The Alfa Romeo Sprint Zagato or ES30 (Experimental Sportscar 3 liter) as it was called during the introduction at the Geneva salon. It was presented as the last Zagato prototype, but in fact that wasn't exactly right! The car was never designed by Zagato, it was 'only' built by them.
History (the birth of the SZ) :
What many people don't know is that the design of the SZ comes from the design centre of Fiat and the two people that are responsible for the biggest part of this spectacular design are Robert Opron (of Citroën SM fame!) and Antonio Castellana!
Zagato made some small changes, but the credits for the design shouldn't go to Zagato.
The two main reasons that this thoroughbred Alfa Romeo can carry the name Zagato is because of the fact that all cars were handbuilt by Zagato and because it was a smart move for marketing!
Alfa Romeo and Zagato have a long history together and this was the perfect chance to renew this old friendship.
The idea was brilliant, because although it looks weird from some angles, the exciting looking SZ was the star of the Geneva show and the first orders for the car were signed!!
This meant a big ' GO' for the SZ and shortly after the show the productionline at the Zagato factory was built up and they could start building the first SZ's!
There was a limit of 1000 cars and the first ones rolled out of the Zagato factory in 1989. The rest of the cars followed in 1990 and 1991 and the counter stopped at 1036 SZ's. According to the Italian book-keeping! :-)
There are some doubts concerning the production-numbers, because there were also 38 prototypes made (most of them have been destroyed!!) and there are some stories about unsold SZ's being converted to RZ's!!
The SZ is largely based on the chassis of the Alfa 75 V6. I won't go into detail, but the chassis was cut behind the rear wheels and all rubbers were replaced by uniballs, just like the Alfa 75 IMSA had.
The V6 was lighty tuned to give 210hp at 6200 tpm.
The plastic bodyparts (glasfibre/composite) are glued to the chassis what makes the car very stiff! People who think that the SZ is a lightweight car because of all these 'plastic' parts will be surprised to hear that the car still weighs 1260kg! About the same as the steel Alfa 75 it was based upon.
The roof is made of aluminium and was sprayed in some sort of carbon-fibre color. The big rear wing is made from real carbon-fibre, that wasn't used a lot in the car business in the late eighties.
In 1989 this piece of technology cost 185.000 Dutch guilders (about 84.000 euro's) and then you got a great sportscar, with radio-preparation. No, you didn't even get a radio for that kind of money! :-)
But the car was reasonably luxurious for the time; you received the best conolly-leather (seats, roof and dashboard), electric windows and mirrors and even airconditioning!
But these gadgets weren't the reason to buy this car: you bought it for the driving! It is a real driver's car!
Thanks to the flat underside and the low ground clearance the SZ is sucked to the ground which means it can go round corners really quick! Even modern sportscars will have dificulties following an SZ during cornering.
A big drawback of the almost absent ground clearance and the long nose is the fact that you would hit traffic bumps everywhere. To solve this problem Dutch shock absorber company Koni made adjustable shocks for the SZ.
So the SZ can go up and down (without stopping) +/- 5 centimeters with the push of a button.
Maximum allowed speed in the high position is 80 km/u, so you have to keep that in mind.
After almost 10.000 kilometres in my SZ, I think I can tell something about it.
The SZ is a real twoseater, because it only has two seats. :-) The space behind the front seats acts purely as a trunk, because it doesn't have a real trunk. In the rear you only have space for the spare wheel (special lightweight small wheel) and some tools.
Maybe you can squeeze in a can of oil, but that is about it.
If you get a flat tyre, you have a real problem, because a full-size wheel won't fit in the trunk.
You get a special conolly-leather wheel-bag with the SZ. You have to put the dirty wheel in that expensive bag and put it behind the front seats in your interior. Not ideal, but you get a nice bag though. I just pray that I don't get a flat tyre.
The seats are very sporty and comfortable, but because they are handmade, the seats are different in each car. Some are harder than others and some are wider/smaller than others. I think I am lucky because mine are perfect for me! Good support in the back and also good support at the sides during cornering.
The steering wheel (Momo Zagato) is adjustable in height and depth. For an Italian car, you can get a very good driving position.
So no monkey-style driving in the SZ!
Right in front of you are the speedo and rev-counter with a nice clock in between. At the right are 4 more gauges for oil-pressure,engine temperature etc.
The whole dashboard is made from black leather and looks really cool! The clocks are set in something that looks like carbon-fibre, but isn't. It looks cool though!
Behind the gear-lever is a small row of switches for the shock-absorbers (high/low) rear window heater etc.
Behind the buttons is the special plaque with the build number of the car. In this case '042'. So one of the first SZ's
The SZ looks reasonably big on the outside, but if you are taller than 1.90 metres, it will be a tight fit! With my 1.82metres I fit perfectly. But I have to say that not every SZ is the same and there are also ways to lower the seat. So do not dispair if you are tall! :-)
After we have checked the adjustment of the seat and mirrors we can start the engine and go for a drive!
The 3 litre V6 engine comes to life after a couple of seconds and burbles smoothly. For some people the car will sound disappointing when idling, but that is because they expect a Lamborghini Diablo-sound because of the looks of the SZ.
Put the gearbox in first gear and off we go! The gearbox feels a little heavy when cold, but goes smoother as soon as the oil gets warmer. The SZ shifts easier and better then the two Porsches I had before and that is a compliment for the Alfa.
The clutch picks up a little high (on my car that is), but you will get uses to it very quick.
The nice V6 is smooth and doesn't make a lot of noise during the first minutes. I also drive a long distance to make sure the oil and the engine are hot.
Never rev the engine when it is still cold, because it can cause serious damage to the engine, and you don't want that.
If you treat it nice, you can enjoy your SZ for more than 300.000km's before rebuilding the engine.
I keep it under 4000 rpm's untill it is completely warm. But even then the car isn't slow. It has enough torque in the lower revs.
But when it is warm you can explore the higher revs and that is where the fun starts!!
You have maximum torque at 4000 rpm's and maximum power at 6200. After 4000 rpm's the sound of the engine is really changing from a modust rumble into a great roar that goes on to more than 7000 rpm's! After that the rev-limiter will stop it from over-revving. I always shift before the red line though (6500 max), because in the next gear it already has enough torque to accelerate quickly again to the next redline! So no need to push the rev-limits!
And I am planning to enjoy this car for a long time and then I will have to be a little bit carefull with it.
It is quick enough and you can really enjoy the amazing roadholding and smooth acceleration on B-roads or even on the motorway.
You can use it as a comfortable GT, but also as a racing car. It will cruise comfortably at 160 km/u and also at higher speeds, but you will have some windnoise then.
But the car feels good and wants to go faster!
And that is possible, because of the very good aerodynamics of the car it has a high top speed. Some SZ's will pull 275km/u and according to the books it will do 245 real km/u. (It may look like a monster, but it has a cw of 0.30!)
Top speed is different on many
cars, because the rev-limiters are set different; some cut in even before the redline and others go on and on...
Fuel consumption is reasonable too as long as you don't always pull to the redline in every gear it can use 12 to 10 litres every 100km's. But if you use it as a racing car, it will use more than double.
The SZ may look and feel like a real GT (with the leather seats, electric windows, aircon etc), but when you are driving on a nice twisty road the SZ shows its other face; it feels and reacts as a real racecar would. With its negative camber the car has a lot of grip at the front and it takes long before it will understeer.
On a dry road it has so much grip that it will not oversteer if you don't want it to. In the wet it is another story because of its limited slip differential (30%) it can go sideways easily. So if you are not prepared for that, don't push its limits in the wet!
Because of the transaxle-layout (engine in front, gearbox in the back), the weight distribution is almost perfect and with the wide tyres (225mm's rear and 205mm's front) is has almost endless grip. It is a very nice car to drive perfect lines (from apex to apex) on a racetrack. The only drawback are the brakes and the position of the brake-cilinder next to the exhaust.
Beter brakes will be a nice upgrade and you can use a heat-shield to protect the brake-cilinder from the engine and exhaust-heat.
Racing is not my target, although I will drive it on the track a couple of times a year during club-days or other meetings.
Most SZ's will never see a racetrack though and many won't even see a normal road because they are part of a big collection or even in a museum. They are nice cars to look at, but I think they should be driven! And that is exactly what I will do with it!
I will try to enjoy my SZ for at least 5000km's each year (I have it insured for 10.000km max/year).
People should see and hear these cars in their natural habitat and that is on the road!
• I think it is a supercar!! People look at you like you are driving a UFO.
• Superb V6 engine
• It won't depreciate in value if you keep it for some years
• It is rare!
• Pretty interior
• Handbuilt by Italians, so it can develop some rattles
• Bodywork and other parts (like headlights) are no longer available!
• People look at you like you are driving a UFO. :-)
Sources : SZ-book by Piatti and the Ed v/d Beek SZ/RZ-register (look under the 'links'-section)
The specs :
|Make and type
||Alfa Romeo SZ
|Price when new