Sports cars and supercars have now been joined by hypercars in the automotive lexicon, but despite the additional vocabulary, the lines seem to have faded beyond recognition. Defining one of these can be a painstaking process as absolute functionality, power and performance intersect all the way. Nonetheless, most enthusiasts will point out pillars of the recipe like dramatic style, jaw-dropping performance, and rarity.
These pillars are on display when it comes to all the classic supercars we all know and love. Think of cars like the Ferrari Testarossa, the 360 Modena, or even the Lamborghini Gallardo. They all qualify for a good reason, and it’s exciting because they’re all available right now for under six figures. The problem with all of them is that they’re almost cliché today. For many, they are seen only as an accessory or an indicator of wealth. Driving a person does not automatically qualify a person as enthusiastic. It doesn’t tell people anything beyond confirming the driver’s ability to get it.
That’s why the Alfa Romeo SZ is such a brilliant stallion. It might not have the power and straight-line speed of the vehicles mentioned above, but it has performance indicators that none of them can touch. It’s also wild, capable and focused, and it’s the ultimate anti-supercar for the discerning enthusiast.
Special thanks to Track Engine Museum who graciously loaned this rare beast to HotCars for this review.
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The Alfa Romeo SZ had a controversial styling
Despite the inclusion of Zagato in its naming convention, the SZ was not designed by the famous body shop company. No, this incredibly unique sports car is the product of a collaboration between the designers of Fiat, Zagato and Alfa Romeo. Much of it was heavily influenced by the newly adopted computer aided design that allowed for more truncated shapes and sharper lines.
In person, the car is indeed a little shocking. The stranger could easily be forgiven for thinking that this was a front-wheel drive sedan. It just doesn’t seem to be that powerful. Still, the front is unmistakably Alfa Romeo and the more you look at it the more it starts to grow on you. The front of the SZ is appropriately aggressive and bold, just like you’d want a supercar to be. Wheels arranged at the very edge of the body shape remind you that the crisp lines hide a true performance car underneath.
The crisp lines were pretty normal when it came out, but the way the SZ ended its tail end so abruptly was so shocking at the time that the car got the nickname “Il Monstro” or The Monster. Never does a description suit you so well, but not for the reasons you might initially think.
Here’s where the SZ gets its supercar badge
Monsters in real life are so rarely of the sasquatch type. Tall, menacing and overwhelming. Often they are smaller and instead of being loud they walk slowly and carry a big stick. What makes them monsters is that they have an advantage mixed with some real serious skill above the norm. The Alfa Romeo SZ was exactly that type of scary for sports cars and supercars of its time.
To get this little car moving, Alfa inserted a 3.0-liter V6 under the hood and sent some 210 horsepower (probably more in reality) to the rear wheels just via a 5-speed transaxle. While not much by today’s standards, it propelled the car to 60 mph in 7 seconds. It’s as fast as a 2020 Honda Civic Sport. It’s a lot more engaging than any Civic could ever dream of, too. What really made the SZ stand out was the way it took the corners faster than anything else.
This is due to the chassis designed by Alfa Romeo 75 Group A IMSA and the electronically controlled suspension under the injection molded composite body. Alfa didn’t have a 400 horsepower racing car engine that they could legalize on the road, so they did the next best thing, they gave this car a suspension that could rival real racing cars. They even went so far as to put the rear brakes in reverse for the best possible weight distribution. Combine that athletic muscle with the insanely lightweight construction and you end up with a sports car that could pull 1.1G sideways in a turn. We have heard reports that the figure was actually 1.2g. We even talk about the SZ reaches figures as high as 1.4. Let’s put this in perspective.
The all-new 2021 Chevrolet Corvette C8 can reach 1.08. The ability to withstand lateral pulling forces and keep accelerating is something that every sports car, supercar or hypercar pursues. And very few have done such a good job of catching that elusive number the way the SZ did. That feeling of physique trying to rip you off the door itself as you pull into a corner in total control produces a zest for life that to that heart is far more appealing than the simple straight line speed that any Instagram influencer can accomplish at the moment. steering wheel of a Gallardo. Maybe we’re a little ahead of ourselves, because the SZ isn’t just a supercar in the way it behaves. The whole experience closely follows in the footsteps of Enzo and Ferruccio.
The Alfa Romeo SZ Supercar Driving Experience
Go creep into the SZ and the first thing you notice catches you before the door is even fully open. The oddly shaped doorknob with its parent company’s name inscribed on the side is an appetizer of what’s to come. It opens the door perfectly and inside you find an interior much closer to a Ferrari than a Fiat. The seats are warm and well reinforced. The layout is simple, straightforward and easy to use. For the most part it is. Some buttons have lost their meaning over time and so Lane Motor keeps a few reminders in the cab to ensure correct settings.
Once you’ve got moving, the trait that goes with you more than anything else is how focused this car really is. The SZ wants to be driven by someone who is completely focused, because it’s that focus and commitment that gets the most out of the car. The clutch is heavy at the start with more than enough modulation to make driving in the city comfortable. The drivetrain itself doesn’t feature particularly short casts but it is very easy to place. Braking is as sharp as the rear of this car. Still, no amount of skill and finesse in the pedals could impress the way the handling does. This particular SZ doesn’t have power steering, but once you get up to speed you can’t tell. The comments seemed as clear as the words on this page. The SZ speaks to you, and it’s eloquently wordy.
What good is a supercar for an enthusiast if not to see how much it can be driven beyond the limits of traditional cars? The SZ isn’t about to win drag races (unless it’s against a 2020 Honda Civic), but puts it on an autocross course and it will win the day on and off the track. Take it to a car and a cafe or even a track day and it will single-handedly put a smile on the face of anyone who sees it. It’s a real supercar x factor that many overlook. One facet that is markedly different from most supercars is ride comfort.
In this round of reviews, the SZ was by far the most comfortable to drive. As a taller person, I could easily see in all directions, but the other way around (another supercar trait). There’s plenty of room behind the seats for luggage, and while the trunk isn’t particularly spacious, it has what you need to replace a tire if something goes wrong.
This particular SZ has a special steering wheel and gearshift. Each are real MOMO pieces but they have this very unique harlequin pattern. Rex Bennett, Lanes Education Director, tells me the odd coloring is a direct link to the similar color Bennetton sponsored the Alfa Romeo Formula 1 team 1980s. But it’s not just the F1 keys that make this car rare. In fact, less than 1100 SZ were produced, this one being No.160. This certainly cannot be said of a Gallardo or Modena.
Really then, the Alfa Romeo SZ is the perfect anti-supercar. It’s not as fast in a straight line but it will crush a lot of modern metal in the corners. That means you’ll get the same level, just in a different part of the track and if you ask me it’s in the corners that we find out who the good drivers are anyway. This car rewards you for working on your skills. It’s like going to the gym with a professional athlete who encourages you to improve. It’s bold, it’s rare, and it’s brash in the same way as any supercar of its day. Just think if you saw this monster in traffic you would turn and stare at it too.
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