The Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ – Tubulare Zagato – is an Italian classic. Born as a racing car, it had great success on the track in the prototype class before Alfa decided to create a street version for homologation as a GT. The TZ was designed by Zagato’s Ercole Spada, and became the car that would make his name.
At the same time as the street version of the TZ was in development Alfa Romeo sent a chassis to both Bertone and Pininfarina, challenging them to develop a design solution that could be considered for a limited or special build production run.
Nuccio Bertone handed the project over to his young star designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, who had designed the Giulia Sprint the year before as well as the classic Corvair Testudo.
The car that emerged out of the Bertone shop some months later had the same basic shape and profile as Spada’s design, but was more curvaceous, more refined. Spada’s design swept in a speedy, elongated arc along its flanks while the Canguro’s side profile featured sinuous curves, adding a feminine grace to the form.
Like the Spada, Giugiaro’s design was a glazed fastback but the Canguro used a one-piece curved rear windscreen. The front windscreen was also curved and wrapped round to the A-pillar. The front glass was glued in place, an industry first. The effect of both panoramic curved glass pieces almost made the Canguro seem like it was covered with a bubble top, even though its glazing and doors were variations on a traditional glasshouse design.
At the rear, Giugiaro decided to keep the Kamm tail, which was one of the defining features of the ‘Coda Tronca’ form. At the front, the headlights were glazed over to maintain a continuous curved surface across the mask.
The interior was spartan, but you would not have bought this car for plush appointments or cup holders. It was driver’s car, a (barely) street legal GT, meant for carving Alpine passes or racing down the autostrada. Leather buckets faced a no-nonsense instrument panel and that panoramic windscreen. The spare tyre sat behind the seats, filling the boot, lest you get any silly ideas about packing frivolous items like, say, luggage.
The Canguro made its debut at the 1964 Paris show to great acclaim. The attention at the show and the subsequent publicity made Nuccio Bertone think a contract from Alfa Romeo might be forthcoming. But it was not to be. Alfa Romeo stayed with Ercole Spada’s design, citing production limitations at Autodelta where the cars were constructed (actually, the TZ cars were constructed in about five places all over Italy, a crazy assembly process that almost guaranteed that money would be lost on each one built).
Bertone retreated back to his studio, greatly disappointed. And his grief was compounded when tragedy struck one day while filming the Canguro at the Monza racetrack. The Canguro was cruising round the Parabolica curve, trailing that other Giugiaro-designed Bertone concept, the Corvair Testudo. Although the precise details of what happened are lost to history (and who would admit to causing that accident), the Canguro apparently struck the Testudo in the rear, and the crash shattered the fragile front end of the car. Having invested thousands of man hours of work in the Canguro, and knowing that it would never reach production, Nuccio Bertone reluctantly retired the car rather than repair it. It sat mouldering beside the Bertone plant for years.
Then, in the 1970s, German journalist Gary Schmidt bought the remains with the intention of performing a full restoration. Mechanical parts, many from the standard Alfa parts bin, were readily available. But rebuilding the beautiful curves proved far trickier, and the project languished. Finally Japanese collector Shiro Kosaka bought the project and commissioned Cecomp in Turin to complete a full (and v-e-r-y meticulous) restoration.
It was of the highest standard, and no doubt eye-wateringly expensive. One of our readers, long-time Tokyo resident and motoring writer Peter Nunn, spotting our story preview on Twitter, mentioned that: “The fastidious owner commissioned approx. seven new bonnets, one after another, until he got the restoration ‘just right...’.”
The reborn Canguro was introduced at the Villa D’Este concours in 2005 and, of course, won the ‘Best In Show’ award.
Sadly, Gary Schmidt did not live long enough to see the reborn car; he died in 2003. But Giorgetto Giugiaro, its designer, did live to see it introduced to a new generation. And, of course, the Italian Master himself would soon buy its nemesis, the Corvair Testudo, whose damaged rump had long since been repaired after the tragic accident a generation before.
As for the other TZ chassis, the one given to Pininfarina, it is believed to be have become the Pininfarina Alfa Romeo Giulia 1600 Sport. Introduced at the Turin Motor Show in 1965, it is generally thought to be based on a TZ2, the new generation succeeding the TZ1 – Pininfarina’s variant is even lower and more racing car-like than the Canguro. It is also owned by Shiro Kosaka, and has been maintained in excellent, original condition.
The Canguro is often overshadowed by Giugiaro’s dramatic wedge concepts of the 1970s and his revolutionary designs like the Volkswagen Golf. But it has remained enormously influential, and a classic example of Giugiaro’s work and Italian automobile design. It is indeed fortunate that the car has been restored for a new generation of admirers.
Just keep it away from the Testudo, please.