Alfa Romeo 1600 Junior Z: Zagato’s Controversial Baby GT That Never Blossomed
Photography by Andrea Klainguti
When you mention Alfa Romeo and Zagato in one sentence, iconic models such as the Giulia SZ and the TZs spring to mind: legendary sports cars and design milestones that now rightly command stratospheric prices. But you might not know of another little Alfa Romeo designed for Carrozzerie Zagato. Penned by the coach-builder’s then-chief of design, Ercole Spada, the Junior Zagato was born as a light and sporty coupé to be integrated in the Giulia model range and targeted to clients looking for a more responsive and faster alternative to the Sprint GT. It was built on the platform of the Spider Duetto, it also shared the same gearbox, suspension, rear axle, brakes and 1300cc aluminum engine with the Spider Junior and the GT Junior.
While the internal components were untouched Alfa Romeo mechanicals, the styling of the body was very distinctively Zagato and when it was first introduced at the Turin Automobile Show in 1969, its strikingly futuristic design was met with mixed review from the press. While the clean and modern wedged shape was praised as elegant, the general opinion was that the other design elements such as the corpulent bumpers or the plexiglas headlight cover were not to everybody’s taste.
While the shape may still divide feelings, once the infamous aluminum alloy Alfa Romeo four-cylinder engine is cranked into life and its unmistakable sound unfolds, there’s no stopping the smiling. The low and sporty seats are finished in Texalfa (Alfa Romeo’s faux-leather) and they allow the driver to experience the typical road behavior of Alfa Romeos from that era: excellent handling and grip, especially on fast corners, a constant temptation toward acceleration thanks to the responsive engines, and powerful and balanced braking. Thanks to the small size of the body and the large glass surfaces, the view is excellent and the interior is modern and roomy for such a small car from the era.
The Junior Zagato was never planned to be mass produced, so every model was almost entirely finished by hand at Zagato’s facilities in Turin, the previously assembled Spider-platforms being delivered from the Alfa Romeo plant in Arese. Only 1,510 were built and the car shown in this gallery is one of the even rarer models with the larger 1600cc engine, of which only 402 were made. In 1975, after less than two years, Alfa Romeo sadly decided to stop the production of the 1600 Junior Zagato, despite having more powerful engines available that would have made the small coupé even more interesting. The mechanics would not have been a problem either, considering that the Spider Duetto was built until the ‘90s.
The unusual design, being a two-seater with no rear bench to speak of, and the fact that it cost more than all of its rivals meant the Alfa Romeo “Junior Z” was not made to please everybody, and today, while prices are steadily rising, it’s still somewhat underrated, especially considering its rarity and heritage.