The Story of the Cizeta-Moroder V16T – The Hypercar Lamborghini Should've Made
This is the story of one of automotive history's most forgotten hypercars.
Every now and again, we all find ourselves mistaken when identifying someone or something. Beyond the politically correct world of impossibly appropriate pronouns, I found myself mistaking the identity of something – with rather vicious consequences.
It was at a family meal at an Indian buffet just before Christmas. Amongst all the curries and traditional cuisine, I thought I'd identified one of my favourite vegetables – green beans. Suitably enthused, I put a sizeable portion on my plate next to some Lamb Biryani, and went back to my table to get stuck in.
I loaded my fork up to the brim, and just in the fleeting moment prior to shovelling them into my mouth, the thought crossed my mind of how odd it was to see green beans in an Indian restaurant. Nevertheless, I proceeded to sink my teeth into them – upon which, I made a shocking revelation.
They weren't green beans – they were green chillis!
I courageously chewed through the pain with tears flooding out of my eyes; after all, spitters are quitters. I then spent the rest of the night talking as though I'd curiously poked my tongue into a cigarette lighter, with everybody asking me "didn't you know they were chillis?". I learnt then that sarcastic responses backfire spectacularly when you deliver them with a strong lisp. So, as the night drew to a close, I wished everybody a "mewwy cwissmusph", and left to chew an ice-cube.
Such cases of mistaken identity can also happen in the car world – particularly with the car you see before you...
If you think it looks like a Lamborghini Diablo, you'd be right. But in actual fact, it's something much hotter. It's the Cizeta V16T, and its visual similarities to the Lamborghini Diablo are no coincidence. In fact, the Cizeta is often referred to as the hypercar that Lamborghini should've made. But despite being a promising new entry into the performance car market in the late 80's and early 90's, it – quite poetically – failed to take the bull by the horns. This is the story of one of automotive history's most sadly forgotten cars that could've been...
As I've already hinted at, the Cizeta is a car that was originally destined to wear the Lamborghini badge, and be released as the Diablo that it appears to so closely resemble. The aesthetics were designed by a chap called Marcello Gandini – a man whose repertoire consisted of both the Lamborghini Miura and Countach. Naturally then, with such an astounding CV, he was the man Lamborghini put in charge of designing a replacement for the Countach. And when he put pen to paper, what would become the Cizeta was born.
Lamborghini liked the design very much, but unfortunately, in 1987, Chrysler took ownership of the raging bull, and decided that Gandini's design was far too extreme for the American market – the largest supercar market. Funny really, because I can't think of a single thing in all of human history that's ever been "too extreme" for America...well, apart from Hillary Clinton!
Credit - Car Throttle
Instead of creating something entirely new, Chrysler's aim was to water Gandini's design down sufficiently – a process which lead them to sculpting the Diablo, which they released in 1990. Gandini however was absolutely furious! As far as he was concerned, the fact that Chrysler had seen his design as outlandish meant that he had composed something that embodied the very nucleus of what a Lamborghini was supposed to be. So, he left Chrysler to their blasphemy in high dudgeon. Little did he know in his seething rage that Chrysler's ignorance would only lead him into the welcoming arms of an unknown manufacturer who would make his original design come to life.
That aforementioned unknown manufacturer was, of course, Cizeta – or, as it was originally known, Cizeta-Moroder. The company originated when ex-Lamborghini engineer and Ferrari dealer Claudio Zampolli decided to fulfil his life-long ambition to craft his very own supercar. Despite his ambition, he couldn't utilise his expertise to make his vision without a sizable chunk of money. An investor was needed, and as luck would have it, an investor is what he got. Enter Giorgio Moroder.
Moroder was a music composer whose most notable fame came from writing the Scarface soundtrack. He and Zampolli met when Moroder brought his Lamborghini into Zampolli's workshop for a service. After a friendly chat – which may have included an encouraging dose of his preferred tipple – Moroder was willing to put his money into Zampolli's supercar project.
In truth however, no amount of alcohol could possibly be as intoxicating to Moroder as learning that Zampolli wanted his supercar to be powered by a V16 engine. In a world of 12 cylinder goliaths, and turbocharged hooligans, Zampolli was aware that any newcomer to the supercar domain was going to have to stand out like a burning beacon in the darkness. In keeping with the superficial "more-is-more" attitude of the day, he saw those extra 4 cylinders as the division belt between him and the establishment. Moroder agreed, and invested his money.
Along with his money, he gave his name; hence, the "Moroder" part of the original manufacturer's title. The "Cizeta" part of the name was an abbreviation of Claudio Zampolli's initials as spoken in Italian – "Chi", and "Zeta".
So, they had the name, the engineering expertise, the money, and a workshop in Modena. Being the supercar making capital of the world, Zampolli set-up in Modena as he knew engineers with experience of working on supercars would be local. Little did he know however that also in the area was Gandini looking to put his extravagant design to good use.
Zampolli had already penned a design for his supercar – but it was very conservative. The more adventurous nature of Gandini's design appealed to him as he felt it would epitomise the next-level identity he wanted to give the car. Gandini's sorrow had turned to elation, and after making the necessary amendments in order to accommodate the V16 powerplant, work begun on bringing the car to life.
Firstly, Zampolli set about creating the signature engine. As an ex-Lamborghini engineer, he designed the V16 as 2 V8s – each mirroring the architecture found in the Lamborghini Uracco P300S's flat-plane crank V8. The two engines would share a block, and would synchronise their separate cam and crankshafts via 2 timing chains. At 6 litres in capacity, the finished engine was an absolute monster! Squeezing it in the car was, quite literally, going to require some lateral thinking.
If when looking at the name of the car – V16T – you believe that the "T" denotes turbocharging, you wouldn't be the first to make that mistake. Instead, it stands for "transverse". Given the enormity of the engine, the Cizeta ended up being extremely wide – but the crime of width wasn't as large as the crime of length that would've been committed had they mounted the engine longitudinally.
In order to accommodate the transaxle 5-Speed ZF manual gearbox, and to keep the centre of gravity as low as possible, the V16 was tilted 10 degrees forward. The engine sat in a steel frame that was welded together by hand, and was enveloped by a body made out of aluminium. The car was almost entirely bereft of carbon fibre, with the only traces of it being found in the dashboard.
At 3759lbs (1705kg), the Cizeta was no lightweight – but thankfully, it was packing a 540bhp heavyweight punch. The 0-60mph time was said to be just over 4 seconds, with the top speed estimated to reach 204mph. In order to achieve those statistics however, a person would have to enjoy the aural onslaught provided by the V16 as it soared up to its 8,000rpm redline. There's absolutely no doubt about it: it had the potential to be a serious player in the flourishing hypercar domain of the era.
On the 5th of December 1988, the world got its first glimpse of the V16T, which was the most powerful car in the world at the time of its unveiling. If naming the car after it signature engine didn't draw sufficient focus to it, then you can guarantee the isolated engine displayed in a glass case next to the car certainly did. And indeed, it was the engine that made people gasp with desperate amounts of want to get their hands on it.
Credit - GTSpeed
Despite costing $300,000 – roughly twice what a Diablo was going to cost upon its release 2 years later – Zampolli received 14 orders for the car, with each person putting down a deposit of $100,000. The future looked rosy. As far as everyone at Cizeta was concerned, they were riding down the highway of success, cruising towards superstardom in the hypercar arena. In their euphoria, they estimated it would take between 2-3 years to get the production line rolling. Little did they know that in this time, everything would go horribly wrong for them.
Moroder started looking for ways to make the car cheaper to build, but also faster. He went to Germany to speak to a company regarding making the body out of fibreglass rather than aluminium, and while he was there, he also enquired about replacing the V16 engine with a BMW unit. The thing was however, he did all of this without first consulting Zampolli.
Understandably, when he found out, Zampolli strongly refuted Moroder's proposed changes – especially in regards to the jewel of the engine he'd built from scratch.
Time found that this was a disagreement that they could not resolve, so in the end, they conceded to split. In an agreement that would set fine example to most divorce courts, Moroder got the original Cizeta prototype, and Zampolli got 100% ownership of the Cizeta-Moroder brand. But of course, due to the fact that Moroder was no longer part of the company, it was renamed Cizeta Automobili.
Credit - Flatout
Zampolli then focused on finishing the cars that'd been ordered. Having had keen interest from around the world, he considered it to be of paramount importance to get the car into production while the iron was hot. But due to how everything on the car was handmade, building them wasn't a quick process.
Despite progress being slower than what would've been ideal, the future still had a promising glow to it. But then, after Cizeta's small workforce finished 9 out of the 14 pre-ordered cars, disaster: Zampolli ran out of money. And without Moroder to keep cash flowing into the business while it found its feet, nobody would do business with him. And with that, in September 1994, Cizeta Automobili was declared bankrupt. The dream was officially over.
As tragic as it may initially seem, when you look more closely, it's hard to know how the V16T could've ever been a real success. After all, with America being the largest supercar market on Earth, it would be wise of Zampolli to ensure the Cizeta could be sold there. But throughout the development of the car, no effort was dedicated to making it meet US safety and emissions regulations. As a result, it didn't, and therefore was never legal to drive on the public roads in America. Quite ironic really, because in 2006, from an industrial estate in California, Cizeta Automobili rose from the ashes to start making the V16T once again.
Made to the original specification of 1988 on an order-only basis, you can still to this day buy the Cizeta V16T for $649,000 for the Coupe, or $849,000 for the Spyder. In the time since the brand relaunched, 3 people have ordered new cars. In many ways then, you can think of those 3 cars as the inhabitants of the automotive Jurassic Park, because really and truly, they're new-born Dinosaurs.
Written by: Angelo Uccello
Tribe: Speed Machines
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