1967 Iso Grifo GL 300 Coupe Series 1

1967 Iso Grifo GL 300 Coupe Series 1

Grief to Grifo — ISO Grifo impossible restoration. When a bidder paid almost £130,000 for the world’s rustiest Iso Grifo at auction, experts thought he must be mad. We catch up with the reclusive buyer following a seemingly impossible restoration. Story by Axel E Catton. Photos by Niclas von Glahn/RM Sotheby’s.

ISO GRIFO World’s rustiest Grifo gets amazing restoration

Very few auction lots have stood out in recent years as much as one particularly infamous yellow Iso Grifo in 2016, which qualifies as probably the rustiest car to be auctioned during the last decade. RM Sotheby’s car specialist Paul Darvill remembers bringing the utterly rusted hulk of Grifo to the company’s auction in London in September 2016: “Only about 400 Iso Grifos were ever built, which means you almost never get the chance to make a real barn find. But the car didn’t have a floor and that was an issue for us, because generally all cars we offer have a floor.”

1967 Iso Grifo GL 300 Coupe Series 1

Despite a whole host of beautifully photographed pictures, the yellow diva with its shredded fabric sunroof was a sorry sight indeed. RM Sotheby’s estimated the car at £30,000 to £40,000, reflecting its rarity, but no one expected the hammer to come down after just four minutes with an astonishing bid of £115,000, bringing the total for the new buyer to £128,800.

The classic car world was in turmoil. America’s AutoWeek asked: “Someone just spent $171,500 on this Iso Grifo-shaped pile of rust – has the world gone mad?” Everybody wanted to know who would pay that much and why. Well, we’ve found out exactly who and have travelled to Germany to meet the owner of the Grifo after its fresh restoration. For the first few years, buyer Wolfgang Dippold from Bavaria deliberately kept a low profile, keeping the media at bay and even staying away from internet forums. But now, Auto Italia has been allowed to visit him and his collection and witness the car’s transformation.

1967 Iso Grifo GL 300 Coupe Series 1

On the inside, Dippold’s purposeful-looking industrial storage unit in the Franconian hinterland turns into a veritable museum. Illuminated adverts and huge black-and-white imagery from cars and plants of the 1950s and 1960s relate to the dozen or so cars parked in front of them. It’s obvious that the man has taste – and money. What on earth came over him, then, to buy the Grifo? And where exactly is the yellow diva?

60-year old Dippold smiles without a hint of surprise. He turns and opens a display case with a small blue Grifo Matchbox toy inside. I think ‘loved’ is the term collectors use for its condition. Although badly worn, its condition is still much better than the real thing’s was. “From early childhood, the Grifo was one of my favourite cars,” says Dippold. “When we played Top Trumps, the Grifo beat them all.” The origins of Iso Rivolta as a car producer go back to the Isetta bubble car that was famously licensed to be built by BMW. Royalties from the Bavarian company allowed company patriarch Renzo Rivolta to build his first GT car in 1962, followed just a year later by the Grifo, a beautiful twoseater coupe designed by a very young Giorgetto Giugiaro at Bertone.

Dippold’s example is one of the very earliest. “My car is VIN 064/D and was built on 19 July 1966. ‘D’ means destra, or right-hand drive. The car had resided in the UK with the last owner, Scotsman Michael Jardine-Paterson, having bought it in 1986 for £6250. At that time, it was still in reasonably good condition. His restorer at first procrastinated, then left the car outside under a tarpaulin for 10 years. When they returned to the abandoned project, everything was lost.”

Why decide to take on such an epic project? “I like challenges,” admits the affable German. “My job keeps me mostly tied to a desk working with numbers and paper, so I enjoy the hands-on experience as a complete opposite to my work life. I leave the actual restoration work to others, but I do all the servicing, and I am also the only one allowed to wash my cars.” That it’s more than just servicing quickly becomes evident when Dippold starts rearranging boxes in preparation for our photo shoot. “Those are rear lights and bonnet stays for my GT4, I just haven’t come round to installing them.”

So where is ‘mellow yellow’? Dippold grins widely as he points towards a light blue car looking like it’s just rolled off the showroom floor. The once-yellow Iso Grifo has not only changed colour but has been transformed to left-hand drive. “Over more than three years, we touched every single part. We converted it to LHD, gave it a completely new floor, new sills, new wings, new front end and new boot lid. We could only keep parts of the original chassis, the upper end of the passenger compartment and parts of the doors. Originally, 064 wasn’t yellow, either, but silver. However, I already have quite a number of silver cars, and I think this colour brings out the lines of the car even better.”

We’re speechless. Inside and out, this car looks like new. Its fantastic shutlines are very likely better than factory, the chrome glints like a bathroom mirror, the underside is immaculate and the leather is worthy of an Italian high-end furniture maker.

“We needed to convert everything to left-hand drive, which was not an easy task,” the owner explains. “In the engine bay, we had to move the position of the battery, wiper motor, brake master cylinder and many other parts, use a different brake servo, change the clutch from hydraulic to mechanical operation, move the steering column and pedals and of course create a new mirrored dashboard. We only kept the wipers, which now wipe the wrong way for a LHD car – but I kind of like it, it’s a reminder of my car’s early history.”

Wasn’t it daunting starting with car in such an appalling state? “I hadn’t imagined it to be this bad, to be honest. I wasn’t able to be present at the auction and bid by telephone. It was only when I saw it with my own eyes that I realised the enormity of the task.”

Of the 400 Grifos built, Dippold tells us, many have survived but very few have remained untouched. «I was looking for one that hadn’t been tinkered with and wanted to do a complete restoration, just like the other 1960s Italian cars in my collection.” He clearly likes to be in control. „With this Grifo, I know every nook and cranny. I know exactly what we did and how we did it, and that’s a good thing.“

Most of the restoration work was commissioned from a local shop called Auto Sauer in Bamberg, which has worked on almost all of his vehicles. But what to do about those unobtainable parts? „That was indeed a challenge,” says Dippold. “Because Iso ceased to exist almost 50 years ago, there is no company support and no classic car department.” Networking, he got in touch with two dozen Grifo owners from all over the world. “From Arizona to northern Italy and all over Germany, I now know people, collectors, restorers, rebuilders, parts hoarders, but above all Iso owners with a special enthusiasm and willingness to help.

A specialist from northern Germany who had just finished work on another Grifo made the bootlid for us from scratch. I got the wings and front section from someone who commissioned two sets in Italy 20 years ago but needed only one.”

Other than the colour, how much is different to factory-standard spec? „We placed extreme value on originality in all details. The exhaust system, for example, was built according to the original plans using the old resorption method. But then, every Grifo is different,“ Wolfgang laughs. „My Grifo was originally delivered in Argento Indianapolis with a blue leather interior. Now it is Azzuro Metallizzato, an original period Iso colour, and the leather inside is Crema. It’s fair to say that we ‘improved’ a few things. The Grifo was available at the time with a 5.3-litre Corvette V8 delivering 300hp or 350hp. We’ve modified my version to 350hp with a Holley carburettor, modified intake manifold, valves, camshaft, cylinder head and pistons, and higher compression ratio.

A Tremec five-speed gearbox has replaced the original four-speed, too.”

We learn that the original gearbox has been restored – why, we ask, when it’s no longer needed? “I can’t say whether I'll never need it again. It's the original gearbox, and if I wanted to put it back in, it would have to be in perfect condition.» The owner also treated the car to a hidden air conditioning system, electric power steering from EZ and a high-quality music system, concealed behind the original 1960s facia.

This car was never intended to become a museum piece but instead to be a wonderful driver. For our photo shoot, its custodian pushes the Italian-American two-seater much harder than we expected. Every burst of acceleration seems fun, every corner is taken faster than before, and the brakes are pushed harder after every overtake. Like all of his cars, Wolfgang Dippold built this Grifo to stay with him forever but sadly, a recent health scare has forced him to reduce his collection significantly and the Iso is one of the cars he will have to part with.

If you’re interested, it is now for sale at www.cargold.com

“I hadn’t imagined it to be this bad. It was only when I saw it with my own eyes that I realised the enormity of the task ”

Scarcely belieavable transformation is like new. Steering wheel has been switched from right to left

As bought, the Grifo was in a shocking state: basically lacking a floor and disastrously corroded

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