Reviving its tradition of building special-bodied Alfa Romeos, including the original SZ (Sprint Zagato) competition coupé of the late 1950s, Carrozzeria Zagato unveiled its outrageous new SZ at the 1989 Geneva Salon. Built at Zagato's factory at Terrazano di Rho, the SZ was a joint project that also involved the styling departments of both Alfa Romeo and its parent company, FIAT, whose Robert Opron was responsible for the initial sketches.
Originally typed 'ES 30' (Experimental Sports 3.0-litre) but known popularly as 'Il Mostro' (The Monster) the aggressive-looking two-seater coupé eschewed the rounded styling and aluminium-alloy coachwork previously associated with Zagato's high-performance Alfas in favour of an angular bodyshell crafted in lightweight moulded plastic - alloy roof excepted - by Carplast, which was bonded to the floor pan of the existing Alfa 75. Lessons learned from the latter's IMSA racing programme influenced the SZ's suspension, which endowed the car with superlative handling and roadholding, some drivers allegedly recording lateral cornering forces of up to 1.3G during testing. Suspension development was overseen by engineer Giorgio Pianta, formerly team manager of the FIAT and Lancia works rallying teams. There was power assisted steering but no ABS.
Powering the SZ to its highly respectable 152mph top speed was a 210bhp version of Alfa's superb 3.0-litre four-cam V6, widely recognised as one of the finest, and best sounding power plants of recent times, providing an amazing sense of theatre when you bury your right foot. This excellent performance was achieved thanks partly to the body's exceptionally low drag coefficient of 0.30 Cd, the product of many hours spent in FIAT's wind tunnel.
From a distance you wonder what on earth the SZ is. You get closer, and realise that this beast virtually rests on the ground, to help with aerodynamics. Alfa Racing cooked all the ingredients and delivered two working prototype chassis: the most extreme and uncompromising was chosen. After all, Alfa Romeo’s briefing did talk about a truly special car.
You peer inside, and notice that there are only two seats, with a great big space at the back, though only for luggage. The cabin is brilliantly minimalistic, the seats in leather. You then wonder what it would be like to drive, and walk round it, to the back, where you find a badge that says only two letters: S.Z. Sport Zagato. By now you have feelings for this car, and you haven’t even driven it.
Fifteen years ago, the Alfa SZ’s rear wheel chassis was a truly spectacular achievement. At launch, some of the UK press felt that the SZ had the best chassis behaviour among the Alfa’s contemporaries, like the BMW 535i SE, Ford Sierra Cosworth S500, Honda NSX and the Lotus Esprit Turbo SE; the Spartan interior added to the feeling of ‘neo-racer’, a term coined by Alfa Romeo itself. Sitting so close to the driving rear wheels adds to the experience of being at one with the machine, and the ride is harsh, with a suspension travel shorter than Richard Hammond. The brakes, ABS-free as yet another sign of a pure racer.
Demand for the 1,000-or-so SZs scheduled for series production greatly exceeded supply, and today this rare and highly individual supercar is much sought after. There was also an even rarer open spyder version: the RZ.
The Car offered.
Estimate (£): 45,000 - 65,000.
• Number '335' of 1,036 made
• Delivered new in the UK
• Left-hand drive
• Believed genuine circa 35,000 miles from new
• Original book pack and books
Find the auction here: www.gaukmotors.co.uk/post/featured-auction---1991-alfa-romeo-sz