Win on Sunday…
The Autech Stelvio and slightly less challengingly styled Autech Gavia were not the only specials for the Japanese domestic market produced by the Italian carrozzieri: meet the Alfa Romeo 155 TI.Z. Zagato’s aim appears to have been to goad Alfa Romeo into ordering a limited series run by developing the 155 TI.Z – (Turismo Internazionale Zagato) – whose styling strongly alluded to the 155 GTA which was successfully competing in the DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft) at the time.
Partly credited to Ercole Spada, the 155 TI.Z prototype was based on 155 Q4 mechanicals but fitted with the stronger 215 bhp engine normally reserved for the Lancia Delta Integrale. The TI.Z was fitted with flared DTM-style wheelarches to accommodate the wider front and rear track, a large rear spoiler and bumpers with larger air intakes and cutouts that suggested the actual venturis that the DTM racing version had.
Only the bonnet, roof, front doors and bootlid remained unchanged. These measures, even despite the wider body, improved the aerodynamic drag coefficient to 0.296.
The chassis was substantially reworked as well: the ride height was lowered by 1.34 inches, adjustable gas dampers and variable rate springs fitted and the front suspension mounting points were reinforced; the 155 TI.Z received special 17 inch light alloy wheels.
The finished car was displayed at the 1994 Geneva Motor Show but unfortunately for the struggling carrozzeria Alfa Romeo did not bite – a plausible reason being that Arese was then directing most of its resources to project 932 (the upcoming 156) and the TI.Z would enter the marketplace too late in the life of the 155.
The loss of this potential lifeline was one of the reasons Zagato was declared bankrupt soon after and was forced to shut down its assembly plant.
This was not the end for the TI.Z however: Luca Zagato, helped with financing by a Japanese businessman, set up a separate company named Z Automobili. His reasoning was that there were enough affluent Japanese who would be interested in owning a Zagato bodied Alfa Romeo – and why not? Cooperating with Nissan,Zagato had sold over 100 Autech Stelvios in Japan a few years before.
Between 1995 and 1997 an estimated twenty one cars (not including a few prototypes) were assembled at Z Automobili, among which one V6 engined GTA.Z, all destined exclusively for the land of the rising sun. Thirteen were based on the 155 2-litre Twin Spark (but delivering 170 bhp in this application), six with the 155 Q4 as a starting point (powered by the 215 bhp Lancia variant) plus that unique V6 engined GTA.Z; in addition there was one TI.Z whose motorisation remains unknown.
It is highly doubtful whether selling just twenty-one cars over a period of almost three years was a profitable enterprise, even for a small outfit like Z Automobili. Despite trying times in the nineties, Zagato would survive, changing its name to SZ Design and later to Zagato Centrostile along the way.
Interestingly, the 1995 facelift of the Alfa Romeo 155 resulted in a wider track front and rear plus a resulting slightly widened body and revised steering – all said to be a result of the application of Alfa’s racing experience gathered in the DTM and the BTTC. But Zagato’s TI.Z may also have served as previous evidence that these ideas were absolutely suitable for adaptation in the production 155’s makeup.