In 1990 Alfa Romeo unveiled the SZ, a name evoking memories of their most successful production racer, the Sprint Zagato from the early '60s.

Powered by Alfa's silky smooth and classic 3.0-liter V6 engine which transmitted its power to the rear wheels via a 5-speed transaxle, the car could hit 152 mph and sprint from 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds.

An announcement was made that just one thousand examples would be built, and, 1990 still being in the go-go era of speculation, all of these were sold before production even started. Road testers love it, stating that it rewrote the rulebook on handling and roadholding. Indeed, its levels of grip were astonishing, recording a lateral acceleration of 1.4g, and even those who disliked its looks (christening it "The Monster") had to concede that it was a truly remarkable and exceptionally competent car.

In 1994 the Roadster Zagato, or RZ, was launched, utilizing the same mechanical base and general appearance, but with a folding soft top. This version was perhaps even more outrageous than the SZ and enjoyed the same high levels of performance.

The design cleverly allowed the roof to fold away completely, revealing two humps in the rear deck lid, a typical Zagato trademark, harking back to his "double bubble" roofs. The detail styling was full of such masterpieces and the car is without doubt one of the great modern classics.

Only 280 examples were built, ensuring exclusivity, which came at quite a price - $86,000 was the amount if you were lucky enough to put your name down quickly.

The RZ pictured here is number 249. It is fitted with a body styling kit featuring an extended front air dam and rear air foil. Apparently these were modeled by Artedi, whose badge is carried on the car, and it is believed that it was their display car at a German motor show. The car is black, one of only three colors offered, with plum red hide interior, and has covered just 15,000 kilometers. Originally registered in 1995, it was imported and registered in the UK in December 1996, since then it has had just one owner.

{analysis} Let's cut to the chase. Despite the performance and exclusivity, the SZ and RZ have been total busts as collectible automobiles. At the Coys November 20, 1997 London auction, this RZ failed to meet its estimate of $45,000-$50,000.

Regular SZs seem to percolate in the $30,000 range, so a $15,000 premium for a factory chop-job doesn't seem inappropriate. However, all the added spoiler and flares recall the poor treatment that Panteras have received at hands of enthusiastic but taste-challenged owners. No more, please.

Comments in italics by Keith Martin.

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