It would have been very easy to pronounce the Alfa Romeo SZ ugly when it was launched. So easy, in fact, it’s what almost everyone did. Let’s face it, a car doesn’t earn the nickname il mostro (‘monster’) without good reason, but there is something that really fascinates about the look of the SZ. Russell Bulgin described it as an eight-hole Doctor Martens with a scuffed toe cap, compared with the calfskin loafer that was Ferrari’s 348tb…
But this car was a statement from a revitalised Alfa. The bold, revolutionary, cutting-edge company wanted to prove that it hadn’t lost any of its drive now it was under Fiat ownership.
At just 19 months from initial sketch (put forward by Robert Opron of Citroën SM fame) to official launch, it took Alfa half the time that Porsche would have spent on a similar project. Many new techniques were pioneered during development – the big one being computer-aided design – but using underpinnings from Alfa’s 75 saloon significantly shortened the SZ’s gestation period.
Reviving Alfa’s relationship with Zagato, the Milanese coachbuilder was contracted to build the new coupé. Employing revolutionary thermosetting methacrylic resin body panels (a fancy way of saying plastic), the outer skin was bonded to the steel frame. This process meant that the SZ wasn’t just light, weighing a mere 1260kg, but also surprisingly rigid thanks to the bonding process.
But does all this add up to a car that’s actually good to drive? Yes. The fundamentally sound 75 platform was a good starting point, but the company had an ace up its sleeve. Alfa called in Giorgio Pianta – known for setting up the Lancia 037 and Delta S4 rally cars among many others – who managed to hone the shortened and lightened 75-based chassis into one of the best handling cars of the era. Pianta made a few small but effective changes, ditching the torsion bars in favour of some Koni-developed spring and damper units, and fiddling with the standard alignment – more negative camber and toe-in – to improve feel and balance. The transformation was startling.
ABS was never an option. Not because Alfa wanted a pure driver’s machine, but there simply wasn’t time to develop it. With a set of specially developed Pirelli PZero tyres, Alfa even claimed that the SZ could pull more than 1.1g in corners.
The SZ has long been tipped as a car to invest in. As a low-volume Italian coachbuilt with a great chassis and legendary Busso V6 powerplant, it has all the makings of a great classic. Whatever you think of the looks, one drive of an SZ on the right road will leave you wanting more.
Performance and specs
Engine 2959cc, 12 valve SOHC V6
Power 207bhp @ 6200rpm
Torque 181lb ft @ 4500rpm
Top speed 152mph
Fuel consumption 24mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
Kerb weight 1256kg
• The SZ’s advanced thermosetting methacrylic resin body panels are very resilient and holding up well after 25 years or so. Some cars experience paint issues, especially if kept outside, and most will have been repainted at least once.
• Look for dents or paint blistering on the aluminium roof.
• Based around a steel frame, there’s plenty of scope for corrosion. Many of the problem areas are underneath the bonded sections and impossible to check without specialist kit.
• Check that wonderful curved windscreen for any chips or delamination – a replacement is in the region of £2000!
• Other parts unique to the SZ are also usually very expensive, so make sure light units, bumpers and trim items are in perfect condition.
• Most SZs will also have uprated brakes, because the original-fit stoppers lacked sufficient feedback.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.aroc-uk.com – Alfa Romeo Owners Club UK, with online forum
• www.classicalfa.com – Parts and spares for classic Alfas, including the Montreal
• www.alfaworkshop.co.uk – Classic and modern Alfa specialists
Summary and prices
Experts tipped the SZ as one to stick away while it appreciated in value – but the meteoric price rises never materialised. Good examples hovered around £20-30k for years, but low-mileage cars now entering the market are commanding upwards of £60,000. Prices start from around £25,000 for high-mileage, well-used cars (probably needing some tlc), to around £45,000 for a good car in top mechanical condition. Despite the fact only 1036 SZs were built, there’s a reasonably healthy supply of sub-30,000-mile examples, so you can really afford to be picky.