Bizzarrini Iso Grifo A3C
Bizzarrini Iso Grifo A3C

Sebring Saga – 1965 Sebring 12 Hours Profile

Sebring Saga – The Story of Two Bizzarrini Iso Grifos at the 1965 Sebring 12 Hour Grand Prix

By Louis Galanos | Photos as credited

In March the Sebring International Raceway (SIR) will celebrate a couple of anniversaries that are part of the significant motorsports history of that legendary track.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the first win by BMW with the overall honors going to British driver Brian Redman and Australian Allan Moffat who started the race in their BMW 3.0 CSL. The racing CSL’s were very successful in the European Touring Car Championship as well as the IMSA GT Championship in the 1970’s. With their full aerodynamic package they also went by the nickname “Batmobile”. BMW is planning a celebration of that win at Sebring this year.

2015 is also the 50th anniversary of the overall victory by Texans Jim Hall and Hap Sharp who delivered an unexpected win in their American-made Chaparral 2A. Prior to 1965 the last time an American-made car had won at Sebring was the Cunningham C4R of John Fitch and Phil Walters in 1953.

The 1965 win by a Chaparral with its unorthodox automatic transmission is now part of motorsports history and in the record books. However, one aspect of the race that is often overlooked is the tropical deluge of rain that struck the track half way through the race changing the outcome for many entrants.

One of those entrants that felt the wrath of Sebring weather that year was the two car team of Chevy-powered Bizzarrini Iso Grifo A3C coupes entered by Italian auto manufacturer Giotto Bizzarrini of Livorno, Italy. Bizzarrini was a chief engineer at Ferrari in the 1950s but during the major upheaval at the factory in 1961 he left and eventually formed his own company, Bizzarrini SpA where he built handmade cars for the street and racing. One thing unique about his Italian-made cars was that they were powered by Chevrolet V8 engines.

Iso Grifo A3C of Silvio Moser and Mario Casoni. They failed to finish due to an accident. Photo courtesy of mycarquest.com and The Griffon.
Iso Grifo A3C of Silvio Moser and Mario Casoni. They failed to finish due to an accident. Photo courtesy of mycarquest.com and The Griffon.
Bizzarrini car badge
Bizzarrini car badge
Iso Grifo A3C of Charlie Rainville and Mike Gammino. They failed to finish due to an accident. Photo courtesy of mycarquest.com and The Griffon
Iso Grifo A3C of Charlie Rainville and Mike Gammino. They failed to finish due to an accident. Photo courtesy of mycarquest.com and The Griffon

As a small Italian auto manufacturer Mr. Bizzarrini knew that success in racing usually meant better sales at the showroom. A win or high placement at North America’s premier sports car race would go a long way in promoting sales in the U.S. and Europe.

The Bizzarrini Iso Grifo A3C was the competition version of the A3L super coupe and in 1964 did quite well at Le Mans, Monza, Targa Florio and the one car entered at Sebring managed to finish. A repeat trip to Sebring was needed and plans were made to ship two race cars to the U.S. A good finish at Sebring in 1965 might be just what was needed to boost sales in the U.S. especially in the car crazy culture of Southern California.


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Going to Sebring from Italy was a monumental and expensive undertaking for such a small company and Mr. Bizzarrini sought the help of C. Rino Argento who had numerous contacts in the U.S. racing community. A native Italian Mr. Argento had been living in the U.S. and working in the American automotive industry for many years. Racing teams like Ferrari, Maserati and Abarth had enlisted his help in the past with dealing with the myriad of problems associated with shipping race cars from Italy to Sebring for the race.

Mr. Argento told his story about his adventure with the Bizzarrini team at Sebring in 1965 in the Spring 2001 issue of The Griffon (The magazine of the Iso & Bizzarrini Owner’s Club). In that story he told how he arranged for accommodations for the Bizzarrini team, garage space for the cars in Sebring, transportation for the cars when they arrived at the port of Jacksonville, Florida as well as arranging for fuel, tires and other items needed for the race.

C. Rino Argento at Sebring in 1965.  Photo courtesy of mycarquest.com and The Griffon
C. Rino Argento at Sebring in 1965. Photo courtesy of mycarquest.com and The Griffon

With his many contacts in U.S. motorsports Mr. Argento was instrumental in recruiting two American drivers for the Bizzarrini team who would drive the #9 Iso Grifo A3C during the race. The other two drivers were recruited by Mr. Bizzarrini and would be coming over from Europe with him. They were Swiss driver Silvio Moser and Italian Mario Casoni.

The Americans, Charlie Rainville and Mike Gammino, were both highly respected drivers from Rhode Island. Rainville was a Sebring veteran of long standing while Gammino had vast experience driving Ferraris in SCCA club events.

According to Mr. Argento both Rainville and Gammino were willing to drive at Sebring for no compensation. In addition they would bring along their own mechanics and family members to help crew. Rainville’s wife was experienced doing lap charts for her husband and was recruited to do the same for the Bizzarrini team. Getting people to volunteer their services at their own expense was not uncommon during this period. For some going to Sebring was at the top of their “bucket list” and this offer to be part of the action was too good to pass up. By the time the cars arrived from Italy Mr. Argento had a full complement of experienced personnel ready to support the team and at no additional cost to Mr. Bizzarrini and his car company. Such was the draw of being at Sebring in the 1960’s.

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  1. Thanks Lou. I was working at the MG bridge and remember the Chaparral pulling over under the bridge, opening the door and letting the water drain out, then continuing. It was one of the races that is hard to forget. You always bring back great memories. Just a few more of these mini-histories and you will have a book.

    1. It is my understanding that eventually, during a pitstop, the Chaparral crew used a screwdriver to punch a hole in the floor to prevent further flooding.

  2. So that’s why I talked to Rino Argento for over an hour! But I don’t know whether he called me or I called him! Theoretically I was supposed to be a driver and I was subtly concerned that $$$ had never been mentioned. The cars looked cobbled together in the Sebring garage so I never checked back with them. I tell myself that I woulda brought my car home, you betcha…remember, the older you get the better you were

  3. Great story Louis, I liked the photograph of the barely recognisable MGB in the deluge, that was some rain… There are 2x Bizzarrini´s racing here in Europe that I have seen. On the Nordschleife Nurburgring you can hear them coming long before one catches sight of them. A fellow New Zealander by the name of Roger Wills and his Co driver, won the AvD Historic-Marathon a few years ago in one… Thanks for the story Louis…

    1. The other reason it is difficult to reconcile it is an MGB is the fact it is actually running and lights still working in the rain!! Mine never did!! Great photographs and great story.

  4. Are you related to Tom Galan? ( Galanos)
    NASCAR / Ford racing. & motorcycle organization @ Daytona?
    Len Fanelli

    1. Len: Don’t think so unless he has Greek parentage. My father was a bit of a rascal in his youth before he married my mom so you never know.

  5. Marvelous memories, yes, , May 1959 I arrived from France in Providence RI. Charlie Rainville, the then manager of Jack Kaplan’s Foreign Cars, reservoir ave, Providence RI gave me my first mecanic’s job in the States! I remember he asked do you have any tools? No, ! No problem, he allowed me to use his own tools, for few days, fist pay check,he introduced me to the Snap ON tool tuck driver, who cashed my check & keep 25$ against future tools purchase! I remember working on Charlie’s alfa Giulietta getting it ready for the week end.at Thompson
    with Charlie rainville, at Jack’s,Wonderfull experience: I worked on Borgward, Fiats 1100, Moretti , BMW 507, Jaguars, alfas, all type of foreign cars that landed in the US!

    Mike Gamino, I used to hang up my week ends helping all car owners at Thompson week ends, this is how I meet peoples, Mike Gamino was driving his red Ferrari GTO, a novelty in these days, he had hired an Italian mechanic Liberio Girardi to work on his car, I learned a lot by spending my sundays there with all those peoples

    I remember later when Mike Gamino sold his GTO,& trough his fathers’s connections in Italy, mid to late 60’s imported,a Lamborghini powered rear engine car, this car was not competitive enough to drive against all the other Can Am cars , such as Lola etc…Mc laren….

    I leaved the American dream of these days; hard working to accomplish my own dream, get my own car dealership! High Performance Cars of Waltham Massachusetts, thanks to
    Mr. Peter Sachs, who gave me a job as chief mechanic, March 1st 1963, & sold me the store July 1969!
    1993, I retired after the manufacturers I was representing abandoned the US car market! Alfa, Maserati, Peugeot

      1. No I had moved to Boston, 1963 I worked for the Volvo dealer, in newton Mass
        we probably meet at Thompson, I was hanging there, every week ends, this is how I meet Peter Sachs, who was national champion H modified with his Brabham BT5
        I worked , in 1959 on Charlie Rainville’s Giulietta Alfa.
        after while working for peter at High Performance cars, I worked on the 1600 MGA of Bob Zeigel’s he had won the pole position was in 1966 at Daytona! Bob Sharp was so impressed that he had offer me a job working on his Datsun’s, hard decision good thing I did not move, later peter sold me the dealership!!
        great memories

    1. The Lamborghini powered car that Gammino received was the second Bizzarrini P538 built ( the first one was crashed during it’s test) and is now at the San Diego Auto Museum. If anyone has pictures of this car when it raced at Bridgehampton I would be interested in them. I was told that was the last race Gammino entered. The P538 ran over some debris from a Lola during practice and was never raced in the US. meclarke@sbcglobal.net

  6. As usual, fantastic job Lou. Photos, narrative, accuracy…….the usual Galanos standard of excellence! Great idea to concentrate on the Bizzarini autos. A part of the racing history of those years that merits recognition. Also Bizzarini himself. I find the curriculim of this man amazing. After 3 years with Alfa Romeo he goes to Ferrari and works on the 12 cylinder 3000 Testa Rossa, the Mondial engine, and various versions of the Ferrari 250. In 1961 he leaves Ferrari with Carlo Chiti where after a brief period with the new ATS he starts his own company in Livorno where he designs and builds the first Lamborghini engine for the Lamborghini 350 GTV. He contributes to the Ferrari 250 GT “Breadvan” for the Scuderia Serenissima before working with Bertone to produce the Iso Grifo which used a Chevy V8. Then the Bizzarini in 1964. Unbelieveable.

  7. This article brought back some great memories. I listened to this race on Motor Racing Network when I was 14. My imagination didn’t do justice to the pictures that accompanied the race articles that followed. Sebring 1965 was THE “Amazing Race”.

  8. Lou, as always you have done an excellent job retelling one of the great stories of Sebring and especially of that dramatic year. I remember slogging through the water after hearing that a car had been cut in half on the front straight. After seeing the remains of the car, I could not believe the eyewitnesses who told me that the driver had walked away. Of course as racing was then, it was dangerous for both drivers, crews and spectators. I remember that the snow fence had been trampled down at the MG bridge and one young man was sitting on the curb right next to the track. Hope to see you at Sebring this year.

  9. Got my tickets to this years race yesterday. I was at the ’65 race also. Must have told 1000 friends how the sprites/fiat-abarths etc. were lapping the prototypes during the storm. What a wonderful accounting of the race and the things that I didn’t see or have forgotten. Three weeks and it will be ON again. See you all there.
    Blair

  10. Louis the depth and details in your stories never cease to amaze. Thanks for this all but forgotten story from one of the greatest Sebring races ever.
    Harry Kennison

  11. A most interesting narrative! Especially the focus on the two Bizzarrinis. My wife and I have special memories of that race, and of one of the two Bizzarrinis. You see, my wife was one of the “two injured” when Charlie Rainville slid into the snow fencing “protecting” the spectators on the opening lap. We had come down from Atlanta on a chartered bus to see our first Sebring race, and were standing at the snow fence ready to enjoy the action. We saw Mr. Rainville’s car come sliding sideways out of the first turn toward us, and we also saw that some of the “action” was going to happen right where we were standing! I turned around to my right to get out of the way just as the car leveled the snow fence, which knocked me down, not hurt. My wife, to my left, turned to her left to also get away, but her path was blocked by a scaffold which had been erected just behind her. Charlie’s car came to a stop against her, pinning her leg against the scaffold, and knocking her head against it. She ended up with a grapefruit size bruise on her leg, and cuts around one eye from her broken glasses. A lad who was on the scaffold fell or jumped off. He had a cast on one leg, and was concerned he had reinjured his leg. He, my wife, and I were transported to a local hospital in a sheriff’s car, lights and siren going – one of the scariest rides I’ve ever had in an automobile. After a couple of hours in the ER, during which time we saw Silvio Moser brought in after his “shunt”‘, we were returned to the race. Carole, my wife, “saw” the rest of the race from inside the chartered bus, medicated. I was able to watch it, and the monsoon, in a more normal fashion. Carole wasn’t too keen on going to any more sports car races for the next 20 or 30 years…

    1. Great story since many of the reports about what happened conflict. Charlie’s son Paul told me that a lawsuit had been filed concerning the injuries. For history’s sake could you tell me how that turned out. You can contact me at: louisgalanos@gmail.com

  12. Fantastic account of that great effort by the Italian underdog team Lou. Those Dave Nicholas photos are incredible. As you know Chevy engines also powered Ferraris and Maseratis in the mid 60s, but of course they were transplants and did not compete in the Sebring 12 Hour races. Your personal insights make all your Sebring and Daytona stories a delight to read. Keep em coming!

  13. Being too “young” to have attended this race I got a better than before insight into the mechanics behind this tragedy. One wonders what would have become of Iso and Bizzarrini had it not been a downpour like that, for sure this day was a nail in their coffin. Thank you, great narrative!

  14. Yes wonderful article. But we know why the Iso has never been found. Owner doesn’t know … or … he doesn’t want anybody to know …

  15. My girlfriend (now wife) and I were leaving the track to go swimming (cool off) when the No. 8 Grifo’s brakes failed. While briefly stopped adjacent to the hairpin I noticed a race car had left the track and was headed straight for us. It was still at a good distance but I soon noticed the huge plum of dust and dirt being generated by the car. That told me the car was really flying. Thankfully there was enough space for me to pull forward about 6 feet. The Grifo driver saw the gap develop and drove directly behind us. He was so close and still moving fast enough that as he passed behind us it shook our 1964 Chevelle Malibu SS. I watched in horror as the Grifo smashed into the side of the Volkwagon bus which was stopped, waiting to get into the track. An article in the Tampa Tribune described the event to a certain extent but I learned many more details by reading this online article! Lonnie K.

    1. Thanks Lonnie. My story has really generated several good back stories about the race from the people who were there that adds new insight to what happened that day. The 1965 Sebring race, in my opinion, is one of the top five races in the storied history of that track.

  16. Thanks Lois for sharing such a great set of photographs .
    A great period for sports car racing with some of the best drivers in the world including F.1 My interest was always road based sports cars and my first was an Austin Healey 100/6. Later I was lucky to purchase the ex-works Healey 3000 from the 1965 Sebring 12 Hour( race no. 34 ) driven by Australian Paul Hawkins and Englishman Warwick Banks. Built by Donald Healey as a lightweight circuit racer they are less well known than the BMC built red & white rally cars. Geoff Healey viewed the car in Australia and was pleased to see it was still quite original.
    Healey always targeted the Sebring 12 Hour race with his Sprites including the all alloy ‘Streamliners’. 1965 was the first race for this chassis/body style. I am lucky enough to have the 1966/67 car. Great performance from 1293cc in endurance racing.

  17. Gotta get that photo of the two Chapparals passing the 904; it belonged to my SCCA sponsor, Jack Ryan, of Griffin, GA. That was my first of 17 Sebrings. Before the next race I had bought a 1:24 scale slot car and replicated the yellow and orange paint scheme and the number 43. At some point at age 18 I sat in the car and pulled a leg muscle getting out.

  18. Always a pleasure reading , and then re-reading, your articles with the fantastic photos – many vintage and hard to find elsewhere.
    Too bad Sports Car Digest has started to concentrate on photos (only).

  19. A few Bizzarinis now running very strongly in European historic racing against Cobras, E-Types and Corvettes .