This was the car that helped him to prove that he had what it took to be a driver, but it was also a faithful companion in his adventures. With her, he obtained his first important wins and reached the altar, where he found his wife, Anna. More than half a century later, Speedholics helped the “Cowboy” to catch up with his old Alfa Romeo again.
Archives: Alfa Blue Team, Arturo Merzario, Fabio Morlacchi
Tuesday, 20 July 2021. A sunny, and not particularly humid day, as you would usually expect on the Po Plains around Milan this time of year. This was the climate that partially helped to save Milan during the WWII bombings, when the humidity and high atmospheric pressure dampened the fires triggered by the bombs.
The meeting took place in the morning, in an ex-foundry, nestling in the green Lombardy countryside.
A man, and her. His gaze falls on her shapely curves, a delicate, translucent white. She seems flattered. She recognises him. They haven't seen each other for a long time, about 54 years, she thinks. The man walks towards her, as she waits, immobile. A hand caresses her fondly, a mixture of melancholy and happiness. She notes that he is still wearing that same old hat...
1971, the second day of spring. A young Alfa fan is out and about in the north-east part of Milan, finally free of the strict hours of high school. The university timetable is easier to manage, and gives him the chance to devote some time to his passion for cars.
Gianfilippo “Gippo” Salvetti is driving his Alfa Romeo Giulia SS along Viale Fulvio Testi, a long, wide road leading from Milan to Villa Reale in Monza and the race track at the back, and where, outside the city, there are several salvage yards.
“Who knows if I can find a nice little Fiat Topolino in good condition to buy and do up...” - “Here’s one of the scrap yards...”.
The Giulia SS pulls up by the fence. Today it might seem incredible and even distressing for younger car lovers, but at that time you could find all kinds of CARS stacked high, Giuliettas , “Alfone” (the nickname of the 1900 ndr), or even a few 6C 2500s. And then perhaps a Lancia Flaminia, Fiat 2100 or 2300, or even a Ferrari or two! But the lion’s share was a huge quantity of Fiats; Topolino, 500, 600, 1100, sad after having been loved by their proud owners, often with their eye sockets dark and empty, abandoned because they were old or often by then frail.
Gippo is a bit of a beanpole, but certainly not slight, which doesn’t make it easy getting in and out of the tiny passenger compartment of the SS. Crossing the open gate, he wanders through the piles of stacked cars. There are plenty of Topolinos. He sees two or three in fair condition, memorises their position and head towards the owner's dilapidated office, when he notes a rather particular front end three metres off the ground. His Alfa heart leaps, and he swears instinctively in amazement...
“F**k me, a Giulietta SZ!”. There she was, dented, and painted an improbable amaranth red. But it was a Zagato, and almost complete!
Although reasonable, the price was in any case way above his budget: 130,000 lire for a ten-year old car, and in a sorry state to boot. But there was even the license plate and the documents! Negotiations with the salvage yard were gruelling. But in the end, they agreed on the figure of 110,000 lire. Today just thinking about it makes you cry, but at that time it was worth around three times its value in aluminium scrap!
A few days later, his friend Claudio Bonfioli’s blue Alfa Romeo GT Junior towed the SZ with a rope for around 10 kilometres to his trusted mechanic. To paraphrase the title of a famous film, it was Gippo’s “Longest Journey”, as he himself tells, as the brakes on the SZ weren't working.
At that very moment, on the opposite side of town, in the south west, a very young Alfa fan - just eleven years old, as often happens, is standing at the bus stop behind his house.
The 50 bus runs past there, through the typical streets of the Lombardy metropolis, spoke-like from the outskirts into the city centre. This is a typical medieval layout, which took over from the original Roman one, made of parallel streets crossing each other perpendicularly. A few buses stop, letting the many passengers on and off, distracted and often closed in their own thoughts. In those days, the city buses and trams were painted in two shades of green: dark up the mid-way line, lighter on the uprights and the roof.
The boy watches the bus as it pulls up at the stop, then looks away and thinks of something else. The bus sets off, but the boy is still standing there. A few buses come and go, but nothing changes. Finally, as another bus pulls up, a small smile lights up the boy’s face. Here’s the one, an Alfa Romeo at last! This one’s OK...
Perhaps you have got it. Yes, it was me, who today, when the difference in age between two people is really not so important, is a friend of Gippo’s.
A month later, towards the end of May in 1971, Gippo reads an advert in the Corriere Della Sera: Giulia TI Zagato for sale. So, a Giulia TZ, the “big sister” of the Giulietta SZ. And the road version too, never used in a race, an authentic rarity! But that’s another story, for another time...
The Giulietta SZ was restored and returned to its original splendour of eight years earlier. To tell the truth,it was in fact ten years earlier (1961) when a man from Brescia bought the car, brand new, straight out of Zagato, and kept it for only two years. In 1963 it was sold in Como to a man for his young son, who the year before had proven his worth as a driver in a Giulietta Spider. That young man was Arturo Merzario.
With the license plate “Como 119815”, it was taken to the Baggioli workshop, where the engine was finely tuned and then refitted by young Arturo in a corner of the workshop.
Merzario is a good mechanic, and often “gets his hands dirty” working on the cars he races in. And even when his fame and top team membership led him to be just a driver, he often supervised the assembly and tuning of his racing cars, sometimes even correcting a mechanic who was too hasty or sloppy when fitting a part. Because, as he told me in his typically pleasant Lombardy accent, “Arturo loves Arturo!”
The SZ was raced successfully for around a year (read the full story here) when an Abarth TC 1000 arrived at Merzario’s club. So, the Giulietta SZ was fitted ... with a tow hook (sic!) to tow the trailer carrying the Abarth.
As a full-time service vehicle, the proud and invincible SZ accompanied Arturo and his bride Anna to the altar.
Where? Well, as this was Arturo Merzario, born in Civenna on the rolling hills behind Lake Como, north of Canzo and Asso, in that strip of land between the two branches of the Lario, the wedding was - perhaps the last to be - celebrated in the tiny church of Madonna del Ghisallo.
And if you didn’t know, this church is a sanctuary for cyclists, and here racing bikes that once belonged to cycling legends, like Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali, hang from its walls. Today, just a stone’s throw away, you can visit the very interesting Cycling Museum. The area is filled with steep slopes and wonderful landscapes that appear before your eyes suddenly, changing rapidly to offer a myriad of different views. Epic battles took place here between the greatest racing cyclists, and today these legends are still so alive that they continue to make this area a popular destination.
In 1967, Arturo sold the SZ to a salvage yard in Viale Fulvio Testi in Milan, whose son used it for a couple of years before it was scrapped to recover the noble material - aluminium - the bodywork was made from.
On 22 March, a Giulia SS pulls up outside the fence at the yard. A tall guy gets out...
20 July 2021, a Tuesday. 54 years on, Arturo Merzario meets his SZ again. “Here she is... are you sure it’s my Giulietta?”. “What a fool - she thinks - who else could it be, of course it’s me! Come here, give me a hug...”
The genesis: Alfa Romeo Giulietta SZ, when a car is dynamic art
After the 1900, the first real novelty after the war, presented in late 1950, at Alfa Romeo they decided to build a car of a lower category to accompany the powerful “Alfona” 1900. In 1954 the Giulietta was ready, but in a coupé version, the Sprint, with Bertone bodywork. Perhaps a unique case in car history, the sports version precedes the sedan. Maybe a sign of fate?
With an engine made entirely of aluminium, two overhead camshafts, internal dimensions 74 by 75 mm, respectively for bore and stroke, resulting displacement 1290 cm3, it is certainly smaller than the 1900. In 1955, the evolution of the Giulietta came in the form of the sedan, with Alfa Romeo bodywork, and the Spider by Pininfarina. While the 1900 was “the family sedan that wins races”, the smaller Giulietta was certainly no less of a performer. The engine power output grew rapidly, and in 1956 the Sprint Veloce was launched, with two twin-choke carburettors, reaching 79 HP DIN, then improved to 96 in 1958 with a 5-speed gearbox.
With a huge sporting potential, easily enhanced performance and great mechanical strength, the Giulietta instantly began a long and prestigious sports career. In 1956, the Milan coachbuilder Zagato, Alfa Romeo’s partner since the late 1920s, replaced the bodywork on a wrecked Giulietta Sprint Veloce with an aluminium version, producing a car that, while not aesthetically perfect, was very light and aerodynamic. The orders soon came flooding in from drivers wanting the version with aluminium bodywork, which was called the Giulietta SVZ, Sprint Veloce Zagato. But it was a very long and expensive job, as for this Zagato car they had to firstly remove the standard steel bodywork from the chassis and replace it with a new aluminium one. The engines, set up by the best fitters of the time, reached powers of between 105 and 115 HP DIN.
Nuccio Bertone, the coachbuilder of the normal Sprint Veloce, couldn’t sit on his laurels, and towards the end of 1957 presented a new sports berlinetta based on a shortened wheelbase of the Spider, called Giulietta Sprint Speciale, and then simply SS. With a 97 HP engine, the new berlinetta was very aerodynamic, but the steel bodywork made it relatively heavy - 950 kg - and quite unsuitable for racing. At Alfa Romeo, to avoid unpleasantness between the two coachbuilders, the roles of the new sports berlinettas were divided: Bertone’s SS, with the best finishes, became a version of the Giulietta intended for fast touring, as it could exceed speeds of 180 km/h.
The racing role on the other hand was played by Zagato’s SVZ, which had the same engine as the SS, but at 850 kg was lighter.
To rationalise construction and reduce costs, in 1960 Zagato began to receive the chassis fitted with all the mechanics but no bodywork. And so the construction of the Giulietta SZ, “Sprint Zagato”, began. Compact, with minimum overhang, the bodywork covered the mechanics and the passenger compartment like a skin, with a beautifully sensual line. According to some sources, 171 were made.
The car had to be constantly updated to fight off the fierce competition, particularly from Colin Chapman’s new Lotus Elite, but by then it was impossible to improve the mechanics. Thoughts had already turned to a new sportscar with the new version with a 1600 cm3 engine (the future Giulia TZ), and a variant of the bodywork with an even better profile was experimented, aiming to gain more speed on equal power. And so, the SZ “K-tail” was born, easily exceeding speeds of 220 km/h, compared to the 200 km/h of the previous version. 46 were made, bringing the total production of the Giulietta SZ to 217 units. According to the data Luigi Fusi gave Gippo in 1971, 176 “round tails” and 50 “K-tails” were made.
Author’s note: she, the Giulietta SZ that belonged to Arturo Merzario, has chassis no. 00167 and is one of the last “round tails” built. Since 1971 she has belonged to Gippo Salvetti (in the picture with Merzario), chairman of the Alfa Blue Team - whom SpeedHolics thanks for lending us the car - founded with his brother Stefano and a few car fans, Claudio Bonfioli, Guido Delli Ponti and Emilio Garavaglia on 14 February 1972.