Used cars

Cizeta V16T: The 16 Cylinder 80s Supercar

A crazy 80s supercar with an equally crazy story behind it. 

When the topic of 80s supercars are brought up, people tend to think of the Miami Vice Ferrari Testarossa or the bedroom wall poster-child Lamborghini Countach. The end of the 80s also saw two of the craziest supercars to ever grace the Earth, the 201 mph Ferrari F40 and the technical marvel that is the twin-turbo all-wheel-drive Porsche 959. 

But none of these supercars though can hold a candle to the craziest 80s supercar you probably never heard of, the Cizeta V16T. 

However to fully appreciate this 16 cylinder 80s Italian fever dream, it is best told together with the almost ludicrous story of its birth. So here goes. 

The Cizeta V16T and in fact the Cizeta company was the idea of one man, Claudio Zampolli. Claudio was an ex-Lamborghini test driver and engineer that then became the guy to service your exotic Italian sports car in Hollywood during the coked-up 80s. Claudio however, like many other Italian visionaries, was not just satisfied in servicing supercars made by other people and instead had always envisioned himself founding his own boutique supercar marque. Much like what Enzo Ferrari did before him, and what Horacio Pagani and Christian von Koenigsegg did after him. 

To anyone the dream would have been exactly that, a dream. However thanks to his Hollywood shop, Claudio was able to mingle among the celebrities who come in to tune up their Italian exotics in his shop. This then provided the perfect opportunity to convince them into investing in this crazy idea. He initially attempted to get Sylvester Stallone to be his business partner, but as luck would have it he netted an even more impressive business associate to kick start his dream, the ‘Father of Disco’ himself — Giorgio Moroder. 

Thus, Cizeta-Moroder, the newest supercar maker on the block was established and the development of their first car, the Cizeta V16T was set into motion. 

To be built in Modena, the supposed home of the Italian supercar and the base to both Ferrari and Maserati, the Cizeta V16T was meant to be the flashiest new kid in that Italian town. And it was the flashiness that was part of the reason the Cizeta came with a V16 engine.

Based on Claudio Zampolli’s own words, the Cizeta came with a V16 engine because “If the car had 12 cylinders, it would be no big news. As a small and exclusive car maker, I had to be different.”

Allegedly two Lamborghini Uracco P300S V8s welded together, this 6.0 V16 engine that was mated to a five speed ZF manual transmission made 540 hp and 540 Nm of torque. Not much by today’s supercar standards but it was considered a lot back in the day, especially with a four second 0-100 km/h time and a 328 km/h top speed. 

Besides, the whole engine was a display of engineering excellence from the ex-Lambo engineer. 

Not only did the V16 have four valves per cylinder and eight camshafts, Claudio Zampolli insisted that this gargantuan lump be mounted transversely within the tubular space frame chassis. This is apparently to ease maintenance as engine removals would be easier and also to emulate what was seen on the Lamborghini Miura with its transverse V12.

The transverse layout of the V16 also netted the T name of the Cizeta V16T. Not to be confused with turbo as this V16 was plenty powerful enough even without forced injection. 

As for the design of this mad Italian supercar, to those who see more than a hint of Lamborghini Diablo in those hand made Aluminium panels, you’re not far off. As the designer of the V16T was none other than Marcello Gandini. The legendary car designer who penned some of the prettiest cars to roam the Earth, which incidentally includes nearly all Lamborghinis right up to the Diablo prototype.

The reasoning behind this coincidence was because while Gandini was designing the Diablo, cash-strapped Lamborghini was bought up by Chrysler. The American automotive giant thought Gandini’s design was too outlandish for a Lamborghini (imagine that) so the final design for Lambo’s next gen supercar was watered down, much to Gandini’s displeasure. So, Gandini left Lamborghini in a huff and to cut a very long story short, the Cizeta V16T received a body courtesy of Gandini, quad pop-up headlights and all.

Thinking about it, with a supposed Lamborghini design and being built by a company headed by an ex-Lambo engineer, this is the reason why many who know of the Cizeta call it the hypercar that should have been built by Lamborghini. 

At this point it was all looking good for the fledgling boutique supercar manufacturer. So with most of the pieces falling to place, the Cizeta V16T made its debut at a star-studded launch party in Century City, Hollywood in 1989. Hosted by Jay Leno, the launch was said to be a massive success, garnering plenty of hype and piquing the interest of the Californian elite with deep pockets.

Its debut at the LA Auto Show and the Geneva Motor Show of the same year was also considered a hit. By the year’s end, Cizeta had 14 prospective buyers put down $100,000 deposits on this eagerly anticipated supercar. That being said however, despite all the pomp and ceremony and its initial success, things quickly went downhill fast for Cizeta from this point on.

The first major hurdle was actually one alluded to earlier, in which the production Cizetas is only called Cizeta instead of Cizeta-Moroder as it was initially founded. The reason behind this was that the Father of Disco was becoming increasingly impatient to see this supercar on the road. Perhaps wanting to see his return on investment back sooner, Moroder decided to take things into his own hands and went behind Zampolli’s back to try to cut cost and speed the project up from its initial further three year developmental cycle.

Moroder had approached Porsche engineers without Zampolli’s knowledge in an attempt to build the V16T’s bodywork out of fibreglass instead of expensive aluminium. He also approached BMW to license their V12 engines for use in the Cizeta.

Understandably Zampolli was not having any of it, thus Zampolli and Moroder ultimately decided to go their separate ways in this joint venture, with Zampolli retaining 100% ownership of the company and Moroder keeping the initial Cizeta V16T prototype. 

History might look back and say though that Moroder may have got a better deal out of this because things soon got really bad for Cizeta. 

During the final developmental stage of the build, changes made to American safety and emissions regulation meant that this V16 supercar was rendered no longer road-legal in America, the biggest market for supercars. 

The economic crash of the European and Japanese economies in the early 90s meant that no one else in the world was looking for a $300,000 V16 supercar. A price that was equivalent to 2 Lamborghini Diablos at the time. Without financial backing from Moroder, this soon sealed the fate of this fledgling supercar company. 

The final nail on the Cizeta V16T’s coffin however, was perhaps the fact that by 1991 when it finally rolled off the production line, it was already behind the times.

It’s wedge-shaped design that spans over 2 metres at its widest point was already being phased out, in favour of rounder curves as seen on its 90s contemporaries that were also handily out-classing the already outdated Cizeta. 

By then, cars like the Bugatti EB110, Jaguar XJ220 and not to mention McLaren F1 were competing amongst themselves for the crown of the king of the supercar. A title that Cizeta only wore for a short window, and only in its concept form. Thus, it came as no surprise that in September 1994 Cizeta finally filed for bankruptcy after only finishing 9 of the 14 pre-ordered cars. 2 of which went to the Sultan of Brunei. 

Interestingly enough though, Cizeta is still alive in some capacity. In a state which Zampolli quotes is “still breathing”, Cizeta has began making cars starting in 2006 again and you could to this day order a brand-new 1988-spec Cizeta V16T. 

Made on a to-order basis only, to the people who want the maddest supercar of the 80s the Cizeta V16T coupe will cost you from $649,000 (RM 2.7 million). There is even a Spyder option if one prefers to hear the V16 roar from its quad-pipes a little more clearly. 

Joshua Chin

Automotive journalist. Professional work on and Personal writing found at Instagram: @driveeveryday

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  1. Hello all ! : I think the Cizeta was the most wonderful car in the 80s ; today the way to design a chef d’oeuvre such the Cizeta-Moroder have nothing in common, “more money-less inspiration and adventure spirit” !… The design body by Marcelo Gandini was so good too, that Lamborghini hesitated to inspire by it for the Diablo and created a “clone” less adventurous (sorry for my poor words in english, I am french !)…
    Thnk you for be there on the internet.

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