As you may know, one of my many idiotic automotive obsessions has to do with difficult or challenging trunks. I’ve even found them inspirational at times, the efforts expended to wrestle out a bit of usable storage volume even when every bit of geometry was seemingly confederated against the idea. The designers of the Alfa Romeo SZ, though, seem to have taken an approach to trunk design that I find gloriously baffling. Let’s dig in.
The Alfa Romeo SZ (Sport Zagato, even though Zagato had nothing to do with the design, though they did build it for Alfa/Fiat) was built between 1989 and 1991, and was based on the mainstream Alfa Romeo 75.
It’s a front-engine, rear-drive sportscar with a V6 making around 207 horsepower and a striking, unusual design that is sometimes attributed to the limitations of early CAD/CAM software of the era.
Whatever inspired the oddly chunky-yet-sleek, polarizing yet memorable look of this six-eyed monster, one thing I can absolutely say is that I find the design of the trunk terribly confusing.
These never officially came to America, so the first I’ve ever seen one with its trunk open was in this tweet:
Woah. Based on the shape and era of this car, this is not how I would have expected the trunk to open. I don’t want to malign the downward-opening trunk concept overall — the original Mini used this very well, and even made the downward-opening door an advantage, as it could convert into a sort of luggage bed for oversized items:
That’s not really what’s happening here, though. If you look at other pictures of the SZ, you can see that the distance the trunk is designed to open is constrained by a little cord:
Now, that seems to render the trunk absolutely useless for actually loading anything, which is crazy because, as a two-seater, the SZ has plenty of volume for holding stuff. In fact, behind the front seats, you can see a huge cargo area in the rear:
This area looks like it could almost have become a rear seat, but the decision was made to keep the car a two-seater and make it a luggage area. That’s fine. What I can’t figure out is why the SZ didn’t end up with a hatchback design like its profile would suggest, which would make access to the loading area far easier than this oddly divided setup that exists?
In researching this trunk a bit online, I found this wonderful Reddit thread from an SZ owner who decided to really finish the strange little trunk of his car in the optimal way, giving it real carpeting and padding and making it far more usable.
You can see how much better it is after this treatment:
Based on what the owner wrote it seems that this volume of space filled mostly with spare tire and that vertical fuel tank. It is at least sort of considered a trunk and used to hold stuff, but what I’m realizing now is that I’m not sure that was ever the intent; this may just be a spare tire/miscellaneous tool holding compartment, and the luggage area is exclusively inside the car.
There certainly have been cars to take this approach, but it seems kind of absurd for the SZ, which could easily have had a hatch at the rear that opened with the rear window to give much, much better access to the large in-cabin luggage area.
What seems to be the sticking point is the vertical fuel tank, likely inherited from the Alfa Romeo 75, where it formed the rear seatback.
This vertical tank screws up the whole volume of the rear of the car; if there was a horizontally-oriented tank that could have formed the floor of the rear cargo area, that whole rear could have opened up like a hatch, like so many other similar cars of the era, and the Alfa Romeo SZ would have enjoyed a colossal cargo area with fantastic access.
Instead, we have a car with a decent load area that you have to awkwardly cram stuff in through the doors, behind the seats, and an auxiliary spare tire compartment that I love for its weirdness, but is kind of a practical disaster.
This thing was at least partially designed by Robert Opron, the automotive design legend who gave the world such icons as the Citroen SM, a similarly-sized sports car with a massive rear hatch. So it’s not like the designers weren’t aware of how much better this could be.
You’d think a halo sports car like this one would have been worth designing a better-suited fuel tank, but, well, I guess late ’80s Fiat was a bigger cheapskate than I imagined.
I can’t think of any good reason this car would have been designed like this-splitting the rear of the car into two separate volumes, each with kinda crappy accessibility, just doesn’t make any sense to me.
Still, I suspect that most people buying these didn’t do so for their ease of hauling bulky items, and it likely matters even less today. Still, it’s hard to look at a design that’s so compelling and good in so many ways and yet is saddled with such a strange, self-defeating decision.
Maybe it’s not that hard. In a way, it makes me like it even more, but, remember, I’m a bit of an idiot.