1962 Alfa Romeo Giulietta SZY
ou either loved it or you hated it, but there wasn't much 'middle of the road' when it came to the controversial little sports car. From the start this memorable high performance super coupe Alfa Romeo SZ was dubbed 'Il Monstro' or Little Monster. During its lengthy automotive history, Alfa Romeo has been responsible for some awe-inspiring designs, and the Sprint Zagato or ES-30 (Experimental Sportscar 3.0 liter) was one of the most controversial of its models. The development occurred at lightning speed, taking only 19 months from the initial sketch to its debut at the Geneva motor show in March of 1989. This speed was achieved thanks to the use of integrated computer systems and CAD/CAM design.
The press was none to shy about voicing their opinion. Roger Bell of Car Magazine calling it 'Ugly, ghastly, ridiculous, monstrous' while other journalists didn't have anything nicer to say about it. The SZ though was exactly what Alfa Romeo needed at a time when the company was nearly bankrupt; Fiat hadn't had time to invest money in the company so a temporary substitute was needed to help raise Alfa Romeo's profile. Seeking to repair their tarnished image of building rusting cars with a lack of quality, Alfa Romeo sought a way to link with their exciting history of sports cars. Then there was Zagato, the Milan-based design studio and coach builder, who was working on a way of separating from their development and manufacturing of exotic car bodywork to industrial design and prototyping. The two companies were drawn to each other in a mutual need to reestablish their image in the late 1980's. The end result was the individual Alfa Romeo SZ coupe. The company was limited to developing a car on an existing platform, and the only suitable one was the respected Alfetta chassis, which had been around since 1972.
Three teams were given the job of designing the car by Vittorio Ghidella, Fiat's boss. Walter de Silva led one team; who would later go on to design the extremely successful Alfa Romeo 156. The second team consisted of Fiat's design manager Mario Maioli who created a smooth modern design that was quite conservative. Unfortunately it would have been difficult to produce due to its conventional construction. De Silva on the other hand worked in partnership with Zagato and designed something much more controversial, the bold SZ. Ultimately the design that originated from the Fiat design center lead to the ES-30 with Robert Opron making the initial drafts while young designer Antonio Castellana was mostly responsible for both the interior of the car and the styling of the body.
The need for speed in developing the car resulted in initial suspension settings sorted out by utilizing two Alfa Romeo 75 Mules and experience that was gained with the IMSA racing 75's. The SZ body was styled and the aerodynamics was fine tuned on a shortened 75 V7 floor pan. At the same time Zagato set to work in combination with Carplast to produce a body. Carplast specialized in resin panels and was run by Giuseppe Bizzarini, son of sports car manufacturer Giotto Bizzarrini.
In order to fit the methacrylic resin panels to the steel framework the SZ body used a variety of new techniques. It spend numerous hours in Fiat's wind tunnel and the engineers did a great job getting the bluff fronted design's drag factor down to a small 0.30 while still managing to produce down force. This was a difficult accomplishment in a vehicle shaped like an airplane wing. A thermoplastic resin, the coachwork was reinforced with glass fiber composite material that was joined to a steel chassis with special adhesives that produced a body with extreme torsional rigidity.
The chassis received more fine-tuning by Fiorgio Pianta once the SZ had reached the prototype stage. Pianta is credited with his work on some of Lancia's stunning rally cars. In testing the SZ he managed to create some impressive G figures up to a large 1.4G for short intervals of time.
Featuring extremely good visibility in the front, the large amounts of glass encased a surprisingly conventional interior. The dash is sporting, and the rev counter and Speedo were placed directly in the front while the minor instruments were placed off to the right in the center console. The interior controls were easy to find and use. The famous 'Z' crest of Zagato was placed on both sides of the car, though Zagato only made minor contributions to the design of the front and back of the ES-30. Unusual headlights were positioned in a trio on each side of the car, a design cue that was used subtly on later Alfa Romeos in the '00s.
Though it looked like something out of this world, Alfa Romeo chose to begin a production line for a limited series of the ES-30, renaming the car SZ (Sprint Zagato) as a reminder of Alfa's exciting past. That same year the initial eleven SZ cars were made and a maximum production number of 1,000 units was announced. Distribution of the SZ began in 1990, but with only 289 units produced. The following year was the final production year for the SZ. Only 736 models left the factory, which made the grand total 1,036 SZ cars ever produced. Thirty-eight of these models were prototype and pre-production cars whose future was the scrapyard, though some still survived today.
Only one color scheme was available for Alfa Romeo SZ: a red body or Rosso Alfa combined with a dark gray roof section. All of the cars were the same except for Andrea Zagato's personal vehicle; a rebuilt Trophy racing vehicle that was entirely black, the interior and the seats as well. All of the mechanical components of the SZ were produced by Alfa Romeo and further enhanced by Alfa Corse.
Even though the commercial success of the SA wasn't extremely high a convertible version was introduced from 1992 until December of 1994, the RZ (Roadster Zagato). Though in appearance it was nearly identical to the SZ, the two cars had completely different body panels except for the front wings and the trunk. The RZ received an updated bumper and doorsills to aid in ground clearance and the trunk lost the intimidating ridges. The RZ came in three colors; standard black, yellow and red. Black and yellow were the most popular choices. The yellow and red cars featured a black leather interior while the black car had a burgundy interior. The inside of the RS was quite similar to the SZ but with a painted central console that ran between the seats to hide the convertible roof storage area.
Plans were set to produce 350 units, but only 252 models were created before production was halted once the Zagato factory producing the cars for Alfa Romeo went into receivership. 32 more cars were completed under the control of the receivers before production was completed at 284 units, making the RZ the lowest production Alfa Romeo ever produced.By Jessica Donaldson
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