While driving across this great nation of Texas, I saw from the corner of my eye a squinty-eyed red brick flying down I-10, in the other direction. I had just passed Hennessey's shop in Sealy, about an hour west of Houston. It was a bright midafternoon day. On either side of me were empty tan fields, truck dealers, scrubby low trees, smoke from a thousand Hellcat burnouts. My mind warped at the sight. After diving through the inner recesses of my brain that should've been reserved for high school trigonometry but instead usurped by obscure European machinery like the —that it was an Alfa Romeo Sprint Zagato, a tiny little dreamboat rarer than a shooting star—and, let's face it, a car that has no right to be in America at all.
I only caught the side of a glimpse of one as it flew past me in the opposite lane, heading west. But no matter. A car like that, you can't easily forget.
Robert Opron—yes, that Opron, he who gifted us the Citroëns DS and SM, among others—was the man first responsible for sketching the SZ. Alfa Romeo had just been taken over by Fiat, and after Citroën and Renault, Opron was a fresh-faced newcomer. In the grand scheme of designs, it winds up rivaling Chris Bangle's brilliant in terms of small European strangeness.
The snub-nose SZ was a weapon, distilled unto pureness. Here's what it was: a wheelbase like a Cozy Coupe, a set of Pirelli P-Zeros, a 3-liter, 12-valve "Arese" aluminum V6 with 210 horsepower and a sound like a Thunder God, as all Alfas are wont to do. A suspension derived from the Group A IMSA Evoluzione , tweaked by the head of Lancia Fiat works rallying team that could pull 1.4gs—still supercar status, by way of 1989! Imagine hitting 0-60 in seven seconds in a car with the aerodynamics of a Jeep Cherokee, snarling all the way to 150mph—that was the Alfa Romeo SZ's old-school sensibilities, and the exact thing that dashing ne'er-do-wells probably do all the way to Monaco. A car only driven by Interesting People. Only 1,000 persons of interest were invited. And one of them might even live in Houston.
Just a little over a thousand SZs were ever built. Every single example was Rosso Alfa with a black roof and tan interior, and it'd be pointless to suggest anything else. A Roadster Zagato edition was also devised, of which only 278 were ever built—unlike the coupe, the truck-like RZ, devoid of a roof and therefore emphasizing its razor-sharp lines, actually came with the option of colors: red, yellow, and black.
You either love the SZ, or you loathe it. There's no in between. (Look, if it happens to resemble a , that's on you, not me.) Despite the sentiment that everything out of Italy is drop-dead gorgeous, there have been Alfa Romeo's fair share of stumpy and frumpy: daringly few people can genuinely call the Alfetta, Milano, MiTo, and "pretty," and only because they tattooed That One Jeremy Clarkson Quote About Alfas on a part of their bodies they only show to their therapists.
Last year, an enterprising owner listed for around $110,000, and it's not known whether he commanded that price or not. Whoever bought is probably the only person running around the Eastern Seaboard with it—just like my future friend, on his way to Austin, presumably to keep it weird. I only wish I could have heard it, right next to me. It would have shown me, I bet, why it was nicknamed "The Monster." Because it couldn't look like anything but.