Alfa Romeo SZ, the Ugly Monster With a Busso V6 Heart of Gold

Nowadays, Alfa Romeo is synonymous with Italian cars which are bright red and incredibly good-looking, if somewhat unreliable. This is the Alfa Romeo SZ, a 2-door coupe of which they only built 1,036 units from 1989 until 1991. Because it was so ugly, right? Well, the story of “The Monster” is a little more complicated than that.

In 1989, the Alfa Romeo SZ shocked the automotive world when it was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show. Journalists had no idea the company was even working on this, and that’s because it was a rushed job. In 1986, Fiat completely bought Alfa Romeo which was struggling.

The brand was synonymous with performance and racing, and Fiat wanted to make a statement car to prove Alfa was still competent, similar to how the 4C spearheaded their return to North America. Fiat wanted the project, codenamed ES-30, to go from being a concept to a production car in 19 months. This seems almost impossible today, so you can imagine what it was like back in the 1980s.

Three design studios worked independently on a shape. Alfa Romeo’s studio made something that turned into the Proteo concept of 1991 and eventually the Affa Spider production convertible of the 2000s. Even though there was a little bit of input from Zagato, the chosen design actually came from Fiat Centro Stile. This was one first cars to be designed in CAD, which could be why this looks like a jacuzzi tub on wheels.

In one of the best reviews of the SZ, Jason Cammisa points out that Zagato-designed cars are almost always ugly and it’s natural to assume this is their “Monster”. However, Zagato was actually the one who had to assemble the car.

The SZ is mechanically based on the Alfa Romeo 75 sedan. It has the same floor, but the bodywork is made up of a type of resin that was bonded to the steel body. The roof is aluminum, painted a dark gray metallic finish, a bit like they did on the LaFerrari. If we’re honest, the really ugly bit is that short rear overhang; the rest of it is okay, typical of that era.

While the Alfa Romeo SZ’s styling was polarizing, the same could not be said about the way it drove. This was a fantastic chassis powered by a highly responsive 3.0-liter V6 making 210 horsepower. The highest displacement for a 12-valve Busso engine, this was an oversquare design, meaning the bore is bigger than the stroke, great for high revs and performance valves.

If you really want to see what the SZ is like going down the road, check out Harry Metcalfe’s video, the only one that does it justice. Generally, this does about 7 seconds to 60 mph and tops out at 152 mph, very impressive for 1989, although it’s not the kind of classic car you’d thrash around.

As we’ve mentioned, Zagato only manufactured about 1,000 of these. They are impossible to find. Two have sold this year (in the whole world) for about $75,000, and there are collectors asking more than $150,000 for examples in mint condition.



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