The poor unsuspecting lady, oblivious of our collective immature giggling, was not a natural beauty, yet she had an unusual attractive charm and style that we all fell for. After all, boys will be boys…
Once she had vacated the pub, one of my friend’s commented that she reminded him of an early 1990s Alfa Romeo SZ, not a great looker on first acquaintance, but with a lingering and beguiling attraction that was difficult to resist.
We all knew exactly what he meant, which set me thinking about other cars that could be considered as ‘ugly, beautiful;’ cars that have that certain allure, although you are not certain why. Here’s half-a-dozen – including the Alfa - that I think naturally fall into the ‘ugly beautiful’ category, some of which I like, and others that personally I remain unconvinced about, even after 40 years or more… You will probably disagree, but…
1989-91 Alfa Romeo SZ (ES30)
It was a tense but exciting moment. On Tuesday 7th March 1989, me, along with hundreds of other expectant motoring journalists and many Alfa enthusiasts, waited patiently next to the covered turntable-mounted ‘mystery’ car on the Alfa Romeo stand on the Geneva Motor Show press day
Expectations and the pressures on Alfa Romeo, were high as this famous Milanese car marque – beloved by millions of motoring enthusiasts the world over – had been going through one of its many and regular ‘rough patches’ at the time. Alfa was in desperate need of something new, exciting and sporty to reawaken interest and confidence in the brand, and the rumours of a possible Zagato involvement in this mystery new model were rife.
So, after the inevitably too-long introductory corporate speech at its Geneva reveal, the wrap came off, and there was a collective gasp of amazement as Alfa’s new SZ broke cover for the first time. Like most other observers present, I was both shocked and surprised at the same time, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. The new Zagato-built SZ had made the desired impact, stealing the 1989 Geneva Salon and grabbing the headlines.
Originally conceived by the gifted Robert Opron - the designer of the Citroen SM, CX and Renault Fuego - the Alfa (not Zagato) designed SZ was confirmed for a limited 1,000-unit production run. Alfa was inundated with orders, and early placings on the SZ waiting list sold for a premium.
Being a huge Alfa fan, and already owning a Zagato-bodied model at the time, (the wedge-shaped Junior Zagato 1300), I instantly fell for the new SZ, with its challenging but bold design raising two fingers up to the establishment. The odd-shaped windscreen and roof, the menacing six headlights, the truncated tail. How very Alfa Romeo and very, very Zagato. By no means beautiful, but unmistakably striking (leading to its il Monstro nickname), the Alfa 75 V6-based SZ remains one of the most original and coveted cars of the 1990s. I absolutely love ‘em.