This is one of the most ridiculous, handsome, and downright bizarre cars you’ve never heard of. The Alfa Romeo SZ (Sprint Zagato) started life off as an experimental sportscar back in 1989. As its name might suggest, it was built in collaboration between Fiat (Alfa Romeo’s owner) and Center Stille Zagato. The birth of the SZ happened suddenly. Alfa Romeo at the time started toying with the idea of a small two-seater coupe and wanted something that would wow with its looks as well as its driving characteristics. Naturally, the answer was clear: get Zagato to take care of the exterior.
As it turned out, however, this was an experimental vehicle for them as well. Zagato deviated from the usual sleek and curvy cars they were designing and decided to try something a little boxier instead. As a result, the SZ got square edges and sharp lines on every corner. It’s a car which separated opinions down the middle back in the early 90s, and still gets mixed reviews to this very day. A lot of people seem to dislike its weird and quirky design, but we think that’s part of its appeal. If it hadn’t been so different it would have probably been forgotten.
The SZ uses a traditional FR layout. This means that it’s front-engined rear-wheel drive. It’s actually an Alfa Romeo 75 underneath. Most of the underpinnings and the entire drivetrain is a 75, with the thermoplastic injection moulded composite body panels being produced by the Italian company Carplast. Rather interestingly, the suspension is a modified version of the Alfa 75 Group A/IMSA racing car, not the standard road-going version. This gave the SZ sharper handling and a livelier feel. Equipped with Pirelli P Zero tires, the SZ can sustain 1.1 G under constant cornering. That’s more than most sports car can manage nowadays, let alone in the 1990s.
The 3.0-liter V6 12V unit which powered the SZ produced 210 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm. Although that doesn’t sound like a lot, the naturally-aspirated engine gave the driver immediate throttle response and unparalleled involvement. Power was sent to the rear wheels via a five-speed manual transmission.
In 1992 the RZ (Roadster Zagato) came out. Chopping the roof off of the SZ made an improvement in the looks department, but the car had lost some of its sharp handling characteristics. Exactly 1036 SZs were made and 100 of them ended up in Japan. By contrast, just 278 RZs were produced, so Alfa hadn’t even achieved their goal of making 350 examples. The SZ/RZ is, to this very day, one of the weirdest and most unique cars of all time.