Curbside Classic: 1967-75 Iso Rivolta Fidia – Blue-Collar Power, White Tie Exclusivity

Myrtletown is a peculiar neighbourhood in Brisbane. Main Beach Road takes you past dozens of old houses in a storage lot, ready for resale, past a park with World War II-era submarine detection buildings, and up to Brisbane’s international cruise ship terminal that’s embarrassingly located next to a sewage treatment plant; there’s no beach to speak of. It’s an unusual neighbourhood, but it’s the last place I’d expect to see an unusual, ultra-rare Italian-American hybrid like the Iso Rivolta Fidia.

Once the home of 250 people, Myrtletown had farms, a Methodist church and a school. The school shut down in 1971, however, with the expanded Brisbane Airport likely tarnishing the allure of this surprisingly bucolic part of Brisbane. Myrtletown became more or less a ghost town and a fun, forgotten curiosity to show my fellow Brisbanites, though in recent years it’s become increasingly redeveloped as an industrial estate. It’s home to a surprisingly lush green park, the home of those aforementioned WWII buildings, which I sometimes use for photography. It was on my way to shoot a press car that I saw this Iso Rivolta.

There are precious few Curbside Classics in Myrtletown, which made the Fidia’s placement on the side of the road, like it was some worker’s Ford Ranger all the more surprising. It’s surprising a Fidia is even in Australia, period. Just 192 were built between 1967 and 1975, the only four-door sedan the Italian firm ever offered. Originally known as the S4, it was renamed Fidia, ostensibly after a Greek sculptor.

Based on the Iso Rivolta coupe, the Fidia had a design penned by Giorgetto Giugario, then working at Ghia. The Fidia was launched in 1967, shortly after the company’s CEO, Renzo Rivolta, died of a heart attack. The office keys were passed to his 25-year old engineer son, Piero Rivolta. The whole Iso Rivolta saga, by the way, has been told in excellent detail by our own Tatra87 and is well worth the read.

The Fidia, like the Facel Vega Excellence that had recently ended production, was a large four-door luxury sedan with an American heart. Instead of a Chrysler V8, however, the Fidia used a Chevrolet 327. It counted among its rivals the V8-powered Maserati Quattroporte, and despite (or perhaps because) its engine powering humble Chevelles in the US, Iso Rivolta found the 327 desirable for its new sedan.

After all, here was an under-stressed, torquey, reliable and powerful engine and it had a prestigious (for Europe) number of cylinders. Iso Rivolta was hardly alone in sourcing V8 engines from the American Big 3. It helped get the Fidia to 60mph in just seven seconds, too, which led to the firm advertising the Fidia as “the four fastest seats in the world”.

In an Australian connection, the 327 was also used in our Holden Monaro which, despite its blue-collar positioning, might actually be more valuable on the used market than this Italian exotic.

The interior was redesigned in 1969, while 1973 saw Iso Rivolta switch engine suppliers to Ford – specifically, it started using the 351 Cleveland V8, mated with either a three-speed Ford Cruise-O-Matic auto or a ZF five-speed manual.

The oil crisis was effectively the nail in the coffin for the brand, which had been in fairly poor health since Renzo Rivolta’s death.

The Fidia wasn’t as beautiful as the Grifo to behold, though it wasn’t without aesthetic charm. Setting aside the lavish, leather-lined cabin, there was a distinctive exterior. The front end had a subtle aggression about it, while the belt line dipped down to help give the Fidia a low-slung look (that styling trick didn’t work quite as well on the 1990 GM-10 sedans, by the way). The wheels resembled flowers, while an oversized badge sat proudly on the C-pillars. Only the dull tail lights look out-of-place on this luxury sedan.

The Fidia was so ultra-exclusive, its name will elicit little more than a confused reaction from most people. Show those same people its Giugario-penned design and luxurious interior, however, and they may understand why this exotic sedan commanded such a hefty price in its day. It may not have saved Iso Rivolta, but it had four of the fastest, plushest seats in the world.

It just would look more at home next to a sprawling Tuscan villa, not by the curb in industrial Myrtletown.

Further Reading:

Vintage Review: Maserati Quattroporte III

Automotive History: Italian Deadly Sins (Part 2) – Iso Rivolta, The Impossible Dream

Vintage C&D Road Test: Iso Grifo G.L. – “Proof that pedigree doesn’t mean a thing”