The SZ had done the job it was meant to, but ultimately was quite hard to sell because of its extreme looks. A special racing class (the SZ Trophy) was introduced so the SZ (and RZ) could be used in competition on tracks all over Europe. Participants received a 25% discount on the not even exorbitant price of the cars in order to boost sales and to promote the series.
Regardless of the lacking commercial success of the SZ a new version appeared in 1992: the Roadster Zagato (RZ). Like the name indicates it was a convertible version of the SZ coupe. A year before Zagato had presented a SZ spider styling study, a remarkably elegant looking prototype SZ convertible with some curvy, almost feminine forms. But the actual RZ looked more like its SZ brother with angular shapes and the high waist line; more as if the SZ had been decapitated. However this car, unlike the SZ, was an original Zagato design.
A limited production of only 350 cars was announced, but the RZ proved
to be even harder to sell than the SZ. Only 278 roadsters left the
factory; 50 in 1992 and 228 in 1993. Like the SZ the RZ was sold and
distributed outside Italy mostly by enthusiasts and specialists, and not
by the official Alfa Romeo channels.
A remarkable feature in the interior are the "Kevlar" panels in the dashboard of the SZ, which give a racy light-weight impression. But it isn't really (expensive) carbon fibre material, only Fablon with a plastic coating. In the RZ these panels have been replaced by black coated aluminum panels.
The seats have no height adjustment and this means that taller people
have reduced visibility in the RZ because of the low windscreen with the
large top edge. The windscreen rim also acts as a roll-over bar in the
RZ, hence its size.
Underneath the body not much was changed. Like the SZ the new RZ
featured the 3.0 litre V6 with 210 hp and 245 Nm. A nice aspect of this
engine is the even availability of torque: between 2500 and 6000 rpm
there's always at least 230 Nm available. This makes the SZ and RZ
flexible cars to drive, equally competent at touring as at performance
driving. A downside to the RZ is its weight: 1380 kg, an increase by 120
kg causing it to be less nimble than the SZ. Maximum speed of the RZ is
230 kph and the car is capable of a 0-100 kph acceleration in 7.5
The body of the RZ shows some revisions from that of the SZ. Most notably of course the (unlined) fold away top which disappears in a space behind the seats, under a lid with two typical Zagato bulges. Other changes include different side windows to fit the top, a new engine cover, now without the ribbed segment in the middle part in front of the windscreen, more concealed window wipers, a higher front spoiler to offer more ground clearance, revised side-skirts and a darker rear light strip. Less noticeable but also a remarkable difference from the SZ is the utilization of thinner plastic panels in order to reduce weight. In all, creating the RZ required more than 500 new parts and all moulds for the plastic components had to be renewed. Quite expensive for such a limited production run.
With the top down the roadster looks less harmonious than the coupe, it
gives an impression of a chunky wedge. It takes a lot of getting used
to, but on the other hand it conveys a butch brutality, like a pumped up
body-builder. The RZ is definitely a car for those who like to be
noticed as non-conformists.
typical Alfa Romeo characteristic can be found in the drive train of the
SZ and RZ: the transaxle transmission construction. This means that the
gearbox isn't directly attached to the engine, but to the rear axle,
combined with the (limited slip) differential. The construction offers a
better weight distribution with enhanced road holding as a result, but
always had the downside of an indirect, uncomfortable gear change.
Remarkably Alfa had finally solved this problem in the SZ and RZ, the
last models the factory fitted with this construction.
The original 5-speed gearbox of the SZ was fitted with a single plated clutch, which proved to be too weak. As from 1991 a larger sized clutch with a stronger release assembly was provided in the SZ and RZ which was much better up to the strain.
Unlike the SZ the RZ was available in
three different color schemes: red, yellow and black. Next to that three
RZ cars were delivered in silver and one in metallic white. In all the
RZ is a rare, exotic car and definitely a future collectors item.
Since the SZ/RZ Alfa Romeo more or less abandoned the sports car niche
market and went for volume production. Also the ties with Zagato weren't
renewed; the successors to the SZ and RZ models, the elegant and stylish
GTV and Spider introduced in 1995, were built by Pininfarina, Zagato's
long term rival.
Zagato moved on to industrial design, developing all kinds of vehicles like fork lifts and trains, but also shows and builds prototype and concept cars once in a while, like the innovative 2001 Fiat Ecobasic.
Much of the detailed information on these pages was kindly supplied by Mr. Eduard van de Beek. You can find more info on the SZ and RZ at his Alfa
Romeo ES-30 site, a great source.