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Alfa Romeo SZ

Alfa Romeo SZ Published: 30th Mar 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Alfa Romeo SZ
Alfa Romeo SZ
Alfa Romeo SZ
Alfa Romeo SZ
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Alfa has made some odd cars, none more so than this crazy coupé! CAR: Alfa Romeo SZ YEAR: 1991 OWNER: Chris Rees

At the beginning of this year, I resolved to buy a silly car. Little did I know that it’d be something quite as ridiculous as an Alfa Romeo SZ.

I had been half considering a Maserati Quattroporte V, as they offer stunning value for money at the moment and I was quite taken with a near-perfect 40,000-mile example, up for just £14,000. But too many tales of gremlins and breakdowns, and the fact that I didn’t really like the way it drove – too wafty and wobbly – dissuaded me.

I briefly also considered a Maserati GranSport – the only member of the 3200/4200 family that I’d consider owning – but prices remain pretty high on these (north of £25K for a good one). And I even looked at a few E60 BMW M5s (the V10-powered model). However, I made a point of checking out the average lifetime fuel economy figure on each car I viewed, which was hair-raising. The best was 17mpg, the worst was 8mpg. I walked on by (coward-ed).

Then one morning, my eBay feed alerted me that an Alfa Romeo SZ was up for auction, just five miles down the road from me. What could be the harm in just going for a look? I’ve done this before – ‘just going for a look’ is how I ended up buying a Caterham 21 (a more civilised 7-ed) at auction a few years back.

But with prices of SZs starting to creep up, I reasoned that if I didn’t get one now, I never would. The long and short of it is, I bought it. It’s an original UK-supplied 1991 example (number 249 of 1036 built) with 29,000 miles on the clock. Its owner was a serial collector of Ferraris and Alfa Romeos who was emigrating to California and sadly couldn’t take the car with him.

The SZ has been top of my list of ‘must have’ cars for a very long time. Its appeal is summed up by the phrase, “so wrong, it’s right.” The Italians called the SZ ‘Il Mostro’ when it was launched – The Monster – and there is unquestionably something of the hunchback of Notre Dame about it. But from its six-lamp nose to some of the most audacious swaging ever seen, it’s certainly got character. The fact that Robert Opron – father of the Citroën SM – was behind its design is another ‘plus’ for me.

The shape may be pug-ugly to some people, but it’s scientifically proven to be clean, having been wind-tunnel tested with a drag coefficient of 0.30 – still one of the lowest ever figures for a sports car.

My SZ is a very nice example, if not quite perfect. Sticklers for originality will notice the blackpainted headlamp surrounds (they should be red) – I confess it does look good like this, though, and was done as part of a recent respray (more of which later). It’s also got a non-original smoothed-out bonnet underside. The wheels aren’t original, either: replica 18in wheels are fitted in place of the original 16in ones. I do still have the original 16s but since replacements are now impossible to find, I’m inclined to stick with the 18s, which do make the car look better, in my view. Yes, they turn an already hard ride into a pulverisingly hammering one, but the chunky 225/40 front and 255/35 rear tyres (Kumho Esctas) make the car unbelievably grippy. I can well believe the celebrated factoid that the SZ is able to pull 1.4g through corners (in dry conditions, that is; wet weather handling can be ‘interesting’ to say the least).

STICKING WITH IT

Back to the respray. No car company in the world has ever used the peculiar type of plastic (ICI Modar) that Alfa chose to make the SZ’s body panels out of. It was a daft decision, in point of fact: the paint resolutely refuses to adhere to this surface. Micro-blistering occurs on every SZ, which necessitates regular repaints. Luckily mine’s been done recently, in the correct shade of red that all SZs were originally painted, too.

Spare parts supply is definitely an issue with SZs, but I’ve been assured by two of the UK’s leading Alfa specialists – Alfa Aid and The Alfa Workshop – that almost nothing is insurmountable. I guess I’ll find out as the owner experience slowly unfolds…

As the car hasn’t been used for the last three years, it’s going to need a shakedown, service and fettle. The cambelt was changed three years ago but the engine hasn’t done any miles since then; with a recommended cambelt interval of 72,000 miles, it’s perhaps got some life left in it, but I’m feeling like erring for safety, not sorrow.

So what’s it like to pilot, you ask? Sitting inside, you really feel its sports car focus. Leather seats and aftermarket stereo aside, it’s pared to the bone. Underneath, lurks an Alfa 75 racer in basic terms, with coilover front suspension (rather than torsion bars) borrowed from the 75 Group A/IMSA race cars. The rearmounted five-speed transaxle and de Dion tube engender near-ideal weight distribution and much acclaimed superb handling balance.

Great news, then, that the steering is also delightfully communicative. The SZ will understeer if pushed hard, but you can go the extra boot-full and get the tail to wag in a controllable fashion. Just watch out when you need to brake at the end of a fast straight, though: the pedal needs a solid hoofing, and true to Alfa’s promise to make the SZ feel like a racer to drive, it never fitted ABS.

Race car performance isn’t on the cards, though. Despite Alfa tweaking the Motronic injection and uprating the intake and exhaust manifolds of the classic ‘Busso’ 6C 3.0-litre V6, the power output is rated at no more than 207bhp.

Officially, the SZ will accelerate from 0-62mph in a GTi-quick seven seconds, so not surprisingly I find myself constantly itching for more welly, especially at low revs where you’d expect a V6 to make its presence felt. But with a delicioussounding aftermarket exhaust fitted, the searing sparkle and muscular flex in the upper rev range always persuade me to spend as much of my time at the top end as possible.

With winter now upon us, the beast will be hibernating until the frosts and salty roads are gone. Then in spring, I’m dying to take the SZ on a jaunt back home to Italy. After a good fettle, naturally…

 



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