Featured: Alfa Romeo 1600 Junior Z: Zagato’s Controversial Baby GT That Never Blossomed

Alfa Romeo 1600 Junior Z: Zagato’s Controversial Baby GT That Never Blossomed

By Andrea Klainguti
May 4, 2018
17 comments

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.

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Greg Page
Greg Page
2 years ago

I was not aware of this model until today, what a great shape!

Nico Uys
Nico Uys
2 years ago

Stunning car, I just love the timeless silhouette of this Alfa Romeo JZ.. It really deserves more coverage..
and this is such a awesome photoshoot. I cannot keep stearing at the pictures.
What a drive it must have been, brilliant

Chasmo99
Chasmo99
2 years ago

Stumbled onto to this article doing some research on a possible JZ purchase. Lovely pics, and great prose about a one of the rarer versions of the famous 105 series. One quibble here, though, is using word infamous to describe the engine – here’s the true definition of that adjective: infamous – 1.) “well known for some bad quality or deed” 2.) “wicked; abominable” Hitler and Stalin were infamous; Alfa twin cams are sweet!

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Jono51
Jono51
4 years ago

I always thought this was one the nicest Zagato designed Alfas (not that the others were bad!) Trouble was it lived in the shadow of the Bertone coupe. If not for that it might have got more recognition.

Christopher Gush
Christopher Gush
4 years ago

Reminiscent of the Alfetta and GTV6 chassis. Certainly beautiful in its own right.

Andrew Leeson
Andrew Leeson
4 years ago

I had a couple of these Junior Zagato coupes at diferent times, many years ago. They were about 20 years ahead of their time. Balanced and harmonic, absolutely practical. Even then a lot of them had been stupidly modified. Both mine – one red, one silver – were pretty much as built by Zagato. Perfectly lovely cars, like every 105 series Alfa I ever owned.

Russ Wollman
Russ Wollman
4 years ago

Also true for Zagato, and many of the other long-gone carrozzerie.

PDXBryan
PDXBryan
4 years ago

This is great looking! I wonder if it influenced the 2nd gen Saab Sonett?

Zagpin
Zagpin
2 years ago
Reply to  PDXBryan

Maybe yes! But the Honda CRX sure! His constructor openly confessed and also owned a JZ1300…

JB21
JB21
4 years ago

You forgot to mention the best thing about this car – the rear hatch, that can be lifted a bit to act as a ventilation. I always consider this car, as a design, to be CR-X before CR-X. I believe one of the inspiration for CR-X was this car. This is a 2-seater coupé, and as mentioned, based on shorter wheelbase than GT, so it was very left-field kind of a car. I used to see these a lot, there was a guy who collected Alfas who lived near my grandma used to live (he even had 33), and he drove his Junior quite often.

vincebodie
vincebodie
3 years ago
Reply to  JB21

Couldn’t agree more re the CR-X reference. The photo right about halfway down the page looking down on the car from above and behind is the one that made that light bulb go off for me. Overall a very quirky design, but from certain angles it’s quite nice to look at.

Chris Cushing
Chris Cushing
4 years ago

I think these are quite handsome, but look a little unfinished. Set one side by side with the Alfetta Coupes of a few years later, and it’s easy to see the direction Alfa Romeo was headed.

I realize it’s partially my own modest budget talking, but give me an Alfetta 2.0!