When Piero Met My Lele At Villa Rivolta

Images: Manuel Bordini

The gates of Villa Rivolta Barberi open wide, the sky is dark but not really menacing. I whisper to my Lele: “You are going back home…”

We make our entrance. The headlights pierce through the vegetation and the mist to illuminate Piero Rivolta, who is waiting for us with a smile on his face. The last time my Lele and Piero met was probably in 1972, when in October, she left the Varedo factory for Milan, to be sold to a customer. A short while later, Piero Rivolta too would leave the Iso Rivolta factory for new ventures.

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Manuel Bordini’s unrestored and completely original Iso Rivolta Lele posing with the Villa Rivolta as the most suitable backdrop

The return to Bresso, in the Lombardy region of Italy, where the Iso Rivolta factory used to be, was greeted by passers-by who still remembered these elegant, exotic, glamorous, dreamily muscular cars which used to be made in that city. To reach the back of the Villa Rivolta—the side facing the factory—I took Lele along the romantic paths of the Italian-style park, among walls, statues, secret fountains and gnarled trees. The passage is narrow, but my Lele is agile, and it was as if she had always known those passages: narrow, curved, winding, almost enchanted.

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Piero Rivolta posing with the car that he had an important hand in creating, along with ace designer Marcello Gandini

I reach the fountain where the very first Iso Rivolta GT was unveiled to the public 59 years earlier. Time has passed; everything has changed…yet, nothing has changed.

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The lines of this bronze beauty are a combination of elegance, sportiness, quality, and class

Piero Rivolta is radiant as he gets behind the wheel and without any hesitation, adjusts the driver's seat and the drive starts. After all, he knows everything about the Lele—every hidden detail—and she, a bit dishevelled, appears almost submissive.

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Those menacing headlamps half hidden under eyelids can be exposed at the flip of a switch

Piero Rivolta and ace designer Marcello Gandini conceived the Iso Rivolta Lele down to the smallest detail, with Gandini listening, reasoning, and proposing. But with Piero deciding. Designed in 1969, the Iso Lele is a bolt from the blue in the automotive world—a turning point in design. With Piero we talk about the many details that makes this car an ideal combination of sportiness, muscularity and elegance; antithetical concepts for many, but not for Iso Rivolta. The slim front, the wide track, the protruding mudguards, the shape of the side, the sporty set-up, all transform the car into a panther ready to leap into the darkness of the park amongst the autumn colours of a season that is now almost ending.

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Despite a rakish fastback rear, the Lele boasted of a reasonably spacious boot

Piero Rivolta, stroking my Lele, confides to me that Signora Lele Rivolta—his wife—has still not ‘forgiven’ him for having forgotten Christmas in 1969. Returning home on Christmas Eve, he suddenly remembers the day, and with no time for any gifts, makes up for it by dedicating the new model to his wife Lele, as the Iso Rivolta Lele.

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A timeless design from more than half a century ago, one which has not aged at all

Piero retraces the birth of the Iso Rivolta GT, reflecting on the positioning of the brand in the market, the reference competitors, and the ambitions of his father Renzo Rivolta, who had founded the supercar maker in 1962. The investments for the purchase of equipment for the Iso Rivolta GT were enormous for a small carmaker which had just entered the GT market. The chassis, designed by Pierluigi Raggi and tested by engineering legend Giotto Bizzarrini, was a breakthrough in the motoring scene, with the road holding and the dynamic characteristics testifying to rigidity of the chassis, as well as defining a new standard for excellence in refinement and finesse.

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Sculptures of a different nature

That chassis, powered by the 365bhp Chevrolet Corvette’s engine, the Giorgetto Giugiaro design, the richness of the interiors, and the exclusivity of limited production meant that the competition was not Jaguar anymore, but closer to home, in Modena, where the Orsi family was still in charge of Maserati. The Maserati Ghibli became the direct competitor of the Iso Grifo, the Mexico that of the GT, and later, the Iso Fidia was designed to compete against Maserati’s Quattroporte.

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As the Iso marque gets relaunched again, Piero Rivolta has every reason to be proud of the Lele

Did the Iso Rivolta Lele come on to take on Maserati’s Indy? Or was it mainly a replacement of the GT? Either way, cars like the Iso Grifo and the Lele provide some of the strongest stirrings of emotion, which make you fall in love with them. For this, I thank Piero and the whole Rivolta family, for having been able to interpret great motoring tradition from a global quality perspective, through beautiful futuristic lines, and finely tailored finish inside, showing what a small specialist manufacturer could define in terms of beauty, reliability, and performance.

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Piero Rivolta with two of his fans: Lele-owner Manuel Bordini on the right and, journalist and Iso-enthusiast, Axel Catton in the middle

All this happened perhaps too quickly and too soon to realize that Iso Rivolta was not just a car manufacturer, it was an entrepreneurial philosophy that was way ahead of its time. Nothing has disappeared forever: in every car with the badge of the Griffin, and in the words of its protagonist, Piero Rivolta, we still find the essence of those years, and that sense of excellence. Thanks Piero!


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