The relation between Alfa Romeo and
Zagato dates back to well before the second World War when the company
of Ugo Zagato supplied bodywork for racing cars like the 1929 Alfa Romeo
6C 1750 Gran Sport. In the 1950s Zagato specialized in lightweight Gran Turismo bodies for a wide range of sports cars. Alfa Romeo had a hard time reviving the company after WW II but finally made it to successful mass production with the small but lively Giulietta models. To give the regular berlina (sedan) models an appealing image its introduction was preluded by the 1954 Giulietta Sprint Veloce (SV), an elegant and sporty
But this family line only reflects on the historic Alfa-Zagato combination and the name of the car, which was first shown in 1989 as the ES-30. This "Experimental Sportscar-3.0 litre" was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show as a prototype by Zagato, but in fact its design history was far more complicated. No less than 3 teams were asked to design a proposal: the studio of Zagato, Alfa Romeo's own Centro Stile (Walter da Silva and Alberto Bertelli) and Fiat's design center headed by Robert Opron, the distinguished French designer of the Citroën CX for example. Unfortunately for Zagato its original design was discarded early on and ultimately the design which originated from the Fiat design center lead to the ES-30, with Robert Opron making the initial drafts and young designer Antonio Castellana largely responsible for both the styling of the body and the interior of the car.
The first 11 SZ cars were made that same year and a maximum production number of only 1,000 was announced. In 1990 the distribution of the SZ got under way with 289 cars produced. 1991 was to be last production year for the SZ. The final 736 cars left the factory, making the grand total for the SZ 1,036 produced cars (of which 38 were prototype and pre-production cars destined to be scrapped, but some of them are still extant).
Mechanically the SZ was based on Alfa Romeo's 75 America production model. For use in the SZ the 3.0 litre V6 light alloy engine of this car was tuned by Alfa's motor sport department Alfa Corse. The engine's compression ratio was enlarged to 10:1, the double overhead camshafts received a sharper cam profile and the Bosch Motronic engine management system was reprogrammed. This way the maximum power output was raised with at least 20 hp to 210 hp @ 6200 rpm and maximum torque was stated as 245 Nm @ 4500 rpm.
The underpinnings of the car were also based on that of the Alfa 75. Front and rear suspension were adapted from the Alfa 75 group A/IMSA competition cars, complete with uniball joints. The SZ was fitted with an adjustable hydraulic damper system by Koni by which the (limited) ground clearance could be varied by 50 mm with a knob on the dashboard.
"The Monster", like it was nicknamed by the press because of its extreme looks and amazing driving potential, is an unique car. It did just the trick: surprising people, getting attention and boosting Alfa Romeo's image. Most of the produced cars are still around and it's not hard to find one in Western Europe. Outside Europe on the other hand the SZ is extremely rare. Only in Japan there are more than a handful.