A Bizzarrini GT 5300. Picture: WIKIPEDIA
A Bizzarrini GT 5300. Picture: WIKIPEDIA

New York — Navigating the world of obscure Italian car brands after they’ve been infused with cash from Middle Eastern or Asian backers is a little like watching a 1960s spy film with the sound off. Or like reading blind items on the gossip website Page Six.

It’s beautiful, juicy, and sometimes a little confusing.

Bizzarrini — famous for its 1960s-era Ferrari lookalike race cars — is the latest heritage brand to receive the new-again treatment. It’s a trend that’s included most notably and recently De Tomaso (famous for the 1970s-wild Pantera, which is backed by Hong Kong investment firm Ideal Team Ventures) and Pininfarina, which just introduced an electric supercar backed by Mahindra Group. 

On November 9, London-based Pegasus Brands announced its intention to revive Bizzarrini even though it hasn’t made a car since 1969. Owned by Kuwaiti national Rezam Mohamed Al Roumi, Pegasus is an international dealership that represents Aston Martin Lagonda, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, and Koenigsegg, among others, with holdings in Aston Martin Works, the historic home and factory of Aston Martin coachworks since 1830. 

Janette Green, the newly installed chief marketing officer at Bizzarrini, said that the corporation had purchased the Bizzarrini marque from “Bizzarrini Ltd” in August 2019, which included all trademarks, intellectual property, and other assets. “The continuity of ownership and provenance remains,” wrote Green, who is also a spokesperson for Pegasus Auto, an apparent subsidiary of Pegasus Brands. (An interview with Al Roumi was declined; a request for additional comment was also declined.)

Smoke and mirrors

It’s feeling like déjà vu for a tiny Italian brand that made fewer than 400 cars in its history — the exact number is still hotly debated — and was mismanaged into a quick bankruptcy. Then again, that’s been par for the course with exotic and classic marques for the past century. 

Giotto Bizzarrini’s eponymous brand arose after the designer’s departure from Ferrari in 1960, when he and other key staff members staged a walkout to protest internal politics. He started consulting for other prominent Italian car brands, including Lamborghini and Iso, whose aluminium-bodied A3/C race cars became the blueprints for the first of his self-branded cars, the Bizzarrini GT 5300 Strada.

The Strada had the low, wide styling of the A3/C with a front mid-mounted, 365-horsepower Corvette V8 engine and a four-speed manual gearbox. Having an American-made engine hurt its popularity and investment value until recently.

The Strada had swooping front fenders and side vents that looked like gills. On the racetrack, it was known for blazing speed and elegant handling. The 1900 GT Europa and P538S would follow before the brand was declared bankrupt in 1969.

Bizzarrini (94) lives in Italy and builds cars on commission; he’s apparently not associated with the new iteration of his former company.

At least three former Aston Martin executives have signed on with the new company. Ulrich Bez, formerly the CEO of Aston Martin Lagonda, is listed in company press statements as chair of Bizzarrini; Christopher Shepherd, formerly the CEO of Aston Martin Middle East North Africa, is listed as CEO; and Green, a former global brand communications director at Aston Martin Lagonda, is listed as chief marketing officer. (A request for an interview with Bez was declined.)

Their presence lends credibility to the endeavour despite Aston Martin itself faltering with poorer sales than competitors during the coronavirus pandemic and significantly dialed-back sales targets for 2025 and beyond, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Michael Dean. 

It’s also notable that Paolo Garella, the highly respected Italian engineer who built the Glickenhaus SCG and Aspark Owl with his Manifattura Automobili Torino design firm, was, at one time, associated with the brand. A Ferrari forum from 2018 records chatter surrounding an application for both Scuderia Bizzarrini and Bizzarrini Livorno trademarks by Manifattura Automobili Torino — and sources close to Garella have said he’d gone so far as to conceive a modern Bizzarrini concept car as a way to take the temperature, as it were, of ultra-high net worth prospective buyers. 

But Garella said that he’s not involved with the announced Pegasus Brands project and that the trademarks request was not accepted. “We did it for a group of US investors interested in setting up restoration and certification activity in the US, but unfortunately it did not happen,” he said. His involvement with the brand, however, shows one of the world’s best engineers and designers at one time believed it held promise. 

The allure of something new

Even the hint of a new version of these extremely collectible cars is notable to that uber-elite group of buyers who like their modern hyper-cars in the $1m to $3m range — those who buy Koenigseggs, Paganis, and Hennesseys. It wouldn’t take much, all things considered, to sell a modern Bizzarrini in much the same way elite hyper-car makers conjure revenue: they produce a handful of cars and find those people in the world who want to buy them. 

The Aston Martin DB5 driven by Sean Connery in ‘Goldfinger’ is being built again in a limited run of 25 cars. Picture: SUPPLIED
The Aston Martin DB5 driven by Sean Connery in ‘Goldfinger’ is being built again in a limited run of 25 cars. Picture: SUPPLIED

“If Bizzarrini went in the direction where the brand was redeveloped really, truly around racing of some sort, and the new products were developed out of a spirit of racing and technology, that might be enough of a story to tell, to give the brand some legs,” says Chuck Wray, owner of Grand Touring, a Virginia-based restoration shop that specialises in Bizzarrini and those of a similar ilk. “There are just so many wealthy people in the world today that this is not that hard of a business model.”

The danger, Wray says, would be in wrapping an existing brand name such as Bizzarrini around inferior products rather than making it new again with exciting engineering and technology: “You really are going to have to do something more special than the other small batch manufactures, if that’s your business model,” he says. “Otherwise, you will just fade off into oblivion because you were just another wannabe.”

Meanwhile, the guys interested in the old Bizzarrinis are watching with curiosity, though not, perhaps, with bated breath.

“It’s interesting, but it’s a vanity project,” says Steve Serio, the blue-chip car expert who’s sold 12 of the existing 114 original Bizzarrini 5300 road cars. In the past six months, he’s facilitated the private sale and purchase of three of them. “There isn’t a long-time Bizzarrini collector on the planet who would give a crap [about a new Bizzarrini car], because they all bought their cars for about $100,000. I don’t see any of the guys I’ve ever sold a Bizzarrini to even considering it.”

That mentality applies even to collectors now paying over $1m for the originals, Serio says. The average value today of a Bizzarrini 5300 GT Strada in perfect condition is $1.2m, triple what it was in 2010, according to Jonathan Klinger, a spokesperson for Hagerty, and a Bizzarrini 5300 GT America in perfect condition has an average value of $850,000 — more than 2.5 times its value in 2010. (The original GT 5300s sold in the US cost $10,500, or $78,500 at today’s rates, according to Hemmings’s Mark McCourt.)

In 2015, the Keno Brothers Fine Automobile Auctions set a record with a 1968 Bizzarrini 5300 Strada selling for just more than $1m, including fees. But the private market is where more than 90% of Bizzarrini transactions occur.

These days, an authentic, good-condition GT 5300 Strada with an alloy body requires at least $1.5m to own, Serio says. And, of course, the asking price will be much higher.

It will take considerable magic — even for the Italians, English, and Kuwaitis now working their alchemy together — to top that kind of mark-up.

Bloomberg

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