ISO Lele: The classic Italian GT

The ISO Lele, or ISO Rivolta Lele, is a grand touring car produced by Italian automaker Iso Automoveicoli S.p.A. between 1969 and 1974. This elegant 2+2 filled the space between the Grifo and the Fidia, sharing its powertrain with its siblings. Designed by Marcello Gandini of Bertone, the ISO Lele is a unique piece of automotive history. Find out more about this iconic vehicle, its history, features and legacy.

Photo: Wikipedia

History of ISO Lele

The ISO Lele was originally conceived as a Christmas gift for Piere Rivolta’s wife, Rachelle (LeLe) Rivolta. However, its striking design and compelling performance led to the decision to put it into production to succeed the IR 300. Its public debut occurred at the 1969 New York International Auto Show, positioning it to compete against the Lamborghini Espada. Initially, it was powered by a 300 or 350 hp General Motors V8 engine, with a 4-speed manual transmission (later a 5-speed unit from ZF Friedrichshafen) and a 4-speed automatic transmission from General Motors.

In 1972, after producing about 125 cars, General Motors demanded that Iso pay for the engines in advance. Faced with this situation, Iso opted to replace the Chevrolet engine with Ford’s Cleveland V8, with an output of 325 hp. The automatic transmission also came from Ford, while the manual transmission remained unchanged.

ISO Lele design and features

The chassis of the ISO Lele was the same Bizzarrini-designed unit that had been used on Iso cars since the IR 300. It featured an unequal-length double-wishbone front suspension with coil springs, while the rear suspension consisted of a Dion design with a Salisbury-type axle. Four-wheel disc brakes were used, mounted internally in the chassis.

The rear suspension featured dual trailing arms and a Watt’s bar that located the de Dion axle. Koni telescopic shock absorbers and coil springs completed the unit. The ISO Lele came equipped with ZF power steering, the same unit used by Maserati, and Campagnolo magnesium alloy wheels, wrapped in Michelin XWX 215/70 VP15 tires.

Photo: Wikipedia

Interior and amenities

The interior was upholstered in leather and featured amenities such as air conditioning and power windows, along with plush carpeting. The speedometer and tachometer were positioned behind the steering column, while the center console featured four additional gauges: an ammeter, fuel gauge, and water and oil temperature gauges. The car featured a concealed headlight styling with pop-up covers that partially covered the quad headlight units when not in use.

Variants and production

In 1973, the standard version of the ISO Lele (now known as the Lele IR6) was accompanied by the Lele IR6 Sport, with an engine modified to generate 360 hp and only available mated to the 5-speed ZF transmission. This variant featured a compression ratio of 8.6:1, with a stroke and bore of 101.6 x 88.9 mm, and had a rev limit of 5,800 rpm. Based on two customized versions made for Iso-Marlboro Formula One team drivers Howden Ganley and Nanni Galli, this model featured the removal of soundproofing components, a new instrument panel and engine modifications.

Despite its distinctive angular design and comfortable nature, the ISO Lele failed to capture the market as expected, and only 285 units were produced in total. About 160 Ford-powered Leles had been built by the time production came to an end in 1974 due to Iso’s bankruptcy.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How many ISO Lele units were produced in total?

A total of 285 ISO Lele units were produced in several variants, including the standard Lele and the Lele IR6.

What motorization did the ISO Lele have?

The ISO Lele was initially equipped with a General Motors V8 engine of 300 or 350 hp. Later, in 1972, it was changed to a Ford Cleveland V8 engine with an output of 325 hp.

What were the distinguishing features of ISO Lele?

The ISO Lele stood out for its elegant design, luxurious interior and sporty performance, being a true Italian grand tourer of the time.

Conclusion

The ISO Lele is a treasure of Italian automotive history, with its distinctive design and exciting performance. Although its production was limited and its commercial success was modest, it left an indelible mark on the classic car world. Its legacy lives on among enthusiasts and collectors, recalling a golden era of Italian automotive engineering.