st century Bizzarrini, we’re told. The source of its free-breathing V12 hasn’t been revealed, but it’s unlikely to be an inhouse effort. Further into the future, Busby says the company is contemplating a plug-in hybrid system to satisfy emissions rules – or potentially a combustion engine fuelled by hydrogen.
We’ll see the teaser photos of the Bizzarrini hypercar in November, then the finished article early in 2023. Expect curvaceous, feminine styling, along with a luxurious interior “designed with women in mind”, says Busby. The plan is to build 50 cars a year, split between coupe and spider versions, with a price tag that will likely stretch to seven figures, putting it up against the likes of the Pininfarina Battista and Pagani Utopia. Choices, choices…
Revived 5300 GT has carbonfibre bodywork for strength and low weight. Car is built in Northants