Giotto Bizzarrini, Legendary Ferrari 250GTO Engineer, Has Died at 96

giotto bizzarrini
Giotto Bizzarrini Dies - Developed 250GTO, MiuraKlemantaski Collection - Getty Images

• The engineer who crafted both the Ferrari 250 GTO and Lamborghini's original V-12 has died, aged 96.

• As both an engineer and test driver, Bizzarrini also founded his own eponymous car company in the 1960s, and his car won its class at Le Mans.

• Earlier this year, the Bizzarrini name re-emerged as a company with plans for a V-12 supercar called the Giotto. It'll have its work cut out living up to the legend of the man himself.

Any automotive engineer seeks to leave a lasting piece of themselves in the machines they helped create. When Giotto Bizzarrini died last week, just shy of his 97th birthday, he did so assured of the immortality of his name. What greater legacy could any Italian engineer leave behind than fingerprints on both the most desirable Ferrari and most beautiful Lamborghini ever made? Further, like Enzo and Ferruccio, Giotto created a physical tribute to his surname in steel, glass, and rubber—the gorgeous Bizzarrini 5300 GT. We mark his passing as a linchpin of the golden age of Italian automobiles.


Born in 1926 in Quercianella in Tuscany, a small coastal hamlet, Bizzarrini attended university in Pisa (of leaning tower fame). His father, also Giotto, had worked with radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi. Shortly after graduation, Bizzarrini junior joined Alfa Romeo and began working on the chassis development of the Giulietta.

Surprisingly, the position was something of a frustration for the young Giotto—he wanted to work on engines. However, his innate skill soon found him transferred to Alfa Romeo's experimental division, where he became both engineer and test driver. In 1957, Ferrari head-hunted him to run its sports car development division.

His work here resulted in perhaps the greatest Ferrari ever made: the 250 GTO. Working with a 250 GT that was his own personal car, Bizzarrini created the test mule that became a thoroughbred, though he would not be at Ferrari to see the production car emerge. He was one of five chief engineers to walk out after a reorganization of staff in Ferrari's “Night of the long knives.” Enzo was an uncompromising leader, and the echoes of this dispute would have lasting effect.

Among the first unintended consequences was the 250 GT “Breadvan.” This Kammback special never quite beat Ferrari's own GTO, but was significant for its aerodynamic advances. It was created when Bizzarrini was hired by Count Giovanni Volpe, who had developed his own beef with Ferrari. Giotto's next riposte to Enzo would be even more significant.

According to legend, Enzo insulted a certain tractor manufacturer when some complaints were made about the quality of Ferrari's road cars. In reality, Ferruccio Lamborghini might have been hot-tempered but he was also a shrewd businessman and knew there was a gap in the market for a grand tourer that was quicker than a Maserati but less temperamental than a Ferrari. Who to develop an engine for such a machine? One of Ferrari's own ex-engineers.

Bizzarrini's original V-12 was a little too high-strung for road use, redlining at 9800 rpm. Lamborghini's in-house engineers tamed the 3.5-liter DOHC motor for use in the 350GT, then turned it sideways and stuffed it in the middle of the Miura, the first of Italy's supercars. The basic architecture of the Bizzarrini V-12 would persist until 2010 in the last of the Murciélagos.

giotto bizzarrini
Klemantaski Collection - Getty Images

After being involved with the Iso Rivolta and Iso Grifo grand tourers, Bizzarrini founded his own company. The Bizzarrini 5300GT married Italian bodywork by Giugiaro's Italdesign with muscular Chevrolet small-block V-8 power. Only 133 were built, making them highly collectible today. A Bizzarrini 5300GT won its class at Le Mans in 1965.

This was not Bizzarrini's only dalliance with American V-8 power. The AMX/3 prototype was a mid-engined DeTomaso Pantera rival conceived by the American Motor Corporation (AMC) with Bizzarrini's input. The project was abandoned in 1970, but a handful of cars were made.

Just this February, the Bizzarrini name again came to the forefront, with a company planning a V-12 supercar for launch. Though he was not personally involved with the effort, the car would be called, simply, the Giotto. Should plans come to completion, it'll be a fitting tribute for a man who seemed to have a hand in the very best of Italian automobiles.

You Might Also Like