1969 Iso Grifo is rare and too good to pass up

May 30, 2009/Steve Tackett


Despite the fact that only 412 Iso Grifo cars were manufactured from 1965 through 1974, Darren Frank is very familiar with the Italian automobiles. His late father, Elliott Frank had bought one of the rare cars in Milan, Italy, and owned it while Darren was growing up on Long Island, N.Y. He spent many hours cleaning and polishing the wire wheels on his father’s car.
The elder Frank wrecked the two-seat sports car in 1968, which ended the younger Frank’s “hands on” experience with the car. Years later, Darren Frank joined a club of Iso Grifo devotees and began a casual search for one of the cars. He located one for sale in 1985, but failed to close the deal. In 1989 an ad in the club newsletter offered a red 1969 Iso Grifo for sale in Salt Lake City.
Frank was determined not to miss out on this opportunity. He telephoned every day for a month and each time left a message. Soon after he made the 30th call the seller returned his call. The seller had been away on vacation and had just returned home to find the 30 messages on his answering machine.
Though prospective buyers had called, Frank was by far the most persistent. With those other callers in mind Frank said, “I’ll buy it sight-unseen.”
Utah in January can be very snowy, which delayed the transport truck that Frank had sent for the car. More than a month passed before the Iso Grifo was delivered to his New York home.
Frank reports that his new old car looked tired and did not run. “The previous owners did all kinds of stuff to this poor car,” he says.
He immediately set out collecting parts he knew would be needed when a restoration project was undertaken. The hunt lasted six years, until 1995. By then Frank had his unrestored red Iso running and one day while driving it through Poundridge, N.Y. noticed a pickup truck tailgating him. Frank stopped and the pickup driver ran up and exclaimed, “I have a car just like this at home.”
Frank asked him if he was sure because many, if not most people, mistake the Iso for a Maserati or a Ferrari.
The pickup driver, Joe Thurstein, knew what he was talking about. Incredibly, years earlier he purchased the Iso that Frank’s father had wrecked. Originally that car was green, but after it was repaired it was painted blue. Not only did Thurstein have his father’s old car, he had all the literature and papers when he Frank’s bought the car.
That bit of history was interesting, but by 1995 Frank was ready to make his own 1969 Iso Grifo into a like-new car.
His car left the factory in 1969 with a reliable Chevrolet Corvette 327-cubic-inch, 300-horsepower V-8 engine under the hood. All that power was delivered to the pavement via a four-speed Muncie M21 manual transmission.
“This was a Ferrari without the headache and a Corvette with Italian style,” Frank explains.
The engine was overhauled in 1995 and from 1997 to 1998 the body, suspension, interior, chrome and stainless steel trim, as well as the glass and rubber gaskets and molding were renewed, replaced or rebuilt.
The Iso does not have power steering but Frank describes the steering as “quick.”
“It was a premium-priced, hand-built car,” Frank says. Between the stainless steel bumpers the Iso stretches 14 feet, 6.75 inches long and rides on an 82.5-inch wheelbase. Chrome-encased parking lights are secured to the top of each end of the front bumper.
Even though the roof is only 47 inches above the ground, Frank at 6’1″ says he has no trouble entering or exiting his car thanks to the wide doors. Ground clearance for the sleek Iso is only 4.72 inches.
Magnesium vents to the rear of both front and rear wheel wells help dissipate heat generated by the engine, as well as the brakes.
Peering through the three-spoke steering wheel is the 200-mph speedometer. “That speedometer is a case of Italian optimism,” Frank says. Road tests of the car when new showed a top speed of 143 mph.
Beside the interior mirror there is only a left-side exterior mirror. Frank says that is not problematical because the car has a lot of glass on it.
As the Iso approaches the 100,000-mile mark it delivers highway fuel economy of about 16.5 mpg and has a gasoline tank with a 21-gallon capacity. After the restoration was complete Frank says, “The car came out great. Everything on it works now.”

For your car to become the subject of the Classic Classics column, send a photo (frontal 3/4 view), plus brief details and phone number to Vern Parker, 2221 Abbotsford Drive, Vienna, VA 22181. Only photos of good quality will be considered. No customs or hotrods accepted.

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2009