1964 Alfa Romeo Bertone Canguro — One Show Car, Many Threads

Let’s just drink this one in, shall we?

These days, the Internet can take one down many rabbit holes. We go down automotive-related rabbit holes around these parts. Why choose this particular car? All will be explained. An old magazine article and a childhood die-cast model for inspiration, add the Internet, and away we go.

There is such a thing as a knowledge tree, in which the awareness or understanding of a thing can link to other things, creating a matrix of information, all of which is related to each other. The Bertone Canguro has been a seldom-seen and elusive beast over the decades, and that is important to our story. The Canguro (Italian for “kangaroo”) tale has many twists and turns, despite it being about the solitary example that was built in the mid-1960’s, which made a big splash, dropped out of sight, and eventually reappeared out of nowhere. These story threads involve Bertone, Pininfarina, Zagato, Alfa Romeo, Giorgetto Giugiaro, the Chevy Corvair, Road & Track magazine, an amateur car collector, a professional car collector, abandonment, disappearance, resurrection, and a $35 transaction. Sit back, and enjoy the shaggy dog story. There are enough tangled threads here to inspire further discovery in all sorts of directions.

The tale begins with the introduction of the Alfa Romeo Giulia TI in 1962, a nimble sporty sedan, bearing a 1,570cc dual overhead cam 4 cylinder engine yielding 92 horsepower. This was the first in a long series of Alfa sports sedans of the 1960s and 1970s. Soon after the introduction of the Giulia TI came the Giulia TI Super, of which about 500 were produced in 1962 and 1963. The TI Super carried an uprated engine, bearing twin sidedraft carburetors instead of the single downdraft carburetor of the TI, among other improvements. This homologation special yielded 112 horsepower, which set the stage for further racing developments.

The 1962 Alfa Romeo Giulia TI. A new line of cars, and automotive raw material for all that came after.

Alfa Romeo was government-backed at the time, so the building of race cars was a politically delicate matter. It was decided to set up a quasi-independent race car-oriented manufacturing enterprise, labeled Autodelta. Alfa and Ferrari engineer Carlo Chiti was put in charge of the operation.

In the meantime, it had been decided to build a tube-frame race car around the 112 horsepower engine of the TI Super, and to farm out the bodywork to Zagato. Thus was born the Giulia TZ, unveiled at the 1962 Turin Auto Show. Alfa Romeo was quite busy in 1962! “TZ” stood for “Tubolare Zagato”, incorporating both a description of the chassis construction and also of the author of the body design in the designation. Just over 100 aluminum-bodied Alfa TZs were built between 1962 and 1964, as 100 were needed to move the car from the “prototype” racing category to the “production” column. The 112 horsepower engine was standard in the TZ, but uprated engine variants delivered up to 160 horsepower, in a car weighing in at about 1,460 lb. The car was small, with an 86.6 inch wheelbase, and it stood 47.2 inches high.

The 1962 Alfa Romeo TZ, “Tubolare Zagato”

Bodywork by Zagato. About twelve feet long and 47 inches high. The small scale of this car is difficult to discern without references within the photo.

The “tubolare” (tubular) frame of the TZ. Just over a hundred of them were built between 1962 and 1964.

The second-generation fiberglass-bodied TZ2 was introduced on the Zagato stand at the 1964 Turin Auto Show. It revealed a serious reworking of the TZ, shortening and widening the car, while keeping the same 86.6 inch wheelbase. The height of the car was reduced considerably, to only 40.2 inches, and the weight was dropped to 1,370 lb. An uprated engine of 170 horsepower was installed, which would later show up in the road car-based GTA racer. The engine sported a dry-sump lubrication system (in part to lower the engine in the engine bay) and remained slightly tilted, as it was in the original TZ, to better fit in the available space. Roughly nine to twelve examples of the TZ2 were built in 1965, and the car had a successful but brief racing career in the “prototype” class.

The 1965 Alfa Romeo TZ2. All race car, and only a handful were built.

The TZ2 at speed. Still roughly twelve feet long, but only 40 inches high. The Ford GT40 was the same height, but fitted the engine in the elevated rear of the car. Alfa Romeo and Autodelta made their engine fit in the low and tight front end.

The spartan interior of the TZ2. The seat bottoms were mounted close to the floor, to gain the needed head room.

All the elements were now in place to generate the Bertone Canguro. But I do need to stop for a moment and explain that you will see “roughly”, “about”, and “believed to be” used as qualifiers through much of this web of stories. Many elements of the tale are informed conjecture, and have been teased from hidden or incomplete information. Alfa Romeo and Zagato were not particularly robust record-keepers back in the day, so serial numbers and car counts were often approximations. Especially when it came to race cars, one-offs and “specials”, there was no substitute for checking under the hood to see what the actual specifications might have been, no matter what the records, such as they were, might have indicated.

First up is the “donor car” for the Canguro. The Bertone creation was built at the time of changeover between the TZ and the TZ2. The chassis layout and low, tilted engine suggest TZ2. The Chassis serial number suggests late-series TZ. But as the Canguro has not been available to put under careful scrutiny, no one is quite sure whether the base is TZ or TZ2, as the car was a bit cobbled up as a “one-off” to begin with. One clue might have been why the Canguro was possibly built in the first place. The TZ was a streetable race car, in the manner of a somewhat less powerful, arguably less attractive, and downsized Ferrari 250 GTO. But the TZ2 was all-out race car, and only nominally streetable. At the end of the day, we will see that the Canguro was not much more of a street-compatible car than the TZ2 was, due to the extreme proportions and small size of the thing.

Nevertheless, it was decided in 1964 to give both Bertone and Pininfarina a shot at designing a streetable show car based on the TZ/TZ2 platform. Two tubular chassis were pulled from inventory. Bertone got chassis number 750101, and Pininfarina got chassis number 750114. One conjecture is that the chassis were blindly pulled from inventory, without paying attention to any chassis number sequence or order. Such was how things were done at Autodelta, back in the day, according to stories that have been told.

Up-and-coming stylist Giorgetto Giugiaro led the team at Bertone that designed the Canguro. The extremely low height of the TZ2 was emulated, at 41 inches high for the Canguro, and the car both picked up some of the basic design cues of the TZ, including a rendition of the “Kamm tail”, but also headed off into a distinct, highly organic and flowing set of complex curves and shapes. The overall impression, while it was an iteration of the rather universal “two-seat fastback” theme, also established some basic organic styling cues and proportions seen later in such cars as the Lamborghini Miura (also a Bertone design, though not from Giugiaro’s pen), if one squints very hard. By the ‘70s, angularity (which Bertone, and, separately, Giugiaro, bought into in a big way) ruled the roost. But for a few years, classic flowing styling was the sports car design name of the game.

The size compromise dictated a few styling elements. The seats were extremely low, to maximize the available headroom. Door windows and the windshield rolled a bit into the roof, in part to aid in otherwise very limited visibility. The windshield was one of the first known examples of bonding (gluing) the windshield to the frame, without metal or rubber framing elements.

The car itself was introduced at the 1964 Paris Motor Show. I will let the styling speak for itself, in the included photos. It is interesting to me that the car can look very lean and lithe from some angles, but bulbous from others. Like the early Cisitalia, it is difficult to discern the size of the car from photos, but it is very small. The Canguro is almost exactly 12 feet long, and 41 inches high. For comparison purposes, a rubber-bumpered MG Midget is about three inches shorter in overall length and seven inches taller than the Canguro.

A period photo of the Canguro’s interior. More plush interior fittings than the TZ2, but the same low seat mounting to gain head space. We will revisit this look inside, later in our story.

The Alfa “quadrifoglio” on each side pillar was actually a cutout for interior ventilation. The series of “slots” on the front flanks will show up again on other cars, including some Alfa Romeos.

The Pininfarina TZ-based show car has a different look, but it is, like the Canguro, unmistakably mid-1960s to early-1970s.

The Pininfarina TZ show car. Do you see some future Dino 246 elements in the front end?

The Canguro, though a fully built-out, running car, was still treated as a show car, and it was not given the usual road tests. Road & Track did offer a write-up of the car, reproduced below. At the time of publication, the Canguro had not been fully approved or turned down for series production, so the article could be considered as a sort of “test run” for whether there was a real market for street versions of the thing. As an aside, one should try to find a ‘60s R&T to look through, cover to cover. Remember that there was almost no coverage of racing or race cars in most places, and car information, in general, was almost nonexistent outside of car magazines and books. To open up a copy of a ‘60s R&T is to introduce yourself to a whole world that was otherwise invisible. Paul has been publishing R&T road tests, but one needs the whole magazine in one’s hand, in order to get the “feel” of the era. From cheesy ads, to classifieds for Gullwing Mercs at $5k a pop and Abarths and vintage Bentleys for a grand to a few grand a piece, the magazine (any issue of the period) is a real trip down memory lane. The June ‘65 issue, with the Canguro on the cover, has a nice overview of Bertone’s design work to date, a capsule bio of Dan Gurney, who had yet to burst out of sports car racing into wider fame, and a road test of the Alfa Giulia TI, a distant relative of the Canguro. The “centerfold”, printed on heavy paper stock for removal from the magazine and mounting on a wall, was a photo of a Ford GT40 at full tilt.

Keep in mind that Alfa Romeo and Autodelta had the TZ2 in house for racing duties, and the Canguro styling would have been a huge aerodynamic compromise for racing, versus the TZ2. In the end, a lack of capacity for quick volume production of “tubolare” frames, along with Alfa Romeo’s corporate decision to invest heavily into sedan racing instead, meant that the Canguro turned out to be a one-off. It was a regular in the show car circuit, but soon disappeared.

So, where did the Canguro go? As a clue, let’s look at that broader Bertone article in R&T. There is a photo of an otherwise unidentified rear-engined “Testudo”. Bertone coyly indicates that the car is for “an important but unnamed client”. Only later did we come to know that the Testudo was Corvair-based. Did the Ralph Nader-led kerfluffle about the Corvair, published in late 1965, kill off a production version of the Testudo? We will probably never know. The timing of everything seems about right.

Bertone was rather coy about its customer for the Testudo (“tortoise”).

A glamour shot of the Testudo, which turned out to be Corvair based, and not brought into production. Beyond the Bertone connection, the Testudo and the Canguro have an additional relationship…

The Testudo does play into our Canguro story in another way. The Canguro disappeared because it was wrecked, during a publicity filming sequence at the Monza racetrack. When the Testudo was auctioned off, many years later, a disclosure was made that it had suffered significant rear-end damage that had been repaired. It came out, over time, that the Canguro had run into the back of the Testudo at speed, damaging the Testudo and destroying the front end of the Canguro. What was left of our subject car was then parked outside, behind the Bertone shops, stripped of most of its mechanicals, and with a tarp thrown over it. It sat there for years. Missing everything but the frame forward of the firewall, and with the windshield absent and most of the interior stripped, it was left out to rot.

The remains of the Canguro, abandoned behind the Bertone shop.

Stripped of its powertrain after the accident, not much was left of the front half of the car.

The interior was also stripped of anything that might be useful somewhere else. Little remained, and the look was far different and more depressing than the appearance in the earlier interior photo.

Enter Gary Schmidt, variously identified as either a German journalist or an American service member stationed in Germany. He was apparently an amateur automotive sleuth, searching for and buying cheap, interesting old cars. At one point, he was rumored to have a small collection of automotive oddities, but with sketchy and incomplete paperwork and suspect serial numbers on some of his cars. In any case, he was aware that the Canguro had once existed, but that it had dropped out of sight, so he traced it to the back lot at Bertone. Rumor has it that he negotiated the purchase of the remains of the car, in about 1971, for the equivalent of $35.

Being of modest means and with various interests including multiple cars, he never got together the time, talent, and capital to properly restore the car. Rumor has it that a wealthy Japanese car collector, who also was aware of the Canguro, in turn tracked down Gary Schmidt, and then negotiated to purchase the car from Gary in the mid 1990’s. The Japanese car collector, Shiro Kosaka, had the car meticulously restored, and he unveiled the car at the Villa d’Este car show, on the shore of Lake Como in northern Italy, in 2005. The car took “best of show”, and the photo at the top of this page is from the event. Sadly, Gary Schmidt died in 2003, so he never got to see the complete resurrection of the car he had likely saved from oblivion.

A photo taken at the 2005 Ville d’Este car show, where the resurrected and reintroduced Canguro won “best of show”. The photo at the top of this article was also taken at the 2005 show.

In another twist of fate, the Pininfarina show car version of the TZ still exists as well, and Mr. Kosaka owns that car too. It was revealed in 2010. The two show cars have lived on together, as a pair, all these decades later.

Design details from the Canguro showed up in all sorts of places. The series of parallel horizontal slots appeared again on the Alfa Montreal, also a Bertone design. The clearest “copy” of the Canguro was the similar Australian-produced Bolwell Nagari of the late 1960s into the early 1970s. Judge for yourself. The basic fastback shape shows up again and again in many cars, but the small and real-world impractical Canguro is arguably the purest and most beautiful rendition of the form. At times, the Alfa grill hung on the front of it can be distracting jewelry of sorts, but that is how the car was originally put together. To me, it is the only element of the car that is less than perfect. As a side treat, those round taillights on the Canguro are the same ones that have shown up on so many cars, including the TZ2, the Lancia Stratos, and a number of ordinary Fiat sedans.

The Alfa Romeo Montreal, also a Bertone house design (Gandini, not Giugiaro). Note the “slots” on the rear quarter pillar.

The Bolwell Nagari from Australia. The design inspiration looks rather obvious to these eyes.

As a coda, recall that I mentioned a die-cast car at the top of this article. That is the car I found on my first trip to Disneyland, about 1966 or so. My sister and I were each allowed to pick one item from the gift shops to take home. I spied an unidentified swoopy red fastback thing, and that was it. A die-cast model of what turned out to be the Canguro, as my Disneyland souvenir. Sadly, I have not seen it in years, and, looking around, I cannot find it. That’s not like me, I keep track of my stuff. But, like the real car back in the day, it has inexplicably dropped out of sight. The irony, one can cut it with a knife. From internet research, I find that it was produced by Mercury Toys, an Italian die-cast car manufacturer, in 1:43 scale. The doors and clamshell hood opened, and it was painted in the richest, most vibrant deep red I have ever seen on a die-cast model.

The die-cast model produced by Mercury Toys of Italy.

1:43 scale, and red as red can be.

A lot of gibberish on the bottom, for a six year old kid. I knew it was an Italian car, and I knew I liked it very much. Only years later did I learn about the car that it was modeled after.

So, a die-cast model car for a starting point, a magazine article for background, and the Internet. One can really go to interesting places when one has the proper inspiration, and the access to good information sources.