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Alfa Romeo Spider

Alfa Romeo Spider Published: 25th May 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Alfa Romeo Spider
Alfa Romeo Spider
Alfa Romeo Spider
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Alfa Romeo’s Spider endured across four decades, and yet remains one of the best sports cars of all time. But does the substance still match that superb style?

The Alfa Spider is one of those sports cars that everyone remembers, yet strangely few have experienced. Produced for almost thirty years, it’s one of few drop tops to have rivalled both the MGB and the Mazda MX-5. Expensive in the UK, it has nonetheless endured – even at the end of its production run, people still wanted them.

It had the perfect recipe – a lithe, pretty body, a lovely revvy twin cam four cylinder, and film pedigree given its starring role in The Graduate. Its replacement may have been pretty but, saddled with front wheel drive, it was never the same driving experience as the classic Spiders of the 60s, 70s, 80s and early 90s.

It’s not an obvious classic sports car choice in the UK – with many favouring the homegrown Triumphs and MGs, the more practical Ford Capri, or the Fiat 124 Spider. Derived from the Giulia 105-series, a saloon which also had considerable racing pedigree and prowess, it could be argued that the Italian Alfa was the most agile of the lot.

On the move

From outside, the Spider is almost perfect. Whether you prefer the earlier ;boat-tailed’ Duetto or the later cars with a Kamm tail, there is no arguing that the overall shape is right. A delicate cigar profile with scalloped sides makes the Alfa both simple and interesting – the way the front arch leads into the scallop is perfect, as is and unlike many of its contemporaries, raising the roof doesn’t spoil the lines one bit. You find yourself half wishing there had been a coupé, rather than a uniquely styled GTV.

Inside the early cars are just as special as they look from outside – a painted dash, a small, dainty binnacle – features that were lost on the later cars as crash safety and modern trends forced the designers into greater use of plastics.

It’s a shame that if you’re tall, though, you won’t be able to enjoy it to the full. The seats are a little flat and shapeless, there isn’t much legroom and you’ll find yourself sitting splay-legged if you’re anything over about 5’9”. We’ll steer clear of the clichés surrounding Italian driving positions, but smaller drivers will certainly feel more comfortable here. Unlike British sports cars there is a padded rear bench offering 2+2 ability – but which Motor Sport magazine described as better suiting “2+ large dog” than any human expectation.

The gear lever’s long, but that isn’t to its detriment given how far forward the gate is relative to the driver; its angled throw making things feel really rather pleasant. And you find yourself changing frequently to make the most of the rev range – the higher you get, the nicer it feels – a raucous twin cam engine with a fine choice of slightly low gears is just what you want in a proper sports car for response. With 122bhp @ 5500rpm, from the 1750 version (2-litre is the lustier), it’s the perfect engine with which to enjoy a good B road hoon.

Round the corners

Monocoque construction means there’s little of the flex you would find in something like a Spitfire or a TR6, while the live axle connected with trailing arms is a tried and tested solution that works well. The result is a car that, in the dry, flits round corners as if it were on rails, low grip levels excepted. A little provocation can lead to some sideways fun, but if driven sensibly oughtn’t prove difficult to handle. This however is contrasted by its performance in the wet – where its short wheelbase means that it can be snappy unless you’re careful. Motor Sport observed that initial understeer would become oversteer if pushed, yet praised the “old-school” feel and predictability of the chassis on the whole. It tested a mid-1970’s example with a limited slip differential, and reported that while wheel spin was achievable it was now short lived.

It’s stable even at speed, and the steering is fluid and communicative – albeit heavy at parking speeds and a shade too low geared for the standard 15” steering wheel. Many owners have fitted smaller aftermarket wheels to resolve this, which goes some way toward alleviating the problem (see feature in this issue-ed). Steering lock is not especially tight, but that scarcely matters when enjoying the car at speed. The mechanical engineering behind the Spider was described even as the car approached ten years in production as first class, albeit with the caveat that fit and finish never quite matched up to the way it drove. The majority of restored cars today show a far better standard of quality.

Go or no go

The Alfa Romeo Spider is the archetypal small Italian sports car. Unlike the British sports cars of the same era, the sense of fun is balanced with refinement and a level of sophistication only found, in an Elan. Unlike the MGB or the TR, there’s no sense that the car has been built around the parts bin – somehow it feels bespoke, delicate, and all the more fluent a package for it.

Some would be tempted to use late examples as daily drivers, but we feel this would spoil their sense of occasion – keep the Spider as your weekend toy, and you’ll find yourself looking forward to every Friday.

Quick spin

  • Performance - Zesty engines, ample pep
  • Cruising - Well geared, even if fifth isn’t an overdrive ratio
  • Handling - Low grip, but entertaining
  • Brakes - Excellent for their era
  • Ease of use - Awkward driving position but pretty easy to pilot

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