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Old 05-09-2007, 03:36 AM
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Bizzarrini P538

Story By QV500:

Despite the undoubted potential demonstrated by Iso's A3/C during the course of 1964 and '65, Bizzarrini had a burning desire to win Le Mans outright. This meant he needed to build something even more exotic and in late 1965, a mid-engined sports prototype was conceived. Known as P538, it consisted of alloy chassis panel sections bonded together to form a totally new unit construction spaceframe. There was also independent suspension all round via unequal length wishbones at the front and trailing arms at the rear, coil springs being combined with Bilstein shocks at each corner.

The P538's Porsche-sourced ventilated disc brakes and calipers were mounted inboard of the differential at the rear whilst long-range fuel tanks in the side sills kept as much weight as possible within the wheelbase and helped achieve near perfect front/rear distribution. Campagnolo magnesium alloy wheels of a similar style to those seen on the A3/C were used albeit with much wider rims than before. Despite the fact that only four P538's were originally constructed, Bizzarrini used two types of longitudinally mounted engines for his sports prototype, Chevy's trusty 327-inch Corvette V8 and the Lamborghini V12 he designed during the winter of 1962/’63. P538's were actually the first competition cars to use the Lamborghini engine, a four-litre V12 being installed at the request of North American customer Mike Gammino who wanted a machine of pure Bizzarrini design to compete with in the inaugural Can Am series. Displacement was 3929cc (or 240-inches) thanks to a bore and stroke of 82 x 62mm respectively, the stock 320bhp Lambo dual overhead camshaft motor being considerably enhanced. Modified cam profiles and polished ports and connecting rods were combined with a raised compression ratio and six sidedraught Weber carburettors, boosting output to 419bhp at 8300rpm.

The 5.3-litre Corvette motors were similar to those found in A3/C Corsa's and tuned by Bizzarini to full competition spec, polished ports and combustion chambers being joined by hot camshafts and a free-flow exhaust. Displacement was the familiar 5354cc thanks to a bore and stroke of 101.6 x 82.6mm respectively, four sidedraught Weber 45 DCOE carbs and a compression of 10.5:1.helping output up to 430bhp at 6200rpm. All four examples ran five-speed ZF gearboxes similar to those used in Ford's GT40 and would have been well capable of reaching speeds approaching 200mph.


Bizzarrini wrapped the spaceframe chassis with a fibreglass body of his own design, the panel fabrication being undertaken by Catarsi of Livorno who, whilst undoubted experts with glassfibre, were more familiar with boats. Nearly all the panels were bonded to the chassis in order to achieve the most rigid structure possible, the nose featuring Bizzarini's distinctive nostril treatment between perspex covered headlights. A primitive plastic windscreen gave drivers little protection from the elements although a slightly higher version was fitted for Le Mans. The mid-mounted engine was cooled thanks to a pair of streamlined air boxes behind the cockpit, hot air being extracted through six horizontal vents located on the rear deck and a bank of 16 vertical on the tail facia. Rear wings were everything you would expect from a mid-sixties Italian sports prototype, bulbous, beautiful and muscular, they left you with the distinct impression this might be a motorcar of serious performance. Bizzarrini kept the P538 bereft of aerodynamic addenda and produced an exceptionally clean design, his work being refined by Neri & Bonacini before further bodywork and mechanical detailing was carried out by Carrozzeria BBM. P538's were then shipped back from Modena and the finishing touches applied in Livorno.

Pictures are of Chassis #002
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Old 05-09-2007, 03:42 AM
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The P538 story began with 001, this car having been constructed in early 1966 for American client, Mike Gammino. Gammino wanted to compete in the inaugural Can Am championship, however, 001 was crashed heavily at Castiglioncello in February when Edgar Berney aquaplaned off the track. Its Lamborghini engine was removed and the damaged bodywork and chassis taken back to Livorno where it remained until being sold at the firms bankruptcy auction in 1971. Originally intending to run two P538's at Le Mans, Bizzarrini was forced to allocate the third P538 to Gammino (although this car was actually numbered 002).

It's not inconceivable that had 002 been ready in time for the 24 Hour race, Bizzarrini would have used it before sending it over to the US. Indeed, two cars were on a provisional entry list for Le Mans that was published long after Berney had all but destroyed 001. As it turned out though, there was no P538 for Wicky and Bussinello, Bizzarrini sending just the one new Chevrolet-powered car for Berney and Frank Ruata (chassis 003). They would be up against a dazzling selection of prototypes from Ferrari and Ford, these factory teams being backed up by hoardes of slick privateer outfits. Despite such lavishly funded opposition, Bizzarrini would still have expected 003 to start higher than 40th - the number ten car was even four places behind Posey and Natili in their 5300 GT Corsa. Things didn't improve in the race, Berney spinning on the start line and retiring soon after with a broken steering arm. The Le Mans experience had lasted just eight laps and when rule changes outlawing the P538 were made soon after, the car found itself elibile for only a handful of series. One of these would have been the popular Can Am league in North America, but for some reason, Mike Gammino's planned-for campaign never materialised and after his new Lamborghini-powered P538 was delivered, it appeared just once.

This solitary outing came during September at the Bridgehampton Grand Prix for Round 2 of the Can Am championship, 002 being entered for Paul Gammino by the Gammino Construction Company. Exactly why the number 28 car failed to start isn't currently clear, but the Long Island event would be the final period outing for a P538. However, by no means does the story stop there, for in 1967, Bizzarrini tried to sell the Le Mans car and another P538 rolling chassis he had tucked away (which was numbered 292 914 and also got Chevy power), Giotto clothing them both as Berlinetta’s to a design of his own.


292 194 was sold to the Duca d’Aosta, a close friend of Count Volpi who wanted to compete with his car but was unable to do so on under the instruction of his wife, Princess Claudia of France. Sold on in 1972 with only 2000km on the clock, this time to a Florentine aristocrat, the Duca d’Aosta as it has become known subsequently went on to be used for early morning jaunts to the autostrada where its 205mph top speed could be tested. As for chassis 003, the Le Mans car, it remained unsold following its Berlinetta conversion until Giotto was approached by Giorgetto Giugiaro who, having left his position at Ghia, required a suitable basis on which to construct a show-stopping first body for his new carrozzeria, Ital Design. Giugiaro was given 003 in early 1968 and removed the existing shell, re-bodying Bizzarrini's ultra rare sports prototype as the spectacular three-seat Manta. Debuted at 1968's Turin Salon, the Manta was a fantastic looking machine and remains in this striking configuration today. Finally, a number of P538's have been constructed since the sixties, some by Giotto Bizzarrini and others by Salvatore Diomante. Diomante's Autocostruzione SD firm fabricated many Bizzarrini bodies from 1967 until the company’s closure in 1969 and subsequently acquired the original body moulds.


P538 001 - Specially built for Mike Gammino with a 4-litre Lamborghini V12. Completed early 1966 but crashed by Edgar Berney during testing at Castiglioncello. Engine and gearbox removed. Damaged body parts and chassis sold at the Bizzarrini Prototipo bankruptcy auction in 1971.
P538 002 - Specially built for Mike Gammino with the 4-litre Lamborghini V12 originally used in 001. Completed mid 1966. 1966 Can Am Championship: Bridgehampton Grand Prix (Gammino) DNS.
P538 003 - Works car for Bizzarrini Prototipo with a Chevrolet V8. Completed spring 1966. 1966 Le Mans 24 Hours (Berney / Wicky) DNF. Re-bodied as a Berlinetta by Bizzarrini in 1967 but unsold. Chassis given to Ital Design, re-bodied as the Manta and shown at the 1968 Turin Salon.
P538 262 914 -Possibly built as a Barchetta but more likely an unfinished rolling chassis bodied by Bizzarrini as a Berlinetta in 1967 for the Duca d'Aosta.
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