Among the many Italian carrozzeria, one particular always managed to somehow stand out from their colleagues. Early on through ingenious use of skills learnt in the aeronautical sector, which enabled the founder to construct new coachbuilt bodies for cars which were both lighter yet stronger than previously achievable. He also created some of the most breath-taking and iconic designs the automotive world has ever seen. However, at other times he seemed to stand out simply by creating highly controversial designs. There was certainly an element of Marmite about several of them. We’re of course talking about none other than Carrozzeria Zagato.
With the 29 year old Ugo Zagato establishing his coachworks in Milan in 1919, this year is the 100th anniversary of this proud Italian carrozzeria. To celebrate, we will be looking in depth at some of their creations throughout this year. With ViaRETRO’s Scandinavian roots we decided it would be fitting to start with a collaboration which crossed country borders and brought the Italian coachwork to the cold north. Just imagine stirring up a swanky cocktail of rugged Swedish with sensual Italian. Insanity you might say? Well, maybe not quite…
Up through the sixties, Volvo had found great success by establishing themselves as the automotive synonym for both safety and reliability. It worked, but it certainly wasn’t sexy. The Italian Volvo importer, Motauto, reckoned that they would stand a much better chance against the local opposition like Alfa Romeo and Lancia if they could instil something a bit more sportivo into the Volvo brand. In 1965, they had approached Fissore to have them create a stylish coupé which they could present to the Volvo board. The car was based on the P1800 which had entered production in late 1960 for the ’61 model year. However, besides giving the P1800 a gently sloping fastback roofline, the overall design was largely unaltered and while quite a handsome design, it ultimately failed to impress the Swedes.
Undetered, Motauto gave it a few years and then tried their luck again – this time approaching Carrozzeria Zagato for something entirely different. By now the P1800 was an aging model, and Motauto hoped that the new sportscar based around the much more up-to-date Volvo 142 with its 2-litre 4-cylinder B20 engine sporting two double-barrel Solex carburettors might convince the board in Gothenburg. As the new Volvo 2000 GTZ debuted alongside an Alfa Romeo Junior Z and a Lancia Fulvia Sport on the Zagato display at the 1969 Turin Motor Show, it was indeed a design which was a complete departure from the P1800 or anything Volvo had ever attempted before. Crisp, stylish and modern – it’s easy to imagine that both Motauto and Zagato might have felt quietly confident.
I personally must confess that I find the Zagato name to be a little hyped at times, and I’m not afraid of criticising when justified. I genuinely feel that some of the most disproportioned sportscars to ever see production came from Zagato – look no further than the butt-ugly 1962 Lancia Flavia Sport or the entirely bizarre 1988 Autech Stelvio. But that said, I find the Volvo 2000 GTZ to be possibly the most stylish, elegant and beautifully sporty Volvo ever conceived. It’s taut and low with a pleasantly airy glasshouse under that shapely roofline. Presented in a deep blue metallic with a broad orange streak down the side, it’s indeed quite a treat. Particularly interesting is the picture from the Turin Motor Show which shows off the 2000 GTZ in front of an ISO Grifo – just look at the front end treatment of those two graceful coupés…
Sadly though, Volvo still declined all of Motauto’s good intentions, and reportedly the Volvo 2000 GTZ was sold to a costumer straight from the show floor in Turin. Apparently though, someone high up at Volvo indicated that there could be a chance of production if such a sportscar were fitted with a larger and more powerful engine than the 4-cylinder B20.
On that, Motauto requested Zagato to quickly come up with a second design, but this time utilising the Volvo 164 chassis with its 3-litre straight-6 B30 engine which had only just been introduced one year earlier. This led to the Volvo 3000 GTZ which debuted only a handful of months later at the 1970 Geneva Motor Show.
This time a lack of performance wasn’t going to be an issue, as the big 6-cylinder engine was reportedly further tuned to push out a healthy 190hp. Combined with the 3000 GTZ’s more compact body and Zagato’s signature weight-saving program which shaved off 135kg from the stock Volvo 164 saloon, the 3-litre coupé was reported to be capable of exceeding 200 km/h or 124 mph.
But while the body of the new 6-cylinder GTZ largely retained the general profile of the more delicate 2000 GTZ, the purity and flowing lines were unfortunately lost on the new 2+2 coupé. The bigger engine required a taller bonnet, and things weren’t helped at all when Zagato also attempted to incorporate Volvo’s signature upright rectangular grill from the 164-series. Even fancy semi-recessed headlights behind pop-up panels couldn’t save the face of this somewhat awkward looking coupé. The body was more slab-sided while the rear was changed too and ended up being a much heavier design compared to the pert rear of the 4-cylinder GTZ. Granted, the new rear hatch allowing for cabin ventilation like on the Alfa Romeo Junior Z and the Lancia Fulvia Sport was a rather neat touch.
This second Zagato Volvo – and Motauto’s third attempt – was again turned down by Swedish top brass. Finally, Motauto shelved their ambitions of convincing Volvo to expand their sportscar line-up, and just like the year before, the second Volvo GTZ was again sold to a private owner.
For a long time, both cars were presumed lost until the 3000 GTZ turned up with accident damage in Italy. It now resides with a Volvo enthusiast in Sweden where it requires a very comprehensive restoration. Sadly, the elegant 2000 GTZ is still unaccounted for.
Sources: Volvo Archives & www.zagato-cars.com