The P538 or P538S was a rear-engined race car launched in late 1965 or early 1966 by Scuderia Bizzarrini of Livorno, Italy.
The cars used five-speed manual transaxles with gearing specific to the race for which each car was constructed. Braking was via inboard four wheel disc brakes, with a fully independent suspension. The body was made of fiberglass over a tubular steel chassis.
Starting out his career at Alfa Romeo in the 1950’s Giotto Bizzarrini quickly earned a name for himself through his work for Ferrari, where he helped to develop the 250 Testa Rossa and was responsible for leading the team that built the 250 GTO. Giotto Bizzarrini’s credentials are the stuff of legend, he having been project engineer for Enzo Ferrari’s fabled 250 GTO, the original Lamborghini 3500 GT V-12 and the Isos Rivolta and Grifo. In 1962, Bizzarrini went out on his own and in partnership with Iso, he helped to create the Iso Grifo and Rivolta alongside Giorgetto Giugiaro. Bizzarrini started building cars under his own name in 1963, further developing Iso’s AC/3 into the Bizzarrini 5300 Strada and 5300 Corsa. Rather than fit these cars with the seemingly obvious choice of an Italian V-12 engine, Bizzarrini instead chose to utilize Chevrolet’s small-block 327 cu. in. V-8. In Italy, only racing could confer full credibility on a car builder, a fact that drove the creation of the Bizzarrini P538.
At the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans, Bizzarrini entered an all-new racing car dubbed the P538. Clothed in gorgeous spider bodywork penned by Giugiaro, it was equipped with that 327 cu. in. Chevy V-8 small-block (which converts to 5.3-litres, explaining the P538 nomenclature).
Wrapped in sleek Guigiaro-designed fiberglass bodywork bonded directly to the space frame chassis, the P538 was as sleek as anything of its time, but FIA rules changed and looming bankruptcy prevented Bizzarrini from developing it. Instead he dismantled at least one of the cars and hid the pieces away from the court’s prying investigators. Once matters were settled, in the early 1970s Bizzarrini and his wife Rosanna teamed with his former company foreman, Salvatore Diomante, to build a small number of P538s.
Between 1965 and 1969 Prototipo Bizzarrini S.P.A. Livorno manufacured five P538 Barchettas, with a rear mounted engine.
Following the bankrupcy of Prototipo Bizzarrini S.P.A. Livorno in 1969, Giotto Bizzarrini started in 1971 a new company under the name of Laboratorio Automotori di Bizzarrini, where he continued to produce several Bizzarrini cars. Among others, Laboratorio Automotori di Bizzarrini produced three additional P538 and chassis 400-001, commissioned in the beginning of 1970's, P538 400-004 delivered in 1974 to Andrea Morelli (this car) and P538-004 delivered in 1976 to Jacques Lavost.
The above information can be verified in the official Bizzarrini Registry, under the supervision of Mr. Lucas Bizzarrini.
As nicely quoted: "Makes a strong man cry! Makes a woman swoon! Causes the sun to rise in the morning!" And the V12 is not as reliable as the V8 versions and heavier.
This P538 was constructed by Giotto Bizzarrini and financed by Andrea Morrelli. 400-004 was equipped originally with the V12 engine from Lamborghini 400 GT (this explains the 400 in the chassis number). The car was commissioned in October 1974. After initial test runs, the Lamborghini V12 engine was replaced with a lighter Chevrolet V8 at the rquest of Andrea Morrelli.
First registration occured in March 1975. Second registration in November 1982. In 2001, the car was sold to an Italian collector. In 2012, the car received its FIA Racing Certification and competed in several rallies and hill climbs during 2012 and 2013. In 2015, the car joined an extensive classic car collection in Southern France, where it was located before it now came for sale. In February 2019, the car received the official FFVE Attestation and in April 2019, the P538 received its road legal registration.
Unique Characteristic of P538 400-004 from the oficial Bizzarrini Registry: "It took 40 years to understand why this P538 is narrower than the other P538. When Giotto Bizzarrini and Andrea Morelli built this P538, it was intended to be driven in the village of Viareggio, the town of Morelli, so they retreciated the P538 on its width to be able to circulate in the small streets. Nobody ever noticed this detail and it was communicated by Andrea Morelli during the visit to Viareggio in 2016. This unique feature is documented in the original hand-written letter of Andrea Morelli." This makes together with the lighter V8 engine the lightest P538 with weight of only 800 kg powered by 480 hp!