• Please don protective eyewear before viewing this Alfa Romeo, an avant-garde roadster with out-of-this-world wedgy styling.
• The RZ roadster and related SZ coupe were supposed to galvanize Alfa Romeo styling in a new direction.
The auction runs through April 24.
Historically speaking, Italian coachbuilders have created some of the most beautiful machines to ever roll into a concours d’elegance. Zagato, founded more than a century ago, is among the best of them, and when its signature Z is paired with an Alfa Romeo, the result is always stunning. In this case, stunning can be read in a literal sense, like having an anvil fall on your head.
Today’s pick from the auction site Bring A Trailer—which, like Car and Driver, is part of Hearst Autos—is an Italian wedge of formaggio that is definitely not going to be to everyone’s taste. In fact, more than a few readers have probably already scrolled directly to the comment section to voice disbelief and/or complaint. What is this crazy thing? Answer: a 1993 Alfa-Romeo RZ, the “RZ” standing for Roadster Zagato.
Dubbed Il Mostro—the Monster—on its debut in 1989, the Alfa Romeo SZ was intended to shatter preconceptions and set Alfa design on a new path. The SZ (for Sport Zagato, the hardtop released before this rarer roadster version) was certainly uncomfortably electrifying. Utilizing computer-aided design rather than the hand sketches of some Italian artisan, its snub-nosed styling was finished in-house by Alfa’s then-parent company Fiat, with assembly farmed out to Zagato.
In fact, the SZ/RZ’s design is French in origin. The original concept was styled by Frenchman Robert Opron, who is also credited with Citroën’s SM, GS, and SX.
This roadster is number 184 of just 284 built, a total that is about a quarter of SZ production. Build quality is—well, it’s a boutique car assembled in Italy during the 1990s. The indifference to precision can be neatly summed up by the slightly crooked angle of the limited-series metal plate below the gearshift.
But in terms of personality, the RZ has about as much as you can handle.
If you can embrace or at least get past the styling, then it’s a proper rear-wheel-drive Alfa, the quickest of them in its day. Under the clamshell hood is a 3.0-liter Busso 12-valve V-6, feeding a little over 200 horsepower to a rear-mounted five-speed manual transaxle. The RZ is a hair slower to 60 mph than the SZ, but both are lively and quick. The V-6 raises its voice in a gloriously mechanical crescendo, better heard with the roof down. This is Italian motoring con brio.
Slightly fewer than half of total RZ production went to Japan, because of course it did. The RZ is exactly the sort of car to appeal in the country that produced the Mitsuoka Orochi. This example was brought back across the Pacific in 2010 and was purchased by the current owner (a serial Alfa owner) sometime last year. The timing belt and clutch and associated service were performed about ten years ago.
As a conversation starter at any car meet, this giallo ginestra wedge is sure to be polarizing. Bystanders are going to Have Opinions, and some of those opinions are not going to be very flattering.
But so be it. The RZ is incomprehensible madness with a lusty Alfa Romeo V-6. It’s the antidote to automotive boredom.
Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and photographer based in North Vancouver, B.C., Canada. He grew up splitting his knuckles on British automobiles, came of age in the golden era of Japanese sport-compact performance, and began writing about cars and people in 2008. His particular interest is the intersection between humanity and machinery, whether it is the racing career of Walter Cronkite or Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s half-century obsession with the Citroën 2CV. He has taught both of his young daughters how to shift a manual transmission and is grateful for the excuse they provide to be perpetually buying Hot Wheels.