Music and cars have gone hand in hand since the dawn of the automobile. Chuck Berry wrote some of his greatest songs about them, Joe Walsh sung of losing his license in a Maserati doing 185mph while Sammy Hagar still refuses to drive 55.
Usually the musician is the customer, either a car fanatic able to finally indulge his wildest childhood dreams or simply wanting to show the world he has arrived. Rarely however are musicians so enthralled with a product or the idea of one that they are willing to invest in the design and production of a supercar the likes of which the world has never seen. There is however an exception: Giorgio Moroder.
Known as the father of Disco and Godfather of electronic music, he burst onto the international music scene with Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You” in 1975, going on to produce all her 70’s hits as well as the soundtracks to major movies such as Midnight Express, American Gigolo, Scarface, Flashdance, and Top Gun.
While Moroder’s musical credentials are undisputed and his musical influence is on the rise again, since Daft Punk’s ode to his genius on their album “Random Access Memories”, very few people know he was the financial and principal marketing force behind one of the most outrageous but short –lived supercars ever – The Cizeta Moroder.
Before delving into this combination of music glamour and Italian automotive high drama, the stage must be set with a bit of history – specifically that of the Sant’Agata Bolognese company that gave birth to the “supercar” and to which Cizeta can trace its roots: Lamborghini.
In 1974 in the wake of rising oil-prices, war in the Middle East and political unrest in Italy, Lamborghini sales fell precipitously and Ferruccio Lamborghini was forced to sell his interests in the company he had founded and that bore his family name. The company was acquired by Henri Rossetti and René Leimer; two Swiss businessmen who had been both clients and friends of Mr. Lamborghini. By 1980 unfortunately, their efforts had proved unsuccessful and the Italian government placed the company into the receivership of Jean-Claude and Patrick Mimran. The billionaire sugar-entrepreneur brothers proved more successful at reviving the storied brand by among other things modifying the Countach to finally make it street-legal in the US and giving the legendary Marcelo Gandini the task of devising a successor.
Gandini presented his design as planned but by then the Mimran’s had sold the company at a substantial profit to Chrysler who’s corporate design department in Detroit was less than smitten. Gandini’s vision was toned down to what would soon become the Diablo but the famous designer, was incensed that the uncouth “Americani” had dared sully his art and took his original concept elsewhere. He soon found takers in the form of ex-Lamborghini engineer Claudio Zampolli and his backer Giorgio Moroder.
Zampolli had worked as a development engineer on the Miura, the Countach and most of Lamborghini’s other models but by the early 70’s he was itching to run his own show. Lamborghini had at that point only sold very few cars in the US and customers were complaining to the factory that there was no-one qualified to service them. With Lamborghini’s blessing, Zampolli packed up his family and set up a service business for Lamborghini’s and other Italian makes on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.
Despite considerable success, by the early eighties, Zampolli was feeling that itch for something new again. During his days servicing the Maura’s and Countach’s of Hollywood’s glitterati he had become aware that certain design characteristics of the cars made the job harder and more man-hour intensive than necessary. It was with solutions to these problems in mind that Zampolli began to consider designing a sports-car of his own and then Gandini came knocking. It was a match made in heaven.
The design that had made Detroit blush was perfect for one of the most extreme drive-trains ever devised. With a transverse mounted V16 engine combining two V8 blocks running on one crankshaft similar in design to those found in the Lamborghini Uracil, the beast comprised four cylinder-heads, each with twin-overhead camshafts, two fuel-injection systems, four distributors, 16 spark-plugs and 64 valves. Especially in the late 1980’s, the performance specs too were from another planet: 560 hp at 8000 rpm, 398 lb – ft at 6000 rpm, a top speed of 204mph all produced by an engine so large that the car measured 81.1 inches in width. At that time only a Hummer was wider and nothing was faster. For Zampolli the problem was getting it from paper to production.
Even after committing four of his personally owned dream cars (a Lamborghini Miura SV, Ferrari 250 GTO, Ferrari Daytona and Ferrari 275 GTB) to the auction block to get cash for the project he was still short, at which point he pitched the idea to Giorgio Moroder who funded the rest of the road to a prototype.
But already by the time of the unveiling on December 5th 1988 to a room full of Hollywood’s glitterati assembled at Los Angeles’s Century Plaza Hotel, the project seemed doomed. Even Moroder was beginning to loose patience as Zampolli had already blasted past the original production budget and no car had yet been sold. Only the prototype unveiled that night would bare the music producer’s name and all subsequent cars would simply be called Cizeta V16.
Production finally started in 1991 and Zampolli hoped to produce up to 225 cars a year. But in the end only 9 were built as a combination of a worldwide economic recession and Desert Storm put a serious damper on demand for supercars, especially one as outrageous as the Cizeta V-16T.
Zampolli shuttered production in 1995 but the story was not over.
Zampolli had always seen Asia and Europe as the target market for his ultra low volume supercar. As opposed to Ferrari and Lamborghini, it was financially unfeasible to get the car certified for the US similarly to what had been the case early-on with the Countach all those years before.
The story however does not end here. Zampolli returned to California where he founded a new service business for Cizeta and other brands. Never one to shun the limelight, he attended car shows regularly often with a red V16T in tow. After further sleuthing I found multiple YouTube videos of the same car at Pebble Beach, Cars and Coffee in Van Nuys and other car shows. It was easy to recognize with its California license plate attached over its original British one. Not suspicious at all. Further investigation uncovered that at one of the various car shows Zampolli had attended in the late 90’s he had been verbally insulted in public by Jay Leno and had sued the talk show host for slander. By the end of the article in the New York Daily News it was revealed that Zampolli attributed the failure of his supercar to the fallout resulting from an affair he had had with Jay Leno’s assistant Helga Pollock. According to Zampolli, when he broke it off the assistant had gone Fatal Attraction on him.
Finally as if Zampolli did not have enough drama in his long professional career, on Monday December 7th 2009 the long arm of the law caught up with the speedy Italian when ICE agents confiscated the red V16T from Family Classic Cars in San Juan Capistrano. According to the Los Angeles Times, he had imported the car in 2001 on a one-year bond to get it serviced for a client. At the end of that year by law it was to be returned to the client overseas. Furthermore it was not to be driven on American roads. Zampolli had done so anyway and in the most conspicuous way possible.
I don’t know what happened to the red car after the confiscation, nor to Zampolli himself as he seems to have dropped off the internet, but all I know is that there has not been nor will there ever be a supercar as outrageous as the Cizeta Moroder V16T.