1989 Cizeta Moroder V16T Dares to Be Different

From the Archive: From Modena, the City of Fast Cars, comes 16 cylinders of Italian passion.

From the March 1989 issue of Car and Driver.

In a back street of Modena, Italy, behind locked doors, the men who created the original Lamborghini Countach are putting the finishing touches to its true, spiritual successor—a car with a brand-new V-16 engine and a projected top speed of more than 200 mph.

The new machine bears neither the name “Lamborghini” nor the name “Countach”; Chrysler now owns the rights to those names, and it is making its own new Countach anyway. But it is worth noting that far more of Ferruccio Lamborghini’s original crew are involved in creating this new car, called the Cizeta Moroder V16T, than are currently working at the Lamborghini works in Sant’ Agata Bolognese.

The V16T first appeared under the lights of a glittering Los Angeles press conference last December, but it won’t be in production until 1990 at the earliest. And by then the price will be around $280,000. But the makers are confident that even at that price there will be an ample supply of buyers. The company needs to make only 50 cars a year to be successful; indeed, it will be capable of building only about 100 cars annually.

The Cizeta Moroder V16T is the brainchild of Claudio Zampolli, a 49-year-old Italian who worked as a test-and-development engineer at Lamborghini in the Paolo Stanzani days before moving to Los Angeles to open his own business importing high-performance Italian cars.

Zampolli’s ambition to put his initials on his own supercar (Cizeta is the Italian pronunciation of “C.Z.”) has been with him for at least ten years. And you can see from the fire in his eyes that this project is about fulfilling a dream, not about creating something to sell. Zampolli doesn’t need the money: his exotic car-servicing business and his Maserati dealership on Wilshire Boulevard are doing very nicely.

The company producing the V16T started as Cizeta Motors. Now it’s called Cizeta Moroder Motors, recognizing the contribution of Giorgio Moroder, the renowned composer who for the past year has been a 50-percent shareholder in the enterprise. Moroder, holder of three Academy Awards for his scores to such films as Midnight Express and Flashdance, is mainly involved in the V16T project as a financial backer. But the Italian-born musician also has input as a longtime lover of fast Italian cars (he has his Countach serviced at Claudio’s Italia Sports Cars shop, which is owned by Zampolli), and his name will undoubtedly lend credibility to the car where it needs it the most: among the rich.

To develop the car, Zampolli has assembled an all-star team from Lamborghini’s past. Oliviero Pedrazzi is chief engineer and engine designer. Achille Bevini and Ianose Bronzatti are in charge of the suspension and the chassis. All three men are veterans of the old technical department that produced the Countach. And Marcello Gandini, designer of the original Countach, created the V16T’s arresting bodywork.

The task of building the first-run cars falls to the capable hands of Giancarlo Guerra, a master craftsman of 40 years’ experience whose credits include shaping the first Ferrari 250 GTO in metal at the Scaglietti body works. Guerra is also credited with showing the work force at Sant’Agata how to build the Countach’s complex body and chassis economically. Until Guerra arrived, insiders say, nobody at Lamborghini could handle such an undertaking.

The Cizeta Moroder V16T is a big, meaty Italian supercar. Its cabin sits far forward in the modern, Group C–influenced manner. In fact, it has no distinct front hood at all; the nose rises up from the road at an angle that continues through the windshield to the roof. The doors open conventionally and have small cutaways into the roof to assist entry and exit. A bubble-shaped rear window replaces the steep, cut-off glass of some transverse-engined supercars, and the huge rear canopy—a magnificent alloy sculpture—incorporates bumps, strakes, scoops, and a wing. The car has nicely integrated United States-spec bumpers at both ends, unobtrusive but able to absorb impacts by moving inward on rails built into the ends of the chassis.

Undoubtedly the V16T’s most spectacular feature is its transversely mounted, all-aluminum, 6.0-liter V-16 engine, the world’s only V-16 poised for production. This one has 64 valves and eight overhead camshafts (rather than four long ones, because the cams are driven at the center of the engine block’s single casting). So equipped, it produces 540 horsepower at 8000 rpm and 400 pound-feet of torque at 6000 rpm. That should be enough power to push the V16T beyond 200 mph.

“I’ve always been fascinated with big things,” Zampolli says in his Los Angeles accent. “Ever since I was a kid I’ve liked the largest and most powerful cars. I don’t knock the V-8 Ferraris and Lamborghinis—they’re fine cars—but the car that carries my own initials has to be something special.”

That’s why the Cizeta Moroder has a V-16 engine. It makes the car unique, Zampolli says, noting that twelve-cylinder engines are becoming common, even in mass-produced cars. And, in addition to the obvious benefits in smoothness and power, the V-16 sounds quite amazing at high revs.

The V16T’s chassis is a fairly traditional tubular spaceframe, but it is notable for its orderly layout and the way the brackets, mountings, and hinges have been harmoniously incorporated into the whole design. Indeed, it seems far more tidy and finished than most older supercar chassis—which are often spoiled with obvious last-minute changes and additions.

The V16T is an extremely wide car, partly because Gandini wanted it so and partly because the mighty transverse engine needs width to nestle comfortably within the engine bay. It all dovetails nicely with Zampolli’s “big” philosophy, though prospective V16T owners had better measure the width of their local roads: at 80.8 inches, the Cizeta Moroder is three inches wider than a Ferrari Testarossa. It is also more than three inches longer than a Lamborghini Countach, and its wheelbase—at 105.9 inches—is as long as a Ford Taurus’s.

According to Zampolli, each of the first two V16T prototypes will weigh about 3750 pounds, roughly comparable to both the Countach and the Testarossa. But before production begins he aims to slim the car down radically: the goal, probably too optimistic, is 3100 pounds.
The V16T’s suspension and brakes follow a Swiss-watch standard of quality. At the front, the car has unequal-length control arms connected to specially designed light-alloy uprights. The Koni spring-damper units are attached to the control arms conventionally; the suspension arms, connected by an adjustable anti-roll bar, are angled forward to provide anti-dive.

The car also uses unequal-length control arms at the rear. This time, however, the twin set of spring-damper units are mounted some ten inches inboard of the rear wheels. Each unit is actuated by a bell crank from a linkage that attaches to the lower end of the hub carrier. In typical race-car fashion, the V16T has rising-­rate suspension at both ends.

The brakes are massive drilled and slotted Brembo racing rotors all around; they use twin-pot calipers and mate to race-style hubs that have five locating pegs and a large central nut to secure the wheel. The five-spoke, two-piece, cast­-aluminum O.Z. Racing wheels wear 245/40ZR-17 Pirelli P Zero tires up front and 335/35ZR-17s in back.

And so to the mighty engine. From the blue and yellow lines on its cam covers to its magnesium oil pan, it is all-new. In the car, it sits almost five feet across. The block is cast in one piece, produced and machined in one of the innumerable specialist businesses that support Modena’s many prototype builders.

Because of the centrally located chain cam drives, the engine’s cylinders are divided into two groups that look like V-8s. Two crankshafts—one left and one right—are geared into a single output shaft and fed into a longitudinally mounted ZF transaxle. From there, the power is transmitted by conventional half-shafts lo the rear wheels.

Two complete Bosch K-Jetronic V-8 fuel-injection systems are used to feed the 32 inlet valves, but the firing order is that of a genuine V-16—the makers insist that the broad-shouldered powerplant shouldn’t be thought of as “merely” two V-8 engines geared together.

Despite its size, the engine is built to rev high, and the short 64.5mm stroke (the bore is 86.0mm) confirms the fact. Those dimensions give an official capacity of 5995cc. The compression ratio is a relaxed 9.3 to 1, reflecting the V16T makers’ provision for the use of emissions controls and unleaded fuel.

Using the V16T’s chosen gear ratios, a final-drive ratio of 4.11:1, and an 8500-rpm rev limit for the engine, the projected gear maximums are 60 mph in first, 89 mph in second, 126 mph in third, 170 mph in fourth, and 204 mph in fifth. And with only slightly more weight than a Countach Quattrovalvole—and more power than the Lamborghini’s 450 horses—the V16T’s acceleration times should be spectacular.

Zampolli, though a seasoned resident of Los Angeles, is completely dedicated to Modena as a place to build a car like the Cizeta Moroder. For one thing, he has the place in his blood. For another, he doubts that any other city in the world could provide the small craft businesses that support the manufacture of supercars. “Modena is the city of fast cars,” he says with finality. “You could not build a Rolls-Royce in Japan.”

Yet for all the Italian heritage, the V16T’s design has been considerably influenced by lessons Zampolli learned from his U.S. customers. “I think Americans are the toughest customers of exotic cars in the world,” he says. “Elsewhere, people are more understanding about breakdowns and problems, because they know the car is special. But in the States, they just want things to work.” U.S. considerations also explain why the V16T has power steering and a first-class air­-conditioning system.

It is Zampolli’s vision that has guided the development of the Cizeta Moroder every step of the way. Yet this strong direction—without a breath of contribution from marketing men—has produced an unfashionable car. A car, apart from its V-16 engine, that is devoid of features that make easy headlines. The V16T is constructed with limited use of composite materials. There is no cockpit-adjustable suspension or complicated dashboard layout to entertain the driver. There is no four-wheel-drive system, despite the massive power output. There is no turbocharger or anti-lock braking system. And this 204-mph car hasn’t yet seen a wind tunnel.

Zampolli waves off any notions that the lack of such systems means compromises. He regrets not offering ABS; he believes in the idea implicitly. But the expenditure would simply be too great, he says. There is a suggestion, too, that when you’re launching a new car with a new name, big suppliers find it hard to take you seriously. “They think you’re making some kind of kit car,” says Zampolli. As for the wind tunnel, “Lamborghini never bothered.” He says aerodynamic stability will be proved, or improved, on the road.

And how is the V16T on the road? To find out, we drove Zampolli’s dream for a few miles along the narrow roads on the rural outskirts of Modena.

The first thing you notice upon climbing inside is that this car is big. It is built that way: to be roomy, imposing, and stable. No effort at all has been made to make it compact, and the width and length communicate themselves immediately. The cabin seems huge. The windshield begins above your head and runs forward to a point a yard ahead of your knees. There’s a wide expanse of low, black dash between you and the base of the front glass. The rest of the interior is elegantly designed and trimmed in aromatic leather. There is plenty of leg and shoulder room—even for the rich and overfed—and headroom is adequate for a driver of six feet two inches.

The interior is simple—as Zampolli wanted it. The idea is to impress the customer with quality materials and craftsmanship, not to intimidate him with gauges and gadgets he’ll never use. “Who ever reads an oil-temperature gauge?” Zampolli asks, not looking for an answer.

The seats are unusually soft and comfortable—like a Testarossa’s. They look great, but Zampolli doesn’t like them. He feels they don’t have enough “bucket” shape, so they’ll be altered. The Momo wheel is low in your lap, a long reach away. Its height and reach are adjustable, but you can’t escape the classic Italian driving position in this car. The ZF transmission’s gear lever (topped with a matching Momo knob) is high and easy to reach.

It’s strange how a V-16 sounds noticeably different from a V-12. Both engines are similar, of course, and seamlessly smooth at idle. But somehow you can sense more impulses per revolution with the V-16—and a kind of double-V-8 woofle. The engine springs to life immediately and with surprising docility. It isn’t shattering or unruly, but it does have a 6.0-liter bass voice. And it growls menacingly when prodded.

The Cizeta’s steering is geared fairly low for a powered system, but the turning circle is extremely good. The views through the huge windshield, the steeply raked windowsills, and to the rear quarters are positively panoramic.

We snick the gear lever into first and slowly let out the racing clutch, which is heavy but with a fine short travel. The engine is turning only about 1500 rpm. The car moves off smoothly. Zampolli is justifiably proud of the engine’s ability to produce a lot of torque down low.

We slowly gather pace. It’s a bit of a struggle to find second: the linkage needs adjustment. We give the throttle a brief nudge, and the sheer power of the V-16 snaps our head back. This will not be a car that needs “rowing” on the gearbox. The snarl—even at no more than 4500 of the available 8500 rpm—is awesome. We rocket ahead, but there’s a tight corner coming up—and this is a big automobile. The huge brakes, even cold, feel wonderfully secure.

Exiting the corner we reach for first gear but select third instead. Zampolli, in the right seat, does his best not to look pained. We are doing maybe 20 mph. The engine is turning less than 1000 rpm. But the V16T pulls away. Not just willingly, but without the slightest demonstration of effort. And on a whiff of throttle. It is hugely torquey. We can hardly wait to find out more.

After what seems just a few minutes, we have to go back. Zampolli is concerned about hovering Italian spy photographers. Regretfully, we return the keys. Zampolli promises that there will be ample opportunities to explore this car’s potential soon.

Zampolli has reached his first objective in a ten-year journey. He conceived of the V16T a decade ago and created the first mechanical design five years ago. Gandini became involved three years ago and finalized the body outline two years ago; the business of detail design, setting up the workshops, and making the prototypes has gone on ever since.

Now with the project on the record, Zampolli faces a good two years’ more work. And more capital expenditure. After that, if there are any profits they’ll be modest. But Zampolli and partner Moroder aren’t in it to make big money. It is the desire to create their own car that guides the venture.

“We don’t want to get carried away,” Zampolli explains. “I’d like to keep to a small work force of about 30 people. We’ll do all the things here you need to do to keep tight control of quality, but we’ll subcontract things like casting and machining. The frames will probably be made elsewhere, too.

“I’m not competing with the big names in Modena. They shouldn’t be upset with anything we do. But this car is my life. I want it to be the most exclusive as well as the best. And I’ll fight to keep it that way.”

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