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Alfa Romeo Spider

Published: 1st Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Buyer Beware

  • Sills are crucial to the car’s structure and expensive to replace. Make sure the outer panel is sound, that the seam between it and the front wing has not been filled over and that the inner sill has not rusted behind the carpet/rubber mat.
  • If the rear trailing arms have rusted away from the body, then you are probably looking at a seriously poor car.
  • If the interior shows signs of damp, is it because of a poorly-fitting hood or because the floorpans have rusted out?
  • There should be splash guards both front and rear in the front wheelarches. If they are missing, expect to find rust in the front valence, inner wing, bulkhead and sill.
  • Wheelarch repair panels are common, so inspect carefully to assess how well they have been fitted.
  • The crossmember under the radiator can rust to the point that the anti-roll bar pulls away. Repair is time-consuming and costly.
  • Pour water around the rear of the hood - if the drain holes in the hood well are working properly, then this should exit through the sills.
  • Excessive road noise and fumes entering the cabin could be from something as simple as a split gearlever gaiter.
  • Electric windows that are slow to operate are likely to fail quite quickly.
  • Bumpers are stainless steel and don’t rust, but can suffer from parking dings. They are expensive to replace, while a dented nosecone is difficult to repair because of restricted access behind it.
  • Head gaskets can fail if left standing, although a slight weep is common and can be tolerated.
  • A judder on take-off may be nothing more than a propshaft UJ, which is cheap and easy to replace.
  • Genuine RHD cars had twin servos on the nearside inner wing, while LHD cars had a single servo fitted on the bulkhead.

Fast Facts

  • Driving: 4/5

    Full of brio and still feels pretty modern (and fun) to drive

  • Usability: 3/5

    Great to drive - reliability and durability are the real worries

  • Maintaining: 3/5

    FIne - Alfa specialists are plentiful, ok for DIY work as well

  • Owning: 4/5

    Not up to MGB friendliness but not Ferrari fretting levels either

  • Value: 4/5

    Pretty good all told - so long as you buy a good one

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Its delicate lines and relative scarcity in the UK should make the Alfa Spider an unlikely candidate for the role of daily driver, but Simon Goldsworthy discovers there is plenty of mechanical brawn beneath those distinctively scalloped panels

Imported sports cars have always been something of a luxury in Britain, at least until the introduction of the all-conquering Mazda MX-5. The problem was that for decades, we built so many of the things ourselves that by the time cars were imported from elsewhere and duties paid, they were too expensive to compete. Matters weren’t helped by the fact that on-paper figures suggested Johnny Foreigner didn’t have an advantage to justify his price premium. What the figures didn’t show was that many of these imports were decades ahead of their British counterparts in terms of refinement and mechanical specification, and the Alfa Romeo Spider proves this point admirably. A twin overhead camshaft engine, four wheel discs brakes, a great hood and a five-speed all-synchro gearbox was heady stuff when the 105-series Spider debuted in 1966. Yet much of even that advanced specification was carried over from the Giulietta Spider of 1955. The 105-series Spider was based on the Giulia range of 1962, despite the four year delay before Pininfarina’s new design finally ousted the oldstyle roadster. Initially called the Duetto, its delicate lines achieved world-wide fame being driven by Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. The stylised boat tail of these early models gave way to a more abrupt Kamm tail for 1971 to create the Series 2 cars. These in turn sprouted a black tail spoiler and colour-coded plastic bumpers from the Series 3 of 1983, before heavier styling revisions in 1990 carried Series 4 production through to the finish in April 1993. It is the Series 1 and 2 cars that we are looking at today.

Which model to buy?

There is no lemon in the Alfa Spider range. Mostwill be bought on the basis of body condition because, while the mechanical underpinnings are relatively cheap and simple enough to fix, sorting a poor example can be very expensive. This is particularly true of the Duettos, which tend to be bought for less regular use if only out of respect for the cost and rarity of their unique body panels. They are also the most expensive of the lot, costing over ten grand for a good one, although you can knock 20 per cent off that for one of the 1300cc variants. Choosing between the 1600 Duetto and the very similar 1750 Spider Veloce will be a matter of what you can find rather than what you desperately want. Series 2 Kamm Tail cars are more numerous, but they are also perceived as more usable and so you’ll still have to pay anywhere between five and 10k for a decent one, whether 1750cc or 2-litre. A cheaper option would be a Series 2 1300 or 1600, both of which were in LHD only and which are only around two-thirds usual prices. America was always the biggest market for Spiders, and many have been imported from there in more recent times. Most will have had the Spica fuel injection dumped, although the Bosch L-Jetronic specified from 1982 may well have been retained. Either way, you can expect the performance-sapping emissions gear to have been ditched and prices to be lower than fed cars. Check too that any RHD conversion work looks to have been professionally carried out.You may also stumble across some unconventional specifications in a RHD package from countries such as South Africa - just check the paperwork carefully to make sure that a bigger engine hasn’t been slotted into a car whose brakes were designed for the lowly (but nippy) 1300.

Behind the wheel?

There is no lemon in the Alfa Spider range

The cabin is roomy enough for two, with plenty of elbow room in both directions. Long-legged drivers will need the seat right back to get comfortable, using up the limited legroom provided for back-seat passengers. And although that rear seat was fully trimmed until 1979, Alfa then replaced it with a simple parcel shelf… so you can imagine how marginal it was in the first place! The steering wheel is a long way from the seat in the best Italian tradition, but it was heavily dished from the introduction of the 1750 to bring it nearer the driver. The pedals on RHD cars were all floor-hinged (LHD versions got hanging pedals from the Kamm tail revisions). They are close together and some people find that they take some getting used to, particularly during town driving. They are also offset to the right, not uncomfortably so but enough to give your left foot space to relax on those motorway hauls. There is no power steering and the wheel can be a bit heavy at low speeds, but so long as the car has not been over-tyred (165/14 rubber was fitted originally), the wheel should feel nicely weighted on the move. It should also be fairly precise, despite Alfa’s use of a steering box instead of a more modern rack and pinion. The gearbox is lovely to use, despite its long travel and the unorthodox positioning of the lever sprouting from the dash. It’s certainly slicker once the oil has warmed up though (an old Alfa trait), and with many cars suffering from worn synchro on second gear (ditto), you may have to take extra time or double-declutch down from third. Not that you have to work the box too hard as the engines are both torquey and powerful on all but the smallest variants, which have to be revved mercilessly and can get very thrashy at speed.There is double wishbone independent suspension with coil springs and telescopic dampers up front, while the live rear axle (also with coil springs and telescopics) is well located. As a result, a Spider should feel firmly planted on the road, with any nervousness through the corners being the result of worn suspension bushes rather than poor design. Some scuttle shake may be evident on rough roads but the brakes, although requiring more of a shove than we are used to today, are truly excellent so long as they are serviced regularly. Visibility is good all round with the hood down, compromised slightly to the rear threequarters with it up. Some people find the front and rear extremities hard to place in tight parking spots though, which is one reason why you should inspect these areas carefully on any car you are considering buying. To sum up, the Spider is streets ahead than an MGB or TR in design and miles better than the Brits when it comes to driver appeal. Really, only a Lotus Elan comes close to a Duetto.

The Daily Option?

Rust protection from the factory was laughably inadequate… so you can guess the rest

Using a Spider regularly is probably the kindest thing you can do to it, as they don’t take to longterm storage particularly well. Fortunately they are perfectly capable of regular use. The hoods are not 100 per cent watertight, but they are still pretty decent so long as the sealing rubbers are kept in good condition. They are also ludicrously easy to raise and lower (just two catches and no poppers), allowing you to make the most of our changeable weather. The rear screen is plastic and this can get scratched and go opaque, but either the window or the whole hood can be replaced at a reasonable enough cost. Road noise is generally low, although it can increase considerably if the door seals are allowed to deteriorate and perish (and many will be). The suspension is set up on the comfortable side of sporting - softly sprung but pretty well damped - which allows you to be either aggressive or laid back as the mood takes you although you may hear a fair few squeaks and rattles.On a more mundane level, the boot is generous for touring, the heater is excellent and the consensus is that all Spiders can run unmodified on unleaded fuel. In keeping with the simple and unadorned lines of the body, Spiders came with embossed rubber mats on the floors until 1977. These are easy to keep clean but pretty expensive to replace, although the carpet that was fitted to later cars can be retro-fitted.

Ease of Ownership?

Rust protection from the factory was laughably inadequate when these cars were produced so you can guess the rest. You may well stumble across a well cared for example that is both original and sound (such as the car in our pictures), but most will either have been restored by now (to varying degrees of professionalism) or being sold as projects. Assuming that you have bought a decent car with a view to regular use, then regular pressure washes and annual top-ups of antirust wax should form part of your service schedule. You’ll also want to ensure that the numerous drain holes in the doors are kept clear. If, however, you wish to enter that dangerous territory of the rolling restoration, then do your homework carefully beforehand as the supply of new panels and repair panels tends to be somewhat fluid.The engines are generally bullet-proof, but usually easy to repair should problems arise.The carburettors may require specialist attention to get them set up properly for both economy and performance, but should then hold their tune. If you struggle to get a decent idle, then chances are it is nothing more serious than rubber carb mounts that have gone hard and cracked as a result. Perhaps the biggest bugbear will be the hydraulics, though. On RHD cars both the clutch and brake master cylinder are located in a vulnerable position under the floor and can get contaminated with road muck. Calipers can also seize up, and for some reason brake hoses rarely seem to last more than two or three years. Best to resign yourself to regular bleeding, and consider converting to silicone fluid, particularly on a car that is not to be used that regularly.



Pininfarina creates the stylish Giulietta Spider, a civilised package powered by an advanced DOHC 1290cc engine and quite
capable of 90mph.


Pininfarina unveils a Giulietta Spider Speciale Aerodinamico in Turin. This later proves to be the Duetto, although the public has to wait five years before production begins.



A competition to name the new Spider nets a staggering 140,000 suggestions; Duetto is the chosen one. It is faster than both the MGB and the TR4, but also more expensive in the UK.


Engine grows to 1750cc to create the delightful Spider Veloce, regarded by many still as the sweetest and most desirable four pot engine in the entire Alfa range.


Spider 1300 Junior is engineered to enjoy tax breaks in its native Italy. Although frisky rather than fast, it's still an enjoyable car.


Five inches are taken out of the length as the classic boat tail is lost to give a more fashionable square-cut Kamm tail look.


Torquier two-litre Spider Veloce takes over from the 1750, while a 1600 Junior - along the lines of the earlier 1300 model - model joins the ranks a year later.


UK imports end. Some Series 2 cars subsequently imported by Surrey based Bell and Colvill and converted to RHD during 1980-82.


Series 3 in LHD only with an ungainly looking boot spoiler, redesigned rear lamps and rubber bumpers are offered.


A final facelift sees a distinct change in profile and a return to official UK imports until production finally ends in April 1993.

We Reckon...

The Alfa Spider makes a superb alternative to more obvious choices from the likes of Triumph, MG and Jaguar, while still providing a fairly comprehensive specialist servicing and parts back-up. It is affordable and user-friendly, the mechanical specification that was exotic for the era helping to make it such a viable daily driver even today. And by avoiding the over-use of chrome or styling gimmicks such as fins, the Spider also manages to convey a timeless elegance that some rivals lack. It can be an expensive car to restore, but a good one should offer a rare combination of style, usability and zero depreciation.

Classic Motoring

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