1989 ALFA ROMEO SZView vehicle description
The Alfa Romeo SZ, or Il Mostro (‘The Monster’) as it quickly became known, is a slice of bonkers Italian engineering that God sent to remind us that the world can be a wonderful place – and Jeez, don’t we need reminding of it in these occasionally dark times.
Launched at the Geneva Motor Show in 1989, the SZ (for ‘Sport Zagato’, in honour of the company that was to build the customer cars) is even more revolutionary under its skin than it looks. The body panels are Modar TM, a new fibreglass reinforced synthetic resin. This was a new material which, in true Italian fashion, brought its own challenges, not least of which was getting the paint to stick to it without blistering.
On the positive side, it gave a very smooth outside surface to the body panels, all of which were bonded to a load-bearing steel framework for extra chassis rigidity. Despite the panels being relatively thick (and therefore heavy) by modern standards, the SZ ended up tipping the scales at a not-unreasonable 1,256kgs, a feat the aluminium roof no doubt helped.
It was also very aerodynamic with a drag coefficient of 0.30, a figure that stands scrutiny even today. Performance was lively, with 62mph coming up in around 7.5 seconds, and a top speed of a smidgeon over 150mph courtesy of the legendary Alfa three-litre V6 engine with its 210bhp and 181lb/ft of torque.
It handled too, although the low ride height, which was essential to produce a limited ground effect, does make the car prone to grounding over sleeping policemen and the like. To combat this an electronic ride height system was fitted, which could raise the car by five centimeters at the press of a button. Nice.
McPherson struts at the front might reek of penny pinching but the rear features a DeDion rear set-up, complete with a limited slip differential helping to keep the read end in line. The final chassis tuning was done by Giorgio Pianta, who later became the team manager for the DTM Alfa Romeo team. Up to 1.4G was said to be available…
The four-year production run saw 1,036 SZ models being built, plus 278 cabriolets, or RZ (‘Roadster Zagato’ in Alfa parlance).
With just 20,500kms (or around 13,000 miles) on the odometer, this incredible Alfa Romeo SZ – number 113 according the plaque on the centre console - comes to us straight from a well-known classic car collection in Hong Kong. It is ready to be registered in the UK and beyond, has service history, evidence of careful ownership, a valid NOVA and recent MOT and is ready for any collection.
Barely run in, it is in almost concours condition with only a few very minor blemishes on the alloy wheels bringing it down from a solid 10/10 to a 9.9/10. Having run one ourselves, we know the model well and this one has dodged the usual weaknesses and faults, which means it is a genuine investment grade example that isn’t going to take months and thousands of pounds to fettle into a condition you would be happy with.
Exported from Italy in 2002, it has spent the last 17 years in the care of the same owner, a man who is as meticulous in his curation of his vehicles as he is modest in his demands of them. Having covered just 500 miles in the 17 years he has owned it, he chose well and then spent the money to keep it in the stunning condition you see today. This vendor is only selling for the same reason that the mileage is very low, in all his time with the car, he has been unable to register it there. Despite this he has completed an excellent maintenance regime including annual oil services.
So, if you’ve ever promised yourself an Il Mostro, this is your chance to get your hands on what might just be the very best example of them all. And, given the recent softening of the classic car market, it isn’t going to cost you a fortune, either…
On the Outside
The Rosso Red paintwork is one of the Alfa Romeo SZ’s weaknesses; the Modar body panels are tricky to paint and blemishes are common. Not on this one though, which is completely free of the sort of micro-blisters that almost every SZ has. This is Very Good News as you’d be looking at a bill of £15,000+ for a proper respray from someone who knows what they’re doing.
The body panels are straight and true, too. The panel gaps might not be mm-perfect but then they never were, even straight out of the factory. This was cutting edge technology, back-in-the-day, and Alfa was happy if Zagato got the panels on vaguely agreeable nodding terms; Audi would have a fit but then the Italian company has always been more about the noise and the handling than it is about OCD-friendly shutlines…
The underlying Alfa 75-derived steel frame is prone to rust (yes, only Alfa Romeo could build a composite car that rusts…) but not here; the combination of salt-free roads and being carefully curated in a car collection means this one is in cracking condition. This is just as well as you need to cut the bonded body panels away from the steel frame, and that ain’t pretty or cheap.
The rear spoiler, which on so many examples has started to disintegrate, is smooth and firm. The C-pillar, which often corrodes, is blemish free and completely solid too, as is the join between the aluminium roof and steel frame, another area that often shows signs of electrolytic corrosion. This is a car that has enjoyed both light use and careful storage – and it shows.
Shod with matching Falken tyres, the original three-piece alloy wheels are in great shape and don’t bear even the slightest hint of having been kerbed. They do have the odd small patch of alloy corrosion, which has lifted the lacquer and given how good the rest of the car is we’d suggest that a few hundred pounds spent refurbishing them would be money well spent if perfection was your desire.
As we will never tire of explaining, our experience shows that matching high-quality tyres are an infallible sign of a caring and mechanically sympathetic owner who is prepared to spend the appropriate amount in maintaining their car properly. Their presence does not, of course, preclude the need for a thorough inspection - something the vendor would welcome, by the way – but do give you a shortcut into their attitude towards maintenance.
The only significant flaw we can find is a chip in the paintwork on the trailing edge of the offside front wheelarch, and that the door window frames should be painted back to grey.
Oh, and the tailored car cover that came with the SZ when it was new is present and correct and included in the sale.
On the Inside
The interior is wonderfully retro with a three-spoke ‘Zagato Design’ steering wheel, a row of five rocker switches on the centre console, and a set of seven angled instruments dominating the driver’s view. It’s peak Alfa Romeo, and all the better for being so joyously over-designed and quirky.
The tan leather seats are mildly patinated but that’s how they should be; the car has been enjoyed, albeit lightly, and that enjoyment is reflected in the creasing that is etched on those wonderfully sculpted and hugely comfortable seats.
But don’t be misled; the patination is light and entirely consistent with the car’s low mileage and infrequent use; the owner tells us that the car has covered 500 miles in the 17 years he has owned it, and he is meticulous in his curation. And everything about them is perfect: the shape, the colour, and the way they snuggle you in. Seats are rarely the source of much joy these days, but the Italians understand that they, along with the steering wheel, are the main points of contact, and so must be right. And these are utterly right.
The rest of the interior is in equally good condition. The leather-covered dashboard top, for example, usually fades and cracks in even modest sun but this one is crack- and ripple-free. The rest of the leather is soft and supple.
The switches have another good story to tell; where so many have deteriorated and become tired, these are still sharp and operate with an authoritative click. The electrics generally work too, which is a minor miracle and not something that can be said of every SZ out there.
Other details reveal themselves as you look closer and closer: the brown leather luggage straps on the rear seat, for example. (This is the luggage space as the boot is completely filled by the space saver spare wheel, which is a uniquely designed alloy wheel and looks to be unused. Oh, and the jack is still there too; don’t ask us why, but that always tends to go missing.)
The headlining is in mint condition, and the carpets are very good. The whole thing is utterly delightful and we encourage potential bidders to pop along to see us here at The Market HQ near Abingdon to come and see it for themselves. The kettle is always on, and we’d be delighted to give you free rein to ramble all over it until you are satisfied it is every bit as wonderful as we say.
The engine bay and underside of the car are as clean as the exterior and interior, which is to say that they are very clean indeed. It also starts, runs and drives beautifully – and that’s not just our opinion because it was driven 200 fast motorway miles to be here with us, and the driver (a friend of the owner) reported no faults bar a slight leak of power steering fluid.
As to how it drives, he told us that “it clearly has a fancy stainless steel exhaust system, which sounds amazing. It’s light and nimble, and handles beautifully. I was expecting a lot, but hadn’t realised quite how good it would be. It didn’t miss a beat coming here.”
This is high praise indeed from a man who, in addition to having restored 27 Alfa Romeos himself over the past decade, has owned a number of Ferraris including a Dino, a 308 and a Mondial. Solid credentials, as we’re sure you’ll agree, but even these are eclipsed by the fact that he considers his primary skill and passion in life to be private flight. He is a man, in other words, whose opinion is worth listening to in matters of both cars and engineering integrity…
The Alfa has had its NOVA (VAT and duty) paid and there are letters to prove that from Autofreight dated 5th December 2019, and H.M. Revenue and Customs dated 10th December 2019.
At the request of the vendor, we have taken the SZ for its MOT and it has successfully passed giving an extra level of confidence that the car is in good, and safe, mechanical condition. We have also completed a front wheel balance at the vendor's suggestion after his run dropping the car off to us.
The SZ still has its factory leather wallet containing the three handbooks it was supplied with when it was new, plus some of its old Italian paperwork, including the bill to export it to Hong Kong.
The owner tells us that the car was last had a major service in 2018, when the bill for servicing and tuning ran to around $5,000 and included a major rebuild of the fuel lines/filter etc . Prior to that he had the car’s oil and oil filter changed every year, regardless of whether it had been used in the intervening period or not. When the vendor wished to complete the required major service including the cambelt, he asked his garage to do this properly, as always. So they did by removing the engine to allow full access etc. To show the thoroughness of the approach of both the vendor and the garage, this is fully documented with invoice and photos. That garage is very experienced with Ferraris and so suggested painting the engine bay as per the cars of Maranello with a matt black finish, probably not our first choice. The Chinese invoices included in the Gallery are for the annual services.
If you’d like to inspect the car prior to placing a bid – something we would always encourage – then please contact us to arrange an appointment.
What We Think
The Alfa Romeo is everything that’s good, and bad, about the company. On the one hand the Alfa SZ is staggeringly good looking (although we appreciate not everyone agrees on this), handles brilliantly, and makes one of the best noises of any car ever built.
But, they have their weaknesses, which we’ve discussed above – and yet this example doesn't appear to suffer from any of them and appears to have been very well cared for throughout its life. That makes it a very, very rare car indeed and therefore ideal for the collector with an eye to future values.
With the very best examples knocking on the door of £70,000 (and sometimes above) we think this one’s lack of service history (even though the owner assures us that it had a minimum of an oil and filter change every year) means it will set its new owner back between £42,000 and £50,000 at which point it will represent solid value; not cheap, but when you’re buying an essentially handbuilt Italian car from the late eighties and early nineties, ‘cheap’ is not a word you want to read in the description.
And this is, remember, one of the very best we’ve ever seen, and we speak from personal experience when we say that no-one should ever be tempted by an SZ with issues…
Viewing is always encouraged, and this car can be seen here at The Market HQ near Abingdon; to arrange an appointment please use the ‘Contact Seller’ button at the top of the listing. Feel free to ask any questions or make observations in the comments section below, or try our ‘Frequently Asked Questions’.
If needed, please remember we have a network of trusted suppliers we work with regularly and can recommend: Classic & Sportscar Finance for purchase-financing, Thames Valley Car Storage for storing your car, AnyVan for transporting it, and Footman James for classic car insurance.
BORING, but IMPORTANT: Please note that whilst we at The Market always aim to offer the most descriptive and transparent auction listings of any auction, we cannot claim they are perfect analyses of any of the vehicles we have for sale. While we use our trade experience to assess every car that comes through our hands (and between us we have bought hundreds of classic cars over the years for our personal use…) we are fallible, and our assessment of a car may contrast with that you might form yourself.
This is why we offer a far greater opportunity for bidders to view, or arrange a professional inspection on their behalf of, each vehicle prior to bidding than any traditional car auction, and we will never stop encouraging bidders to take advantage of this by coming to see it in person.
That said, we do take a good look at the vehicles delivered to our premises for sale, but this only results in our unbiased personal observations, not those of a qualified inspector or other professional, or those formed as a result of a long test drive.
Additionally, please note that most of the videos on our site have been recorded using simple cameras which often result in 'average' sound quality; in particular, engines and exhausts notes can sound a little different to how they are in reality.
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