This Alfa Romeo TZ1 Is A Living Legacy For One Classic Racing Family
Photography by Will Mederski
Our photographer Will Mederski spotted this stunning TZ1 screaming around COTA a few weeks back. Normally we need a change of pants any time we even get near one of these things, but this one was special. It wasn’t a garage queen or a back of the packer. It was being driven properly by somebody who was deeply passionate about seeing it perform at its highest potential. Joe Colasacco thankfully agreed to an interview on his history that lead up to the TZ1. Needless to say it’s a fantastic story.
Andrew Golseth: Joe, start at the beginning. How did you end up in a TZ1?
Joe Colasacco: My interest and passion in cars and mechanics started with my father Domenic. He was a trained aircraft mechanic during WWII and was hired by Alfa Romeo SpA in Italy. He was sent here to the USA in 1968 and became Chief Mechanic for North American Operations. I was only 1 year old at the time but as I grew up he often took me to work with him at the headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, NJ sometimes ditching school if I had to. It’s the current location of Ferrari, Maserati North America. I watched, I listened and I learned. I hung around the work shop and was interested in all of the cars and the old cars especially. With Alfa Romeo, you can’t help but notice the connection with their race history, I saw it all the time. So, at a young age I was exposed to cars and especially Alfa Romeos and mechanics in general.
When my dad left Alfa Romeo in the early ‘80s, he went out on his own to start a private repair shop specializing in Alfas with a partner, a former Alfa Romeo employee. At the time, I was in high school and I went to work with my dad on a part-time basis. Leaving school at noon on the work study program. It’s how I got my feet wet in the car world. All because of my father.
AG: So, you’ve always been around Alfas. What was your first car?
JC: My first personal car? (laughs) My first car was a Fiat X1/9. My brother found one that had an engine fire from a carburetor failure. We bought it, rebuilt it, and it was my daily driver. But being in the Alfa business we always had an Alfa around, be it a GTV, Spider, Duetto, Alfetta, GTV6, Milano or Giulietta Spider. In the 1980s, that’s what we’d buy. That’s what we would keep as road cars and sometimes track but nothing pre-59. Nothing that today would be considered a real classic, I didn’t have any of those ‘50s Alfas.
AG: Did kickin’ around your father’s Alfa shop naturally turn you towards racing?
JC: In 1989, when I was 21 my father split with his partner and we started our own work shop with my two older brothers Mario and Paul. It was a family business. Both of my brothers did some racing at North East club events and time trials. I’d tag along and help until I could afford my own race car. I bought a 1971 Fiat 124 Coupe. Which my dad thought was a bad idea. He was right. Nothing but a headache.
This family shop we started was Euro-Tec Motors, it was specializing in Alfas but we also worked on other European cars. We kept the close Colasacco connection to Alfa Romeo and with my dad’s Alfa reputation and some clientele base that he had built up we expanded all the way up until he passed away in 1998. During that time one of my dad’s clients started collecting Alfa Romeos and other classic Italian cars. He was my father’s client since the late ‘70s and a gentleman driver in the SCCA. His name was Lawrence Auriana.
He came to my father to get his Alfas repaired back in the day. He had a Duetto, a GTV 1600, and a Giulia Super—those were the first three Alfas he had and my dad would look after them. He also had an early SCCA E production racing Alfa Duetto that my dad built the engines for. We would go to the racetracks and I’d tag along as a kid.
I found myself a little more interested than most kids, especially the mechanical side of racing. At that point, I really had no ambition to be a driver.
Fast forward a few years, Lawrence kept collecting more and more cars. I’d go to some of these events with him, taking cars to shows, some hillclimbs, and he bought this SCCA spec racer Renault—I think that was around 1989 and he asked me to drive it. So, I started doing SCCA regional events and fooling around in the nationals and into the runoffs. It really developed from there.
You know, I kind of took the normal path. I did some Skip Barber schools, but it was informal. I sort of just had a knack for driving. When I started racing, we were doing it for fun. We weren’t terribly serious about it until I took my spec racer Ford to Ed Rich, one of Lawrence’s friend’s mechanics.
We were competitive, but until we met Ed we weren’t finishing at the very top. With Ed taking on the mechanical and maintenance side of things, I could focus on driving. Having a real team behind me, that’s what brought us up to the next level.
That got to a point where we could look at a car and go, “Alright, what do we need to do to make this car competitive?” Not just set it up to race, but to really make the car competitive. We’d analyze the class and see what it fits best in. Looking at that, we realized a lot of the racing we were going to be doing was in European classes because they break it down into more in-period specific groups. It’s fun to race, but it’s a lot more fun when you do well. (laughs)
The first car event I did for Lawrence competitively, outside of the spec racer and a hill climb in a Alfa 33 Stradale, was the 1953 Alfa Romeo 3000 CM, which Lawrence purchased from Henry Wessels. I took the car to Schenley Park in Pittsburgh, where Wessels had crashed the car heavily some years earlier. That was the first event I really did competitively, in the “Big Alfa.”
AG: I’m sorry did you say you raced a Tipo 33 Stradale in a hill climb??
JC: (laughs) Yeah, that was the very, very, very first event I did for Lawrence was a hill climb in Torrey Pines, California. I believe it was a fundraiser and someone invited Lawrence so he asked me to drive his 33 Stradale in the hill climb—he had confidence in me at a young age because I grew up around these types of cars, they weren’t foreign to me. That was a blast because, you know, that is a car every kid Alfa fan dreams of just getting a chance to see let alone drive.
My dad, while at Alfa, actually brought in the first 33 Stradale into the United States in 1968. He went to the port of New York and picked up the car for Henry Wessels who ordered the car. Henry and my father were friends, so when the car arrived at the port my dad went and picked it up for him. So, it was at the shop a few times and I remember seeing it as a kid.
AG: Wow, that must of been incredible. I’ve got to ask, what’s the 33 Stradale like to drive?
JC: Well, you really gotta’ wind it up. Honestly, you can’t get over the sound at first. When you get in the car and accelerate, it’s just this incredible sound. It just screams. It doesn’t have a lot of torque, but when you get it up in the powerband, you can feel how quick and nimble it is.
The whole design was for speed. It feels like a racecar, there’s nothing street about it. It’s very low, it’s not easy to see out of, it’s loud, and it needs to be driven in anger in order to enjoy it, and I have no problem doing that. (laughs)
AG: What a burden that must be! Back on track, when did the yellow TZ-1 come into the picture?
JC: Shortly after racing the 3000 CM, Lawrence purchased this TZ-1 and we started prepping it for racing. In 2002, Lawrence asked me to come work for him privately. I left my business with my brothers to work exclusively with Lawrence, looking after and managing his collection. Some of the events we were going to weren’t just shows, some were racing, so I kept running his spec race Ford for practice.
In 2005, I won the SCCA National Championship in that car. From that point we retired the car but continued historic racing in Formula Junior, Alfas, modern Formula Ford, Formula Mazda, Daytona 24 Hours, even ran a Daytona 24 Hours in a Ferrari. We were doing a lot of racing. We were keeping busy.
The first time I raced the TZ-1 was in 2001 at the Monterey Historics at Laguna Seca and we won that race. It was a big deal because it was my first race event that I did working full-time for Lawrence. That was great and we evolved from there.
AG: I understand you’ve been running the TZ-1 all over since—where all have you raced it?
JC: We’ve taken the car to Goodwood and Le Mans. I co-drove the TZ-1 with former World Champion Phil Hill at Le Mans. We had some engine trouble but we did go back and win the 24 Hours Le Mans Classic race—Phil and I, we actually won their overall in the Alfa 3000 CM. Phil was a wonderful man. We’ve had some great races, some good results.
AG: That must have been an honor. So, what’s the history with this TZ-1?
JC: This particular TZ-1 was a winner from the very beginning. It’s an early car, chassis number 0008, which is very early in the production line of the 112 TZ-1 made. This car won the 1964 Italian Championship. Then in 1965 it won the DARM GT Neubiberg Championship with German driver Herbert Schultze in the under 2.o-liter class.
After that, it went to private hands. In the late ‘70s or early ‘80s, an Italian collector, Pietro Brigato purchased the car and that’s whom Lawrence bought it from. Brigato raced it in some FIA historic championships in Europe and he won a few of those in the car. It was a competitive FIA historic championship car in the ‘90s.
When we got it in 2002, it was immediately competitive. We rebuilt the engine, took it to California, and ran Laguna and won our first race out in the car. Then we finished 3rd at the Goodwood Revival shortly after, my first trip to the Revival. Driving an Alfa for me, it’s much easier because I grew up driving them. You know, I thought every gearbox was that hard to drive. (laughs) So, I got good at my footwork.
AG: Since starting in 2002, how much have you guys been run the car?
JC: We’ve raced it at Laguna Seca a couple times, just raced there recently. We won there again in 2015. We won at Watkins Glenn a few times, we won at Lime Rock a few times, and at Le Mans. We haven’t raced it at Monza yet. We won the SVRA National Championship at COTA in 2015 and 2016. The car has a great winning history.
AG: Having driven so many incredible machines, what’s so great about racing the TZ-1?
JC: It’s a well balanced car. Its power to weight is perfect for the size of the tires and the way it’s set up. It’s very forgiving in the corners, the way it slides around. It just feels right. Alfa really got it right the first time. Unlike the 105 chassis with the solid rear axle, the TZ-1 doesn’t want to step out on you like GTV or GTA do. You can carry so much speed through the corners.
It’s got good power, but it’s not as powerful as some think. Everyone questions if we’ve got a 2.0-liter in the car then they look under the hood and see the twin-plug 1600. It makes probably 170 horsepower and weighs around 1,500 pounds, which is light but not the lightest car out there. But it’s slippery. Some of the big tracks like COTA, we’ve got it over 130mph and it seems like it wants to keep going. The truncated tail helps stabilize it at high speed.
It’s very, very stable. It never feels like it’s out of control. With the limited slip, you don’t even have to really lift and the car will just correct itself. You’re always able to catch it if you come in too hot. Of, course, now I’m getting used to it so it needs more power (laughs)… unlike the Maserati—that’s the one car I don’t want anymore power out of. (laughs)
I hit the wall a few times at Goodwood in that car, the Maserati 151 chassis number 6—one of three made and the only one remaining today. It’s tried to kill everyone that’s ever driven it. So, for now we retired it.
AG: Sounds like a glorious deathtrap. How period correct is the car?
JC: The TZ-1 is very original. We have everything that belongs to the car that it was originally equipped with. In the FIA historic racing series they allow cars to run a fiberglass hood and fiberglass doors, which are the only parts on the car that aren’t original. We’ve got a couple of different rear ends, a couple transmissions, and a couple of engines we rotate in and out, but otherwise it’s original.
Even the seats are original—I don’t use a racing Recaro or anything like that. The steering wheel and all the plexiglass panels are original. We were running vented side rear windows so I could get some heat out of the car but FIA made us put the solid ones back in so it’d be “correct.”
Thankfully (knocks on wood) we’ve never wrinkled it. We’ve been fortunate because we do race the car hard. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever even put 4 wheels off the track in that car.
AG: That’s incredible it’s managed to stay so original after all these years. If you had to narrow it down to one thing, what’s your absolute favorite aspect about racing the TZ-1?
JC: It’s funny my favorite thing about the car doesn’t have anything to do with driving it. My favorite aspect of the TZ-1 is getting the appreciation from other Alfa enthusiasts when they see the car driven hard on track. I go to events all over the world and there are a lot of nice valuable cars. Some collectors don’t like to put these kinds of cars in harms way, which I can understand—they’re valuable, rare pieces of art. But when I get other racers or fans appreciating me driving the car really hard on track, that’s what I like most. That’s my biggest pleasure in driving the TZ-1. But, the important thing here is to understand I’m just a small part of the team. It’s the owner who wants to see these cars driven because that’s what they were built to do. So if we’re going to compete he feels we should do it right.