Featured: Up Close And Personal With A Most Dramatic Alfa Romeo

Up Close And Personal With A Most Dramatic Alfa Romeo

Petrolicious Productions By Petrolicious Productions
August 14, 2015
11 comments

Story and Photography by Davide Cironi

This is probably the most dramatic design Alfa Romeo has ever had; only Zagato could imagine such lines. Project ES-30 (Experimental Sportscar 3.0-liter) was based on the very fast and mean 75 IMSA. Developed (mainly its suspension) by the recently deceased Giorgio Pianta, the man behind Abarth Racing and Alfa Corse, the SZ, Delta S4, 155 DTM, and others were built under his wing. He was the one yelling in the box when Alessandro Nannini was about to kill Roland Asch for his deliberate contact at Singen 1994—go find my interview to the Italian driver.

So: a pure, terrific, disputable design matched perfectly with mechanical components set up by racers. That means Turbo Evoluzione brakes, bigger wheels, thermoplastic body, and a bit of “encouragement” to bring the 3.0-liter Busso engine up to 210 horsepower.

My eyes must take their time to accept this eccentric monster every time I’m lucky to meet one. I feel like being in front of some abstract art: the SZ is something you’re unable to understand immediately. After a minute, or ten, I start seeing its pureness. Hate or love it, the SZ is maybe the best-driving car Alfa Romeo built, from the very first up to the Giulia GTA and even the new 4C. With its looks as they are, it’s not a design exercise for museums, at all—but one for driving!

It is quite stunning to think this project comes straight from the ’70s; in fact, under the advanced Zagato bodywork there is an Alfetta base, evolved into 75 Milano, and lifted to reach the divine ES-30 in 1989.

The first time I drove it was two years ago, as you see on the video, and I was really amazed. No one ever said me the SZ was so fast and fun, I had to discover it all alone that day around Terni roads, in the middle of Italy. Antonello, the owner, had a lightly tuned car before the SZ but he agreed with me the Zagato is so much better to use on the road. Less violent than a turbo, of course, but much more pure and tasteful.

Steering is so precise that you probably don’t believe my words until you try for yourself. Rear traction is progressive on corners, and powerslides are always easy to correct with gas, I don’t want to imagine how it could be with the additional power from something like a GTA engine—probably near perfect, I guess. It brakes, it turns, it runs precisely as you wish.

Inside, everything seems special to touch and see. The sport seats are very unusual in design as the rest of the car, the steering wheel is stunning and very satisfying to grip, but that sound in my head. The V6 by signor Giuseppe Busso is a violin.

With its soft exhaust note and only engine and air intake whisper, I can listen every single valve lift as an orchestra, growing up and becoming a howl. The gearbox’s stroke is a bit too long, like an old school car, but precise and useful once you understand how to change without losing many revs. Its weight distribution is perfect.

Incredibly, the SZ is better to drive than even one of its contemporaries, like a Ferrari 348 TB, and here comes a thing you didn’t know…

I went to meet Giorgio Langella, in Milan, a good friend of mine and already seen here on Petrolicious. He was an Alfa Romeo official test driver for more than twenty years, and the one who drove earlier ES-30 prototypes. After saying the car was amazing for him at the time, he told me also that the 3.2-liter 24v engine, the Busso GTA, was already done, but Alfa Romeo decided not to fit it into this car. Maybe the 348 TB would have been too slow in a direct comparison? Like comparing a modern F430 and the way more beautiful but “slower” 8C Competizione? We will never know, so less questions and more driving.

I can’t stop thinking this is a 75 IMSA for the road under the “Modar” thermoplastic skin, the car which monopolized the Giro d’Italia two years before the ES-30 project. It was made to amaze, and so it did.

Only 1,036 SZs were built, and all in red, except for one: the young Andrea Zagato had his in black, with a red interior. One day, I’ll find it and make our jaws drop!

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11 Comments on "Up Close And Personal With A Most Dramatic Alfa Romeo"

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BozoWolf
BozoWolf

Great car,I was lucky enough to see it in the wilds. One is in Zagreb

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger
Signor Cironi – Great essay on one of my favorite Italian cars as well as a video worthy of the Petrolicious site … but errr .. if I may be so bold … drop the RayBan (?) Wayfarer / Cosmic Chameleon ( Bob Dylan ) circa ” Infidels ” 1980’s look and replace it with a nice set of classic Persol’s and a touch of Francesco Quinn when featuring an Italian exotic such as this .. Cause lets face it Daniele .. the ole ( or new ) ‘ Dylan ‘ look just don’t cut it in anything but classic… Read more »
Edward Levin
Edward Levin

Saw one on the street in LA, years back when it was here for the Auto Show. And there’s one here now in a local collection. Striking design. Just don’t look too closely at the panel fit…

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

Its not about the ‘ panel fit ‘ but rather its ALL about the drive . The SZ/TZ’s being the epitome of absolute sports/exotic car purity at its finest no longer to be seen in a World expecting ‘ virtual ‘ perfection in a very imperfect and messy ‘ Real ‘ World

JB21
JB21
Of those limits productions, a lot of them went to Japan back then, Japanese economy was pretty good then. There was a well-known (in Japan) Alfa collector near where my grandma used to live, and once in a great while, I saw cars like Tipo 33 or TZ2. When I saw the SZ, I had to flag him down. He let me sit in the driver’s seat, and that’s how I found out that the seat doesn’t adjust forward enough for me to operate pedals comfortably (I’m 5’5″, short). Still, Il Mostro to me is the Holly Grail of all… Read more »
Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

The TZ / SZ twins are my absolute favorite automotive guilty pleasure . Beautiful ? Not hardly . The very epitome of the French term Jolie Laide ? Absolutely . A serious kick in the pants / hoot and a half to drive in the twistys ? You’re damn right it is . The last genuine Alfa Romeo exotic [ versus a rebadged this that or the other thing ] ? Unfortunately … Yes

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

PPSS ; Jolie Laide = Ugly / Beautiful . Coined by Serge Gainsbourg when describing himself … which err … once you’ve seen a photo or two of the man makes perfect sense .

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

PS; Back in the day and apologies that I cannot for the life of me remember who [ probably one of CAR’s A- list writers back then ] said it best when he wrote in his review [ and I paraphrase ] ;

‘ If there were any justice and common sense in the World of motorsports this is what the WRC should of moved on to once Group B was killed off . Brutal – fast – normally aspirated – front engined – RWD exotic such as the TZ ‘

Jim Valcarcel
Jim Valcarcel

Back in 1995 I had the good fortune to go to the Frankfurt Auto Show. In part of the trip I went to the Nurburgring (sorry if I spelled it wrong). Within like a mile or two of the town of Nurburg (again the spelling?!) I saw an RZ. I was blown away! Just the sight of that car on the open road was something I had never seen before. And……I never saw one on the open road again. A complete stunner in the flesh. Great article, thanks.

Nicola Piovano
Nicola Piovano

As it is said, driving this piece of art over 4000rpm is like listening to an orchestra!! It’s particular valve sound encourages you to keep on and on… add it up to it’s outstanding and perfectly balanced handling and you get one of the finest and enjoyable limited production set of wheels ever made.

Marvin R
Marvin R

I am really in love with the looks of this car. Didn’t had the chance to drive one yet, but I hope one day I will.
A few years ago I did a photo shoot with one of them together with the even more rare sister the RZ: [url=”https://www.flickr.com/search/?user_id=31811219\%40N08&sort=date-taken-desc&tags=es30&view_all=1″]click :-)[/url]

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