Tubolare Zagato The TZ was Zagato’s Giulia-based lightweight, aerodynamic masterpiece – and a true classic. Story by Ivan Ostroff. Photography by Michael Ward.
The Alfa Romeo TZ Tubolare Zagato first series (commonly called TZ1) was constructed between 1963 and 1965 and is undoubtedly one of the most gorgeous-looking small GTs ever built. It was basically built for competition on a bespoke Zagato tubular chassis, although the car was based on, and shared many components with, the Alfa Romeo Giulia 105. Both the TZ1 (and the later TZ2) were developed at Autodelta by ex-Ferrari man Carlo Chiti. In 1963 a TZ1 driven by Lorenzo Bandini won the Fisa Cup at Monza and in 1964 following homologation TZ1s took many class wins in both Europe and America. They competed at Le Mans, Nürburgring, the Tour de France, and Tour de Corse.
The TZ1 chassis comprised of rather thin tubes and only weighed 62kg, however it was a work of art and although very light, it was also extremely rigid. At the front the engine and suspension was supported by tubes attached to the front bulkhead.
The TZ1 has a delightful shape. From the faired-in headlamps to the subtle bonnet bulge, the curves of the front wings to the business-like cut off Kamm tail, it is pure aesthetic perfection. Great attention was paid to keeping the design very low and sleek. By canting the engine over in the chassis, Zagato was able to lower the bonnet line and thereby create a very low and aerodynamic silhouette only 47.2in (1199mm) high. Driving a good race-prepared Alfa Romeo TZ1 is akin to driving a good Caterham with a roof. The cockpit of the TZ1 is pretty basic, with a roll cage snaking around the door frame down to the aluminium floor near your feet. The instruments and the switches are spread out haphazardly in no particular order; this car was built before the word ‘ergonomics’ entered the dictionary. But who cares about that?
Your hands rest perfectly on the leather rim of the slotted aluminium steering wheel and the gear lever is raked back and falls to hand perfectly. There is a 250km/h speedometer off to the right, but the most important instrument is the 10,000rpm tachometer, which is properly situated in the binnacle right in front of the driver and visible through the steering wheel.
After prodding the accelerator a couple of times to prime the twin double choke Weber 45s the classic Alfa twin-cam fires up instantly with a potently raucous exhaust bellow. Once warm, the car pulls away easily and smoothly. Not much happens below 4500rpm but from that point on everything starts to sing the right song. Taking it up to 8000rpm in all the gears, the 160hp Alfa twin-cam really comes alive and performance in this 650kg pocket rocket is nothing short of astonishing.
The ratios of the five-speed gearbox are rather close and depending on gearing the car will top out at around 135mph, but it is the way the car feels and handles in the intermediate gears that is so great. The chassis communicates with the driver so that you can sense everything the car is about to do. You can feel the grip when you are cornering and you can sense exactly when it is going to let go.
Though the Alfa Romeo TZ1 lacks the benefit of rack and pinion steering, its worm and wheel steering box is precise and extremely responsive. On the public road through roundabouts and tight corners, you can prod the throttle to provoke the back end to break adhesion and then correct with a quick flick of the wheel, enjoying a controlled power slide whilst an inevitable broad grin of pure pleasure spreads across your face. You quickly feel at home driving the TZ and it does not take very long before you realise that this car is capable of extremely high cornering speeds. When you need to shed speed in a straight line, the excellent all round discs retard the TZ1 easily and without undue pedal pressure, even though there is no servo assistance.
On the track, more powerful cars may have greater straight-line performance, but the key to driving the TZ is to carry as much speed as possible through long open corners. You’re able to enter corners very fast indeed and just power through in a four-wheel drift, exploiting the fantastic poise and perfect balance of the car.
Noisy? Oh yes, it’s noisy. Your ears sing even if you use earplugs and you feel everything that is happening mechanically and dynamically between the car and the road through the seat of your pants. But hey, that’s the whole point.
160hp may not sound like much power – but in a car weighing 650kg and with such a slippery shape, it is.
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS ALFA ROMEO TZ
ENGINE: 1570cc four-cyl DOHC
MAX POWER: 160hp @ 6900rpm / DIN nett (metric)
MAX TORQUE: 114lb ft @ 4850rpm / DIN nett (metric)
TRANSMISSION: Five-speed manual
BRAKES: Discs all round
TYRES: 5.00 x 15 (front), 5.50 x 15 (rear)
WHEELS: 15in Momo alloy
SUSPENSION: Independent, double wishbone (front), coilover dampers, anti-roll bar. Independent, wishbones and coilover dampers (rear)
KERB WEIGHT: 650kg
TOP SPEED: 134mph