Domo Arigato Zagato

Win on Sunday…

Alfa 155 TI.Z Image: H Nakayama

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.

Image: Phixr.com

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.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

15 thoughts on “Domo Arigato Zagato”

  1. Good morning Bruno. At the risk of immediately heading off on a tangent, I’d never heard of the Autech Stelvio or Gavia. Here’s the Stelvio:

    Do those large cowls on the front wings do anything other than house the wing mirrors? Weird! Is the Stelvio name, now used on the company’s SUV model, a historic Alfa Romeo one?

    1. The Stelvio reminds me of the Aston Zagato

      The cowls are probably meant to somehow play with the far forward mountin gpoints of mirrors on Japanese cars.
      Stelvio is not a historic Alfa name. Jano Alfas used numbers like 8c2300 and later ones were small and large Juliets and alfettas.

    2. Hi Dave. Good spot regarding the likeness to the Aston. The reason I asked about ‘Stelvio’ is it seems odd that Alfa Romeo would repurpose a name last used on a Zagato bodied Nissan.

      By comparison with the Stelvio, the Gavia is rather bland:

      But it could be an alternative reality Lancia Kappa coupé:

    3. The Gavia is also a bit untidy. The door handles, the line along the side, the radius of the DLO meeting the c-pillar, and the frontal detailing. Is also has some advanced themes like the way the door surrounds have no garnish. It reminds me a little of the Lancia Kappa in that it´s boldly plain.

    4. Great minds, Richard…I was amending my comment to include the Kappa coupé photo while you were writing yours!

    5. The Gavia seems closest in design lineage to the Integrale-engined Lancia concept that became the DeTomaso Bigua that became the Qvale Mangusta that became the MG XPower (!). Was that a Zagato design?

      (The ‘heritage’ of the Stelvio name is that it is the name of a high pass through the Italian Alps with a famous switchback driving road. It is more of a question why Zagato/Autech would apply that to an ungainly Japanese car; it is clearer what Alfa were trying to evoke when they used it for their ‘sporting’ SUV.)

    6. I suspected it. When the name Zagato is mentioned in connection with Japan, sooner or later – sooner rather than later – someone will mention the Autech Stelvio. Or even worse, post it as a picture. Thanks Daniel.

      At least the eyes will be cured by the Hyena. (Woe betide anyone who criticises this car, it is is simply P-E-R-F-E-C-T.)

    7. Hi, Monkey Tennis. The MG X-Power SV was designed by Peter Stevens, of McLaren F1 Fame. Everyone can have an off day…

      Doh! Of course, I should have remembered the Stelvio Pass

    8. The Stelvio is one of my absolute dream roads as a motorcyclist. 48 hairpin corners on one side, 37 on the other. Add a light and torquey bike like a Norton Commando and you got the ride you’ve always promised you. One of the favourite weekend trips from my former hometown…
      Gavia also is a very interesting Alpine pass.

    9. Could the Gavia also be an revised and modernised Lancia Beta coupe?

      Seeing the Lancia Kappe coupé unleashes a torrent of conflict in me. I know it´s not well proportioned and has some odd details but I still like it anyway. That blue is the colour of the V6 example I test drove in Cologne many years ago.

  2. It´s odd given the humongous wealth available to a good number (i.e. several thousand) of people that good, low-volume or bespoke cars are so rare and so commercially unviable. You´d think there would be a least a handful of higher-profile “ateliers” like Zagato rebodying existing cars to satisfy those in the 5-50 million wealth range.

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