Reviving the Monza Circuit with 3 Italian Zagato Stallions

Photos by Luca Danilo Orsi (IG, @lucadaniloorsi_photo/) Story by Marco Betocchi

Early morning, July 2020.

When we arrive at the foot of Monza’s formidable Parabolica corner, we find it huge, grey, imposing, and ultimately beautiful.

Five-time World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio comes to mind, screeching at terminal velocity around the Parabolica in his Alfa Romeo GTC in the promotional video for "Pirelli Cinturato".

Then there’s the 1966 Ferrari F1, launched right here on this circuit, tilted almost vertically, suspension pushed to the limit, 12 cylinders of power screaming from the exhaust.

Led by Luca, our photographer, we calm down and try to line our cars up just right for the photo shoot. They’re a beautiful trio -- two Alfa Romeo SZ ES 30 and a Junior 1600 Zagato. The slope is absurd, the cars almost vertical, making it almost impossible to frame a photo perfectly. Anything that had been sitting nicely in the glove compartment has now clunked into a new position.

This fabled corner of Monza racetrack is an amphitheatre where the echoes of roaring engines and the ghosts of champions past lingers on. On a balmy Summer’s day like today, with little but the chirping of birds to disturb the silence, it’s as though our imaginations are on overdrive.

It comes naturally to us to speak in low voices, out of some sense of reverence and respect. Like being in a church or temple. Though for the likes of us, this is a religious experience.

Clay Regazzoni, winner of the F1 Grand Prix at Monza in 1970, once said, "To make the qualifying time at Monza you had to do the full Parabolica. And you knew that if you messed up you would die."

It’s a phrase that makes us shiver from up here. The Parabolica inspires fear even when stationary. We understand perfectly what it was like, with cars of other times, seeing it arrive and knowing that it was taken all in one breath, without losing trajectory, crushed into the cockpit by the centrifugal force, like an orbit around the moon. Thoughts and communications resume only on the other side, letting you know that you have come out of the void and are still part of earthl-bound life.

We capture a few more photos in motion and respectfully leave this sacred place to the "God" of speed.

Our protagonists today are the three unique Zagato cars. Both of the Alfa Romeo SZ ES 30 were bought almost simultaneously by our friends Marco and Michele a couple of years ago. Like all of the 800 or so produced, they’re red with a black roof.

One bears the license plate of a Sicilian province where a local entrepreneur bought it, taking it to the island where a strong passion for the Biscione brand abounds. The other was ordered by a well-known Turin plastic surgeon who wanted it, perhaps as a symbol of his success. It still bears its original plate, a fact which brings to mind the recent purchase by Fiat of the Milanese brand.

Both cars now reside in the peaceful Emilian Plain not far from the factory that built their composite bodywork at the time. They have only a few thousand kilometers on the clock, and are rarely used by the two owner friends but for some Sunday outings in the hills, or for an occasional, applause-laden appearance in the Vernasca Silver Flag.

These are cars with a very evident sports inspiration, in the chassis even more than in the engine. The famous three-liter Alfa Romeo six-cylinder engine designed by engineer Busso and coming here to Monza was like paying tribute to all those men like him, who designed and built it and to all those who have made our industrial, sporting and civil history great. Those whose names have faded with time, but whose works are not yet completely forgotten.

Giuseppe's Junior Zagato 1600 has been part of his collection since 1996. Number 219 of 402 produced examples of the rare 1.6-liter version, it has regularly participated in races and rallies, and also in the Vernasca Silver Flag. With the fully original red livery, it really catches the eye and perfectly demonstrates Zagato’s original idea for a truncated tail design. This design proved to be very aerodynamically efficient, and continued to be used in the SZ ES 30 as a result.

We decide to move along to the modern track, still used today for the Formula One Italian Grand Prix. A faded plaque welcomes us at the entrance reminding us that here in 1948, Italy was trying to recover with the circuit restored after the disaster of the Second World War. On arrival, three Alfa Romeos in the first three places with the legends Wimille, Trossi and Sanesi. The license plates can hardly be read anymore.

Dynamic shooting on the move is difficult, but coordination with two-way radios works out perfectly, and in just over an hour our Alfa Romeos follow that strip of asphalt with headlights on and the telephoto lens pointed. Little is said during the shooting, so strong is the impression created by the cars.

After some time we decide to stop at the Ascari variant. The sun is hot, the shadows of the trees stretch out on the asphalt, and the birds are chirping. All is at peace.

From a distance the ghosts of cars past return. We hear the shadow of a roar from the four-cylinder Ferrari 750 Monza piercing the silence of the woods as Alberto Ascari reaches the corner which would one day bear his name. A skid, fatal and inexplicable, brings silence back. The Milanese champion died on May 26, 1955, thirty years after his father. Legend has it that a worker at a nearby construction site came across the wreck. The same worker, no less, who built the Parabolica. The funeral would fill the Basilica of San Carlo. At the entrance to the house where he lived in Corso Sempione, there is still a commemorative plaque, read by fewer and fewer with each passing year.

We end the day in a forgotten corner where a strip of track still features the original cobblestones and concrete guardrails. The uncultivated grass makes the place almost unrecognizable but the magic is absolute -- you can still see the perfect line of the curve. The day is drawing to a close, we are tired and hot, and the Alfa Romeo owners still have a long drive home.

But Luca looks up and sees it.“The shot”. He stops and, almost in a whisper, tells me that we should re-enter the old track, let our SZs pass over there on the other elevated corner, keeping the sister car in the foreground. It’s far away, it’s complicated, but we all see what he sees. We have to call the security guard to accompany us to the other side of the circuit, turn the transmitters back on and go.

The result is a spectacular shot, one of the most beautiful motor sport photographs I have ever seen. It is Monza's gift to us...

This article was translated to English by SpeedHolics. It was originally posted in Italian on Automobilismo d'Epoca, August 2020.

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