1. home
  2. news
  3. The Alfa Romeo SZ Made Ugly Look Good

The Alfa Romeo SZ Made Ugly Look Good

A decidedly unconventional piece of automotive art.

Eleonor SeguraWriterRM Sotheby'sPhotographer

The Alfa Romeo SZ (Sprint Zagato) is, for some, a cringe-inducing piece of art stranded somewhere between a coupe and a hatchback; for others, it's just the right blend of funky and cool. We're divided on the car ourselves; we included it in our list of the Ugliest Cars Ever Made, and yet here we are arguing its design merits. While its outward appearance may be an acquired taste, what the Alfa Romeo SZ lacks in curb appeal it makes up for with the sound and thrills of its 207-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 Busso engine.

Using early computer-aided design technology, the SZ's concept sketches were drawn in-house at Fiat Centro Stile; the carmaker collaborated with coachbuilder Zagato to assemble the car and carry out production. Introduced as a concept called the ES30 (Experimental Sportscar-3.0-liter), or "the monster" by the Italian media at the 1989 Geneva International Motor Show, the SZ's controversial design and punk rock features lent the car an exotic undertone despite the relatively humble underpinnings. Rooted in the Alfa Romeo 75 (known as the Milano in the United States) mechanically, and with a sturdy steel chassis, Zagato constructed the SZ's body of fiberglass-reinforced plastic composites and topped it off with an aluminum roof.

Limited to 1,036 copies, the SZ incorporated hints of a BMW E30 in the bodywork, featured curving A-pillars, a bubble-shaped windshield, carbon fiber spoiler, trio headlights on each side, and Pirelli P-Zero tires. To sharp observers, the off-the-wall SZ's periscope-style side mirrors contributed a lowkey splash of Ferrari design. The design does make some practical sense, too, as the wedge-like shape and low ground clearance made the Alfa Romeo SZ relatively aerodynamically efficient for the time.

On the inside, tan leather-bolstered bucket seats, an adjustable Zagato-designed MOMO steering wheel, and a bare-bones dashboard enticed the driver to grab the keys and stand on the gas pedal. Inheriting a suspension developed from the Alfa Romeo 75 1.8 Turbo Evolution competition car, the rear-wheel drive SZ came equipped with a five-speed transaxle gearbox, hydraulic Koni dampers, and brawny brakes. The SZ could knock out a 0-60-mph run in an acceptable 6.7 seconds on its way to a claimed top speed of 152 mph. Superb handling, aerodynamics, and stability, and the enthralling Busso V-6 resulted in a gratifying experience on the road, which helped rationalize its beastly appearance.

The Alfa Romeo SZ may be correctly nicknamed "Il Mostro"—The Monster—but buyers are still willing to shell out a decent amount of money for one, as shown by this recent sale of a 1991 Alfa Romeo SZ by RM Sotheby's. Perhaps the buyer simply loves the look of the SZ, but no matter on which side of the ugly/cool fence the buyer (or you) may think it belongs, the Alfa Romeo SZ's design is a surefire conversation starter.