Darren Frank was 7 years old when his father took him and his brother, Jamie, on their annual excursion to the New York Auto Show, where they were captivated by the site of a silver Iso Grifo. So captivated, it turned out, that four months later, while on a business trip to Italy, Darren’s dad went to Bresso, met Piero Rivolta, who had just taken charge of the company after his father’s death, and ordered a new Grifo.
“I was seven years old. Dad had this very, very cool car,” Frank recalls before sharing heartwarming tales of how he and his father bonded on rides and car washings.
Though he’d grown up a very poor kid in Brooklyn, Elliott Frank proved an astute businessman. He also liked sports cars, though the first one he could afford was a second-hand Corvette. As business blossomed, he could move his family to an affluent-enough community on Long Island that he had his Iso Grifo and a neighbor drove a Ferrari.
Darren Frank and the Ferrari-owner’s son used to debate which father had the better car, and they’d boast about how they’d have similar cars by the time they turned 30. The neighbor didn’t achieve that goal, but Darren Frank did, and he and his 1969 Iso Grifo are among the first to register for the Drive Toward a Cure’s Great Southern Adventure, a four-day road rally, tour and disease-fighting fund-raiser scheduled for September 27-30.
The Great Southern Adventure starts in Asheville, North Carolina, travels the Tail of the Dragon and other back roads and finishes in Braselton, Georgia, just in time for the second Atlanta Concours d’Elegance at the Chateau Elan.
Frank bought his Iso Grifo in 1989. In 1995, he was driving along when he realized the driver of the pickup truck behind him was signaling that Frank should pull over. He did.
“I have one like this at home,” the man told him.
“I doubt it,” Frank responded, knowing only 412 had been produced for the 1969 model year.
Nonetheless, they traded telephone numbers.
Curious, Frank tried calling the man, several times, to no avail. Finally, the man answered and stunned Frank by asking if he was Elliott Frank’s son. The man had purchased Frank’s father’s car, but had repainted it from green to blue. When Frank saw the tear on the passenger seat from his father’s camera tripod, he knew it had been his father’s car.
But the car hadn’t run in 15 years, so Frank helped him get the Iso back on the road.
On the road is where Frank believes such cars belong. Now living in Charlotte, North Carolina, Frank has shown his car from Greenwich to Amelia Island, and it has never been on a trailer since it arrived from Salt Lake City and Frank took it apart, had everything restored to original and reassembled it.
On such trips, which usually end with as much time being taken to detail the car as it did to drive to a destination, Frank travels with his buddy Jon Keil.
“He taught me how to work on cars,” Frank said, “I taught him how to clean them.”
Frank’s other frequent companion on shorter drives is his daughter, Charlotte, now 19.
Frank frequently gets offers to sell his car. Charlotte won’t hear of it. But then neither will Frank.
“You can’t sell my memories,” she tells him.
True, but you can recapture them, and a documentary, The Red Grifo, about Frank and his car is making its way around the movie festival circuit. You can watch the trailer on YouTube.
Oh, and if you’re wondering why in the trailer there’s an old snowmobile sitting in Frank’s garage in North Carolina, his father once offered to use one of his manufacturing plants to install the Chevrolet Corvette engines and Muncie transmissions into Iso vehicles. Instead, the company offered to make him the distributor for the Ski Cortina snowmobiles it was producing in a joint venture with DeTomaso.