It had to happen. One takes it for granted from the likes of Ferrari and Porsche, from whom the F40 and 959 limited edition cars are snapped up by willing enthusiasts/investors, and one was not suprised when Jaguar announced the XJ220 which traded on the latest Jaguar triumphs on the race tracks and its link with Tom Walkinshaw Racing. Alfa Romeo is now the latest marque to jump on the bandwagon and produce a supercar, although at a cut price compared to the above mentioned rivals.
All supercars turn heads, usually because of their grace and beauty combined with their rarity value. The SZ certainly turns heads, but it has to be said that grace and beauty are not the words one strives for on first sighting of this machine. In fact “strewth”, or words to that effect, are the more apparent.
When one learns that the coachbuilder Zagato has been involved in the project, there can be perhaps an understandable shrug of the shoulders when one considers some of the other creations this coachbuilder has been involved in. One learns, however, that Alfa Romeo can take all the credit itself for this design since the only acknowledged involvement of Zagato is the assembly of the car, at the rate of three a day, at its plant in Arese near Milan.
The machine does not have a line, so to speak, but is a series of architectural themes which have all found their way onto the one car. It is as if Luigi was given responsibility for the design from the windscreen forward, Paolo, the bachelor, the rear quarters and Michele, who obviously had a fetish about the tanksided 132 Bugatti, the mid-riff.
Built around the floorpan of a 75, the car shows none of the characteristics of Alfa’s mid-range saloon. Shorter than both the Spider and the 33, it is very compact at only 4060mm (157.3 ins) long, although at 1730mm (67.0 ins) it is wider than those models.
In construction it is vastly different to any other production Alfa Romeo, for the body panels have been moulded from ICI methacrylic resin apart from the aluminium roof and the carbonfibre rear wing. While this construction is done in the name of weight saving, it is also very strong and is capable of withstanding minor knocks. It also looks good.
Underneath, Alfa’s familiar all-alloy V6 engine, as found in the 164 and the 75 3.0 V6, is located in the front — this is not a mid-engined supercar. Despite the addition of a three-way catalytic convertor with Lambda probe, the power of the unit has been increased from 192 bhp to 210 bhp at 6200 rpm through changes made to the engine management system. Claimed top speed is 153 mph and 0-60 mph is reached in just under 7 seconds. More than any figures in black and white, it is the spine-tingling sound of that V6 engine as it bursts into life and then again as it is pushed over 4000 rpm, by which time it is singing, that is almost the sole reason for wanting the SZ.
While the floorpan started life as the 75, it is more akin to a Group A version of that model. Banished is the torsion bar suspension set-up, replaced by coil-sprung Koni dampers while ball rose joints replace the more compliant rubber bushes throughout the suspension. A limited slip differential is also standard equipment.
Alfa Romeo has tried to dispense with the electronic gadgetry which marks out today’s executive and supercars and has tried instead to appeal to the driver instincts. To those used to Italian electrics, this is definitely a positive move. Some concessions to modernity are made, though, for standard equipment includes electric side windows, door mirrors, central door locking, power steering and air conditioning, but there are few other modern addenda. You will not find digitised information blinking away at you, but instead the traditional dials and knobs familiar from the 75 and 33.
Two extra switches, which are unique to this car and found on the central console between the seats, raise and lower the suspension by up to 6mm. While this does not seem a great deal, it is enough to make the already low car hit the deck on anything but a billiard table on its lower setting, and improve traction and the overall aerodynamics. With a Cd of 0.30, these are pretty respectable anyway considering the short length of the car.
On the short run in Scotland, it was impossible to tell of any aerodynamic or ground effect advantages with the suspension set low, but it would take a very experienced driver to tell the difference up to fairly mad speeds. Beyond that, though, and the car needs to sit down on its haunches to take any slop out of the suspension.
Despite impressions to the contrary from the outside, visibility from the driving seat is excellent. All round vision is clear which not even the rear aerofoil spoils. What is also more apparent from the interior is the graceful swan-neck A-pillars.
Shod with low profile Pirelli P Zero 205/55 ZR16s on the front and 225/50 ZR16s on the rear, the grip is tremendous. Never once on the run down from Inverness to Fort William via a circuitous route into the Highlands did the car betray any oversteering or understeering tendencies, but simply stuck to the designated line. Admittedly the roads were dry, but if the press officer is to be believed, the traction is just as competent and trustworthy in the wet.
The tyres themselves have been especially developed for the SZ and are made up of three different compounds, the softest being on the edge for better grip on hard cornering, and they have an unusual tread pattern. But at £450 a tyre, trade, they are not cheap.
There is a tendency for the car to thump a little on uneven road surfaces, but the suspension system copes manfully, although it must be borne in mind that its first priority is to keep the car off the marbles. What mars the enjoyment more, though, is the horrible gear change. Similar to that found in the 33, the gear lever needs a certain amount of concentration to ensure that it slots into the right ratio — it was all to easy for fourth gear to be selected rather than second and, to a lesser extent, fifth instead of third.
The car we drove was one of the preproduction models of which there are only three in existence — the show car and a muletta being the other two, although if one were to believe rumours, the first batch were sent back to the factory by the top management with the note “try again”.
When the car starts coming through in September, they will be the first of 1000 examples being made with 100 coming to Britain. On announcement of this limited edition model in June 1989, Alfa Romeo GB received 281 orders for the 100 allocation all with the £5000 deposit required, so whether we are rude about the car bears no relevance to the situation. In fact at £40,000 the car is not horrendously expensive. It is entirely machismo without compromise, and a model which is bound to raise the profile of the Alfa Romeo marque a few notches higher. Good luck to them.