Pick of the Day: 1991 Alfa Romeo SZ, an exotic Italian unicorn in the US

This low-mileage example has been legalized for California driving

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The Alfa Romeo SZ was designed in-house but built by Zagato

One of the most storied names in automotive design is Zagato. The Milan carrozzeria created some of the most stunning designs ever built for Aston Martin, Maserati and Alfa Romeo, among others.

But when is a Zagato-built car not a Zagato design?  The Pick of the Day contains the answer: a 1991 Alfa Romeo SZ.

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The SZ was created as a halo car for Alfa Romeo, using the underpinnings of the Alfa Milano. The car was designed around those great bits – the spectacular V6 engine developed by Giuseppe Busso and the front engine/rear transaxle design – but with a shortened wheelbase and a very modern body style.

Now here is the most-interesting part. Even though labeled a SZ, with the Z in the language of Alfa standing for a Zagato design, the body was actually styled in house at Alfa Romeo by Robert Opron, although it was built by Zagato. Among Opron’s other notable designs was the Renault Alpine A310 and the Citroen SM.

This SZ was never officially sold in the US and until recently, getting one to the US was challenging, to say the least. This example is unusual in being 100 percent California-legal, according to the San Mateo, California, private seller advertising the Alfa on ClassicCars.com

The red Alfa coupe has covered only 38,500 kilometers (about 24,000 miles) from new and is in exceptional condition, the seller adds. The exterior shows remarkably well and the paint is good, the seller notes, and the body is clean and straight with no issues. The interior is also very nice, although with just some stretch and creases showing on the  driver’s seat leather.

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Mechanically, the car is A1 in all regards and ready to enjoy on road or track, the seller says, adding that it recently received a major service at Dino Motors in the San Francisco Bay area.

I had the opportunity to drive an SZ last year during Monterey car week and came away quite surprised. I’ve owned an Alfa GTV6, and the SZ is everything that car is and more. Powered by a 3-liter V6 as opposed to the 2.5-liter engine in the GTV6, the car has more power and sounds just as good.

The shortened chassis of the SZ is combined with the suspension taken from the Alfa 75 group A/IMSA car, and according to test reports, the SZ is capable of 1.1G on the skidpad, an extraordinary number in the 1990s and still amazing today.

The Alfa SZ not only handles well, it is also quite fast for the era, with a 0-60 time of 7 seconds and a top speed of 152 mph recorded in period tests. Best of all, the SZ is a completely analog car with no intrusions of such driver aids as traction control.

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Alfa built only 1,036 SZ cars, making it a low production car that is a veritable unicorn in the US. The SZ is an exotic Italian that is a bit left of center, and with an affordable price of $78,900.

To view this listing on ClassicCars.com, see Pick of the Day

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Andy Reid's first car, purchased at age 15, was a 1968 Fiat 124 coupe. His second, obtained by spending his college savings fund, was a 1966 Ferrari 330 GT 2+2. Since then, he has owned more than 150 cars—none of them normal or reasonable—as well as numerous classic motorcycles and scooters. A veteran of film, television, advertising and helping to launch a few Internet-based companies, Reid was a columnist for Classic Motorsports magazine for 12 years and has written for several other publications. He is considered an expert in European sports and luxury cars and is a respected concours judge. He lives in Canton, Connecticut.

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