Concorso Italiano long ago elevated itself into the top echelon of events taking place on the Monterey Peninsula during Pebble Beach week. Now in its 31st year, it’s more than half as old as the cars that it celebrated 50 years of: The Fiat 124/2000 Spider, Lamborghini Miura, DeTomaso Mangusta and Alfa Romeo Duetto.
Concorso also reliably provides first-rate examples of Italian crowd favorites from Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini and Fiat. But the real fun of the show isn’t in counting the red Ferrari 308s (for the record, we did, and there were 21 of them) but in becoming acquainted with some of the more obscure bits of Italian motoring history and the interesting back stories behind them. Here are a few that we caught:
1964 Apollo 3500 GT
WHAT IS IT? The Apollo was the brainchild of, amazingly, a 20-something American named Milt Brown who thought that America should have its own Ferrari competitor. Styled by Ron Plescia and Franco Scaglione, it looks all the bit a 1960s Ferrari, down to the Borrani wire wheels and Jaeger gauges. But fire it up and it’s pure Detroit V-8, in this case, the Buick, Olds, Pontiac aluminum V-8 later found in Range Rovers. Bodies were built in Turin, Italy, and trimmed out in Oakland, Calif. Road & Track gave the car a great review, but the project expired after fewer than 50 cars were built.
WHY IT’S COOL- There’s something inherently cool about Italo-American hybrids. Sexy Italian style combined with cheap and reliable American V-8 power. What could be better? The Apollo was one of the well-thought-out ones. They’ve finally come into their own as collectibles, worth in excess of $100,000. Still, that’s about a tenth of what a comparable Ferrari would bring.
1973 ISO Lele
WHAT IS IT? Like the Apollo, the ISO was an Italian-American hybrid, in this case using a Ford 351 Cleveland like the better-known De Tomaso Pantera. Unlike the Pantera, the Lele was a four-passenger GT, built for crossing continents, shall we say, “expeditiously” and in extreme comfort. Styled by Marcello Gandini of Lamborghini Miura, Countach and Diablo fame, it’s offbeat but very stylish. This one sat in the carport of an ISO club member for 40 years before it was passed between two other club members, the latter of which was Mike Clark of Eldorado Hills, Calif. Mike finally restored the car over three years and painted it its current shade of metallic lime green. Not the original color according to Clark, but one that was available from ISO in 1973.
WHY IT’S COOL - We loved the cool period color and the bellow that came from the 351 Ford screaming out of real dual exhausts. Incidentially, the car is named for the wife of Piero Rivolta, the son of company founder Renzo Rivolta. How cool is that? According to the owner, this particular Lele was in the very last shipment of ISO cars to the U.S. prior to the factory shutting down.
1972 Lamborghini Espada
WHAT IS IT? The Espada is the only front-engine, four-seater GT that Lamborghini has ever done. Think of it as a sort of 1970s Porsche Panamera (minus the second set of doors, but still very much in possession of a pair of usable back seats). Like the Panamera, the car’s styling is controversial—you have to see one in person to realize how wide, flat and low they are.
WHY IT’S COOL- For one thing, the twin NACA ducts on the hood are pretty damned cool all by themselves. Add to that the fact that it’s got a V-12 in front and comfy Italian leather lounge chairs in back, and it's nearly one of a kind—a '70s Italian supercar for four.
1957 Fiat 1200 Transformable
WHAT IS IT? The tiny 1200 TV was one of the most elegant small cars at the show. Designed in-house by Fabio Luigi Rapi, it was actually built by Pininfarina and was Fiat’s small sports car until the advent of the 850 Spider in 1966.
WHY IT’S COOL- The devil here is in the details, which are amazing. The car looks like a 1950s Detroit styling exercise that never made it past the 3/5-scale model stage. The wrap-around windshield, gauges, steering wheel, and seats that swivel for easier exit are unique and elegant.