03 Feb COLLECTION IN ACTION – BEHIND THE WHEEL 1
he first in a new, alphabetical series of short driving impressions of some of the museum’s car collection, starting with the Alfa Romeo SZ.
It is red, it has Alfa’s charismatic 3,0-litre V6 under the bonnet and it has – let me try to be kind about this – distinctive thermoplastic injection composite moulded bodywork. Unveiled as ES-30 (Experimental Sportscar 3.0) at the 1989 Geneva Motor Show as a Zagato prototype, the SZ – Sprint Zagato – as it was badged for production was built between 1989 and 1991 (just 1036 were manufactured) as a joint project between the respective Centro Stile departments of Zagato, Alfa Romeo and Fiat.
The underpinnings were Alfa Romeo 75 but with suspension taken from the 75 Group A/IMSA race car and incorporating a (rather slow operating) adjustable ride height for traversing speed humps and suchlike. Tyres are 205/55 ZR16 front and 225/50 ZR16 rear, and the car is able to sustain over 1.1g in cornering. Although the engine is mounted longitudinally, the front track is wider than the rear but there is no questioning the layout: the handling is reassuringly predictable. The only foible you have to overcome is the driving position: the SZ has the classic Italianate long arms/short legs relationship between the fixed-position steering wheel, the seat and the pedals – which are offset to the right (all SZ/RZs were left-hookers). The position is completely at odds with my 1,91-metre long-legged frame, but the compromise is worth any discomfort. After a while, I did not really notice…
The engine pumps out 154 kW at 6200 r/min and 245 N.m of torque at 4500. Mated with a five-speed gearbox, it spins easily with a sweet soundtrack and typically is a joy to play with. You can either activate the box to keep revs up near the red line or simply leave it in third or fourth and let the torque propel you from one bend to the next with elastic-like alacrity. Either way, it is a rewarding experience. Benchmark 0-100 km/h takes a little over 8 seconds and top speed is just over 220 km/h – nothing spectacular by today’s standards but quick enough by the standards of 25 years ago.
Only one official colour scheme was available: red with a grey roof and a tan leather interior but the museum’s car was ordered by Alfa SA’s managing director Dr Vito Bianco and is the only example built with a black roof and black leather trim. The SZ was dubbed ‘Il Mostro’ because of its uncompromisingly menacing looks, but get behind the wheel and who cares? FMM’s workshop manager Lorenzo Farella is an unashamed Alfista and the SZ – along with its RZ roadster sibling – are his favourites. I can understand why… MM