2600 SZ: ...A ZAGATO AT PORTOFINO
This is an excerpt from the book “Alfazioso” by Gippo Salvetti, president of the Alfa Romeo Blue Team and owner of one of the largest and most important collections of post-war Alfa Romeos.
The photos are by Sandro Bacchi.
Our grateful thanks go to the author and to the publishers, Fucina Editore, for authorising publication of this excerpt. This book and others are available at the website: www.alfazioso.it
GAt the time it was presented in its definitive version (in 1965) it fascinated me with its voracious mouth, like the jaws of a Carcharodon charcharias, a Great White Shark for ordinary mortals, while those who have seen it from really close up, . . . well, they probably were never able to talk about the experience.
The white colour of the definitive presentation model, at the Frankfurt Motor Show gave it a fascination which would have been merely banal had it been in the classic Alfa red.
Zagato was and is a master of the classic sports car. Cars in which everything that wasn’t necessary was superfluous, and had therefore been eliminated.
Accessories, chrome, fripperies and tinsel have always had a particular significance in the Zagato workshops, that of not being there.
The principal vocation, that of the race track, was too strong in a Zagato to allow it to be weighed down, either aesthetically or on the scales.
This was true if under the bonnet there was an engine straining at the leash like that of the Giulietta, but the six cylinder 2600, a rather doughy jewel, was not distinguished by pluckiness.
Decorate a 2600.
It couldn’t be a GT capable of acrobatics on the Monza parabolica, not infrequent with cars that had a Z on the their flanks.
Possibly there were a lot engines in stock due to the “congiuntura” (recession), and there was a risk that they would soon become obsolete Possibly too, the intention was to offer a complete range of 2600 cars and add the more powerful SZ to the Sprint and the Spider. Perhaps they wanted to see it competing in races . . . who knows. Certainly 105 units have to be considered as high fashion tailoring rather than ready to wear. It couldn’t really be considered as filling a specific commercial niche either, even in those days, that would have been based on considerably larger numbers.
We are not really talking about a series of special cars, prepared by one of those "minor" designers who were still prolific in the middle Sixties, this was an official product, on the price list. If the Owners Handbook had been lithographed in numbered series it might have cost less.
It wasn't a design that would attract the bulk of the public: great!
The downward slope of the bonnet and the very wide mouth.
One thinks of the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood.
The profile poised before launching itself while the tail was abruptly, almost violently chopped off.
Inside, while simple, some concessions had been made to a certain sober elegance and two very small rear seats that officially classified it as a 2+2: to be optimistic costs nothing after all.
The machinery, the jewel of the 2600, was better finished, the gears slightly longer thanks to the 175x400 tyres, that were practically impossible to find even then.
On the catalogue they wrote: "over 210 Kph" and they were right. In the warm leather cabin of the 2600 Sprint the wall of 200 Kph was somehow impressive, here with the curved windscreen that gave you a headache if you looked into the corners, the effect was even more impressive.
Basically however the 2600 SZ was not a car born for helmets and the stress of chequered flags.
At that price (the last to be sold cost 4,970,000 lire, three times the price of a GT Junior!), the owner was more likely to be the fifty-year old who had finally made it, rather than the thirty-year old dying to write his cheque.
So that, rather than the motorway records that I remember so well, it was perhaps more at ease on the road from Portofino to Santa Margherita and back.
When offering a lift to the gorgeous girl swirling in a mist of Chanel and the horrid little sister also appeared, one could point to the impossibly tiny rear seats, and with a satisfied smile, say: "Terribly sorry, no room."
However these are suppositions as new or used, I had never seen a 2600 SZ, except for once in a showroom.
In comparison the Madonna of Lourdes appeared rather more frequently. The years passed.
In 1973 the first oil crisis began to take its toll on large saloons and their penniless owners.
I was in one of those post-sixty-eight restaurants, a mixture of mountain chalet and Parisian rive-gauche, through the deliberately grubby curtains I suddenly glimpsed a 2600 SZ slowly drive by with the direction indicator showing that the driver was looking for a place to park.
My instinct was to rush out, but good manners and the doubt that my guest, a friend from University who was enjoying her candle-lit dinner, would be entirely understanding froze any further hope of tracing the car. I tried to make up for my momentary distraction by offering my guest one of the flowers being offered by a flower-seller who was doing the rounds of the tables. "No, thank you," she said.
It goes without saying that paying the bill, then a quick look round on some implausible excuse at the cars parked nearby was useless, the silver shape that I had barely glimpsed had disappeared in the night. A few months later I happened to be in the same restaurant, with a large and rather noisy group, when around midnight the same SZ appeared and parked at the pavement. I made it outside in time to see, bunch of roses in hand, the flower seller getting out of the car.
Either the roses were wildly over-priced or that SZ was really cheap.
There was in fact a third explanation, life is after all more surprising than one's imagination.
The roses were the right price and the flower-seller could allow himself an SZ because it hadn't cost him anything. I discovered later, in fact, that he had become the owner because the man sitting in from of him had said: "I'll see you" with a low full-house, when he had a straight flush.
The Zagato changed hands. Unfortunately when the flower-seller discovered that he couldn't pay the road-tax on the basis of cutting for the highest card, or change a couple of dozen red roses for 24 litres of petrol, he began to understand that after all an honest Fiat 850, perhaps a coupè, would do the trick, until some other mug offered to "see him".
At this point five hundred thousand lire seemed to him a sufficient figure to enable him to say: "After all for my work, it's difficult to park as well . . ."
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