Automotive history is riddled with innovators and entrepreneurs seeking the very best, most powerful, and dynamic sports cars bearing their own name. And while we are familiar with many of those names operating on shoestring budgets, hopes, and dreams, there are a few lesser-known examples that achieved premium levels of excellence in design and engineering, only to wind up as a footnote in automotive history.
Sports cars have an irresistible allure. It’s no wonder that Shelby, DeLorean, Cheetah, and so many others didn’t build economy boxes or sedate sedans. Dreamers want to go fast, outdo top speed records, and chase the illusive 0-60 record within tenths of seconds. Such was the lure of one Claudio Zampolli, then, in the late 1980s, a middle-aged Italian with engineering experience at Lamborghini, who longed for a performance car to bear his name. Named originally from the pronunciation of his initials C (Cee) Z (Zetta), Zampolli leveraged his LA based exotic car dealership earnings to fund his supercar quest. Though originally a sole venture, Zampolli engaged award winning musical composer Giorgio Moroder as his financial partner, a key figure with the much-needed resources to develop the car.
From the start, the project received attention from some of the industry’s top talent to engage in the engineering and tubular spaceframe chassis construction required to achieve levels of excellence competitive with other top supercars of the period. Developed with full-body dimensions exceeding the Testarossa and Countach of the times, the Cizeta was powerfully wide, with an overall package that leveraged cab forward architecture and a transverse engine. Not content with V8 or even V12 power, a massive V16 engine—the first of its kind—was totally new when developed by Zampolli. Essentially two V8 engines transversely mounted, this behemoth would sit directly behind the driver and passenger, who could delight in the spooling up of 64 valves on Bosch fuel-injection, while eight overhead camshafts swarmed on song to produce 540 hp.
Not only were the engine stats impressive, so too were the braking and suspension features complete with light-alloy castings, Koni dampers, Brembo brakes, and other sophisticated suspension features directly derived from competition layouts. Like everything about the car, including the home manufacturing city of Modena, it was bespoke and of course, Italian, continuing into the design of the car, penned in the mid-1980s by Marcelo Gandini. In addition to being much easier to spell and pronounce than Giorgetto Giugiaro, Gandini must be considered among the top five most prolific and influential designers of the sports car idiom.