A supremely exotic car which just happened to debut at a colossally bad time.
On paper, the Cizeta V16T seems as though it would have been a huge success. Cars don’t get much more exotic than this, and Cizeta had many of the same advantages that would later make Pagani a success. But that which makes a good car does not always make good business, and Cizeta simply didn’t have what it took to compete with better-established exotic carmakers. And this despite it being built by a group of people who were well versed in exotics.
Cizeta Automobili was first known as Cizeta-Moroder, a joint venture between Claudio Zampolli and Giorgio Moroder. The "Cizeta" part of the name is how Zampolli’s initials (C.Z.) are pronounced in Italian. Zampolli was involved in supercars through his dealership, where he sold and serviced the high-priced machines. Moroder is a record producer, famous for having made any number of disco hits as well as the entire soundtrack for the film "Scarface". The pair met when Moroder brought his Lamborghini into Zampolli’s shop to be serviced. But the partnership wouldn’t end up lasting all that long, and when delivered, the cars were badged simply as Cizeta.
If you’re seeing hints of the Lamborghini Diablo in the design of the V16T, there is a very good reason. This was actually the original design for the Lambo, penned by Marcello Gandini just before the Chrysler takeover of Lamborghini in 1987. Gandini had designed both the Miura and the Countach, both hugely important cars in the history of Lamborghini. But the new bosses at Chrysler thought his design for the Diablo was too outrageous, and would tone it down before the car’s debut in 1990. Gandini, an obviously talented designer, was infuriated by this tinkering with his vision, and would take the original design elsewhere - in the end to Cizeta.
Debuting in 1988, the V16T was named for its drivetrain, although perhaps slightly confusingly. The sixteen-cylinder was made of two flat-plane V8s joined together with a common crankcase. With its eight camshafts, the engine is different not only from the W16 found in the Bugatti Veyron, but also from just about every other automotive engine ever produced. The "T" in the name does not stand for "turbocharged" but rather "transverse". That the massive engine is transversely-mounted and is the reason why the car is so incredibly wide, but the alternative would have been one that was absurdly long.
This 6.0-liter engine produced 540 horsepower, and was said to be faster than a Diablo, although this was never officially confirmed. The Modena-based company would begin actually selling the car in 1991, and by this point it was in direct competition with its spiritual offspring, the Diablo. The V16T had several advantages over the Lambo, but price was certainly not one of them. At a price of $300,000 in 1991 the V16T was about double the price of the Diablo, but without being double the car. The name Cizeta also didn’t carry the same weight as Lamborghini, and in the end, just eight cars were produced before production shut down in 1995.
Although perhaps the biggest disadvantage of the V16T was that it wasn’t street-legal in the US, without having even tried to meet safety or emissions regulations. The US is always a big market for volume sales of exotics, and without it, any supercar will struggle. Cizeta, now headquartered in California, will still build you a car though, for the $649,000 asking price ($849,000 for the Spider). Three customers have in fact done this, and there have now been a total of 11 produced. But still, compared to almost 3,000 Diablo units produced by Lamborghini, that isn’t exactly a runaway success.