R.I.P. Giotto Bizzarrini, engineer extraordinaire
Italian automotive genius Giotto Bizzarrini passed away on May 13 at the age of 96. The man behind such incredible feats of engineering as Lamborghini’s long-lasting V-12 and the Ferrari 250 GTO died just before his 97th birthday.
Born in 1926, the son of a wealthy landowner in Livorno, Bizzarrini was named after his grandfather, from whom he clearly inherited his innovative talents. Although he was a biologist by trade, the polymath Giotto Bizzarrini senior had worked with Marconi on several inventions, including the radio.
Giotto junior studied engineering at the University of Pisa, graduating in 1953 with a thesis that saw him completely redesign the Fiat Topolino. Not only did Bizzarrini overhaul the engine to increase its output, he also relocated it for better weight distribution and improved handling.
Soon Bizzarrini came to the attention of Alfa Romeo where he was initially brought in to work on the chassis of the Giulietta, but it was engine development that was his passion. Joining the Experimental Department he gained vital hands-on experience that would stand him in good stead for the remainder of his career.
“I became a test driver who coincidentally was also an engineer, with mathematical principles. I always needed to know why something fails, so I can invent a solution,” he said.
Bizzarrini joined Ferrari to put the prancing horses through their paces, but was swiftly promoted to head up the Sports and GT car program. During his five years at Maranello his stand-out achievement was the 250 GTO. It’s believed that the most fantastic Ferrari of all time came about after Bizzarrini transformed his own short wheelbase 250 GT into a racer. For the GTO he went further, by moving the engine for better weight distribution, adding dry sump lubrication, and honing the car’s aerodynamics.
By the time the 250 GTO took to the track Bizzarrini was gone, however, leaving Ferrari along with technical director Carlo Chiti in the Great Walkout of 1961. Ferrari’s loss would be others gain. After forming consultancy Societa Autostar in 1962 Bizzarrini worked with Iso to develop the Rivolta and Grifo and was then approached by Ferruccio Lamborghini to build a V-12 for the fledgling firm.
The 12-cylinder engine he created made its debut in 3.5-liter capacity in the 350 GT and would be the heartbeat of Lamborghini for almost 50 years. Developments came fast. First it was increased in capacity to four liters for the 400 GT, then it was turned sideways and fitted amidships in the Miura. By the end of production Bizzarrini’s engine had reached six liters in size and a power output of 670 horses in the Murciélago.
Fuelled by his success with Lamborghini Bizzarrini founded a sports car company under his own name, launching with the Bizzarrini 5300 GT Strada in 1964. Surprisingly, perhaps, he chose a Chevrolet V-8 rather than an engine of his own design, but the car was certainly fast, and won its class at Le Mans in 1965. Just 133 were made before financial strife caused the company to close its doors.
Bizzarrini may have passed but his name will live on. A reborn brand first re-issued 24 examples of the 5300 GT and is now set to release its first new supercar, simply called Giotto. A fitting tribute to a great man.