Early in the 1950’s Alfa Romeo had revised their production methods and had created a new line of models. These new vehicles were mid-sized with sporty, small capacity engines. The Giulietta was introduced near the close of the 1950’s and was first offered with the Type 101 engine, a 1290cc unit. By now Alfa Romeo had a wide range of bodystyle configuration including the four door saloons, Sprint Coupes, Spider, station wagons, and the Sprint Speciale. The Sprint Speciale came in two configurations, one by Bertone and the other by Zagato. Bertone’s design was first offered mid-1959. Zagatos were first available in early 1960. Both Zagato and Bertone’s design were based on the Giulietta chassis and running gear but were void of bumpers. Their intentions for these vehicles were competition. Zagato’s creations were constructed of a light alloy bodies and were more performance oriented. Bertone’s creations outsold Zagato’s by 6-to-1, and soon began outfitting the vehicles with luxurious interiors.
Most of the Zagato’s were constructed with rounded front and tail treatments though near the end of the 200 produced, they experimented with a ‘coda tronca’ Kamm tail treatment.
Racing has always been important for most automobiles manufacturers and Alfa Romeo was beginning to realize that their engines would do well in competition since they were compact, lightweight, powerful, and durable. Though the board would not sanction a factory race program they did understand the importance of racing and how it is used to promote products.
In 1962 the Giulia range of cars, also know as the 105 series, were introduced and served as a replacement for the Giulietta. These were powered by 1570 cc engines and shared the same bodies of the Giulietta. The five speed manual gearbox was operated by a column mounted shift. The suspension was modified in the rear to improve handling but remained the same in the front.
Just like the Giulietta series, the Giulia came in multiple body-styles including the four-door berlina, spider, TZ, sprint, and Sprint Speciale.
With racing in mind, Alfa Romeo designed and built the TZ series. The TZ, meaning Tubolare Zagato, was outfitted with a light alloy body, tubular frame, disc brakes and independent suspension. The performance of the vehicle was amplified by its light body and responsive and effective handling. The large disc brakes provided excellent stopping power. Most of the parts were produced in the main factory in Portello. The building of the car, however, was entrusted to the head competitions engineer, Carlo Chiti of Autodelta based at Udine. The base 1570cc engine produced about 90 horsepower. The engine installed in the TZ competition cars produced around 170 horsepower. This boost in horsepower was made possible, in part, through twin-plug cylinder heads by Autodelta. To reduce weight and improve safety, the side glass windows were removed and replaced with Perspex.
Road cars were commonly given a single-plug cylinder head, leather interior, and retained their glass window.
In 1963 these lightweight and capable cars proved their potential by winning the FISA Cup. In nearly every competition event that these cars were entered, they provided podium finishes for their drivers. They were entered in events such as hill climbs, Sebring, the Targa Florio, Monza, Spa, Nurburgring, and LeMans.
About the Zagato company
Ugo Zagato was born on 25th of June 1890 in Gavello, between Padova and Ferrara. Childhood was poor and at the age of 15 he had to leave his hometown in order to find work in Cologne/Germany in a little company specialized in metalworking.
After his military service back in Italy he was hired as an apprentice by the Varesina bodyworks. Here he was exposed for the first time to concepts of car design – however still archaic or traditional derived from horse drawn carriages.
At the age of 25 during the first World War Ugo Zagato moved to Torino in order to work with Pomilio, an aircraft construction company. In the next four years he learned everything which should become so important for his later car design: new sophisticated techniques of light and robust construction.
“It’s better to be a small boss than an important employee” With these words Ugo Zagato left the aircraft company at the peak of his career with the company. Not even the managing director was able to change his mind.
Being suddenly an entrepreneur rather than an employee, he started with five employees, relying on the ‘old’ construction principles, mainly modifying and improving ‘ITALA’ and ‘DIATTO’ sedans. The order books were full and the company moved to a larger site in 1923.
In the same year the first son, Elio Zagato was born and the ties to Alfa Romeo strengthened – several RL were already bodied and the Alfa Romeo RL SS spiders were admired and successful cars.
The second son, Gianni Zagato, was born in 1929.
The breakthrough of the company came with the extremely successful Alfa Romeo types 1500 6C and 1750 6C a cooperation between Vittorio Jano, then manager of Alfa’s car design department and Zagato. Both cars became a legend and drivers like Giuseppe Campari, Giulio Ramponi, Tazio Nuvolari or Enzo Ferrari, just to name a few won several races like the Mille Miglia on the Jano designed and Zagato bodied cars. Zagato was able to produce up to two cars per day during peak of demand and congested production space was always a problem as was financial situation due to the lack of administration.
Nevertheless the 30’s were very successful years for Zagato in terms of glory and international fame. In the 1938 Mille Miglia no less than 38 cars with Zagato bodies participated in the 750 cc and 1100 cc classes.
Cooperation with other car manufacturers than Alfa Romeo included LANCIA, FIAT and ISOTTA FRASCHINI.
During the war until August 1943, when the Zagato factory was destroyed by an air raid the company produced truck cabs.
With the end of the war in 1945 Ugo Zagato together with his sons immediately founded a new corporation ‘La Zagato’. New premises were found at the outskirts of Milan.
After graduating in business administration in 1946 Elio Zagato became the administrator of the new company. It should be noted that Elio Zagato was also a successful racing driver.
Elio Zagato was the driving force in those important years of bringing the company back to fame and success. His racing experience influenced the development of many cars and led to the image of Zagato as a sports car body maker. In that time a new type of car was developed: The GT (Grand Touring) car which combines a standard production frame or platform with a sporty body.
A typical early and very beautiful example of a GT is the Fiat 8V Zagato. This car was a prestigious project which should bring Fiat, already a mass producer in the ‘bread and butter’-car class, fame in the upper market segment. It was equipped with a V8-engine and bodywork was mainly done by Zagato. In 1955 Elio Zagato won the famous AVUS-race in Berlin on a Fiat 8V.
One of the first projects after the war was the development of the ‘Panoramica’ series of cars. The idea behind it was to enlarge the glass areas of a car up into the roof. While the bodies were aerodynamic they proofed to be comfortable, spacious and elegant. Among other makes mainly Fiat 1100’s and Topolinos were converted into ‘Panoramicas’.
The ’50s were a glorious time for Zagato, order books were full and a lot of new ideas were developed. Two ideas need to be mentioned: The famous ‘double bubble’ and the truncated tail.
The ‘double bubble’ was the logical consequence out of the tendency to improve the aerodynamics of the cars. In order to improve the penetration and to reduce the drag the roof line of the cars were lowered. To allow enough headroom in the passenger compartment the ‘double bubble’ was invented. A side effect of this idea was a tougher roof structure, allowing to use lighter or thinner material which made the cars even more competitive.
To improve the aerodynamics of a car you either have to lengthen the tail with good effects on aerodynamics but not very pleasing effects for the eye – or you go the opposite way and cut the tail of a car.
The basics of this principle were found in the ’20s and ’30s by the German Wunibald Kamm, but it were Elio Zagato, Gianni Zagato and Zagatos most important designer Ercole Spada who really made use of this idea:
The Alfa Romeo Giulietta SZ was the first car making use of the truncated tail. The famous Alfa Romeo TZ1 and TZ2 and the Junior Zagato were based on the design principles of the Giulietta SZ.
Another project which added fame to the Zagato factory was a Formula 1 car: The famous and awesome Alfetta 159. The body was built in the Zagato factory. With this car Juan Manuel Fangio became world champion in 1951.
Co-operation was not only restricted to Alfa Romeo:
Lancia Aurelia, Appia, Flaminia, Flavia and Fulvia were available with the stylistic ‘Z’ on the body. The Lancia Fulvia Sport was in terms of production figures the most successful Zagato creation: 6970 cars left the premises in Terrazzano di Rho, the companies location since 1962.
Carlo Abarth had some of his fiercest little racers equipped with Zagato bodywork.
Fiats, Maseratis, Ferraris were in very limited numbers ‘dressed by Zagato’
Non-Italian manufacturers included Aston Martin, Bristol, Rover, Jaguar and Volvo.
The production stop of the Alfa Romeo Giulia 1600 Junior Zagato marked the end of the glorious Zagato years. For years we could see design studies on various motorshows without any success. During the crisis Zagato was producing armored cars for the Italian government, electric golf cars and survived with the assembly of cars on contract basis, e.g. the Maserati Biturbo Spider.
In the recent years Aston Martin Vantage and Volante Zagato, Alfa Romeo SZ and SZ Spider and Alfa Romeo Roadster Zagato were promising projects with bigger production figures.