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Alfa Romeo Spider

Graduation Day Published: 6th Oct 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Early models
  • Worst model: S4
  • Budget buy: LHD S3/S4
  • OK for unleaded?: Fine usually
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): 4250 x 1630
  • Spares situation: Okay
  • DIY ease?: No real problems
  • Club support: Good
  • Appreciating asset?: Slowly but surely
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Excellent buy
Detail touches like the ‘hub caps’ mark one-upmanship against rivals Detail touches like the ‘hub caps’ mark one-upmanship against rivals
as does the sheer driving pleasure as does the sheer driving pleasure
Boat-tailed cars worth most ven if you don’t like the looks. Boat-tailed cars worth most ven if you don’t like the looks.
Interiors were never plush; US cars may suffer from sunburnt cabins Interiors were never plush; US cars may suffer from sunburnt cabins
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If you want a sophisticated alternative to an MGB, or a TR, then there’s really only one car to have

Pros & Cons

Styling, Latin character, advanced engineering, driver appeal, value, long production run
Rust, bodging, later LHD versions, iffy US cars
£2500-£10,000

Before the Alfa Spider came along, affordable sport cars were, by their nature rather crude machines only sporting steam-age rnning gear and Spartan interiors. All this changed when the little Duetto came along, with niceties like overhead (twin) cams, proper dual Weber carburettors, glass windows, disc brakes all round, a fi ve-speed transmission, an all-alloy engine and a pedigree that’s still held in high esteem 45 years on. There again, when new, the Alfa was closer to a Lotus Elan price-wise, rather than an MGB. Not anymore, though, and a good Alfa Spider is one of the best value super sportsters on the block. Best of all, the model remained in faithful production for almost 30 years, meaning you can buy a comparatively new classic and get the best of both worlds.

History

Modern twin spark engines can be made to fit

Alfa Romeo ran a competition for its new sports car, in search of the most appropriate name. Many entries suggested the name ‘Duetto’, always to remind people that the true nature of an open-top car is that of a two-seater. The choice was made, and Duetto is what the purists will call the fi rst Spider 1.6s, before the introduction of the 1750 version (1779cc actually). In fact, an Italian confectionery fi rm, Pavese, objected to the choice, claiming that it infringed its rights over the name, already given to one of Pavese’s biscuits. Alfa Romeo quietly dropped ‘Duetto’ from all literature and references to the car, at the fi rst available opportunity, which came in 1967 with the arrival of the Alfa Spider 1750 Veloce. This was identical to the Duetto in everything, apart from the engine. The Italian public had, however, already re-christened the original 1.6 model ‘osso di seppia’ (cuttlefish bone) because of its shape, with the rounded back ending in a sloped point, echoing the front shape, and the scalloped sides. The nickname was to apply to all Spiders, regardless of their engine, until 1969, when the new ‘Coda Tronca’ (cut or square tail) Spider was introduced. Enormous publicity was achieved when the Duetto featured in ‘The Graduate’ fi lm, starring Dustin Hoffman, who drove the beautiful Spider. This connection grew so popular that Alfa Romeo eventually created a ‘Graduate’ trim level for its US export Spiders!

Only 6325 Duetto versions were produced before the end of 1967, making this particular model highly valuable. They were fun to drive but not as sophisticated as the spec sheet suggests. Their chassis were based on the earlier open-top Giulietta and Giulia models’, and the 1.6 engine was the same as that powering the Giulietta Sprint Veloce GT (110bhp). The Spider 1750 Veloce, launched in 1967, sported a bigger engine, a hydraulic clutch, and an optional ZF 25 per cent limited slip diff – much more acceptable. Almost half the production was destined for the USA market, and was fi tted with quirky indirect fuel injection rather than the doublebarrel Weber carburettors. The following year a Junior version joined the range, with a happilyrevving 89bhp 1.3 engine.

The ‘osso di seppia’ shape was retained by the Junior until 1969, and then underwent the fi rst styling development: that year, Alfa Romeo showed its Spider models (both 1.3 and 1.7 Veloce) at the Turin Motor Show, sporting a truncated tail (coda tronca), a steeper windscreen rake, new bumpers and radiator grille. The 1.7 version also featured fl ush door handles and changes to its instrument console. The overall length of the model was affected, and so was its tiny boot, which benefi ted from an increase in vertical space. It was only a question of time before Alfa introduced its 2.0, all-alloy, inline engine in the Spider. In 1971, the Spider 2000 Veloce made its debut, sporting the same stylish body as its smaller sisters, and a ‘2000’ badge which appeared above the left-hand rear light. This model was a huge hit in the States, with more than half its production (over 22,000) being shipped there. The 1.6 originally fi tted to the fi rst Spider (Duetto) made a comeback in 1972, joining the 1.3 (out of production in 1977), 1750 Veloce (which would be phased out soon) and 2.0 versions. For a while, there were no other changes to the range. In 1983 a substantially revised Spider boasted moulded front bumpers (which incorporated a spoiler and front indicators), a rear spoiler and a threespoke steering wheel. The plushest version, a 2.0 Quadrifoglio Verde (Green Cloverleaf) came three years later, complete with wider tyres, front and rear spoilers, new side skirts and revised interior and trim. Pininfarina penned the last version of the original Alfa Spider in 1990, and got rid of unsightly spoilers and fussy design, hailing a return to simpler, better integrated, chic lines. Power steering, fuel injection and three-speed autoboxes (for the USA market) were among the goodies lavished upon the restyled car, available in 1.6 and 2.0 guise, which lasted until the mid 90s.

Driving

Compared to the antiquated MGB and Triumph TRs, the Alfa is streets ahead and still feels pretty modern in many respects. By today’s standards, these Alfas aren’t particularly quick, as even the top fuel injected 2-litre kicks out just 133bhp (with a 0-60mph in just under ten seconds), while the 1750 is only slightly slower (albeit sweeter). Don’t dismiss the 1300 if you fi nd one, however. Performance may be leisurely (0-60mph in around 14 secs) but it’s a gem of an engine and fi ne for classic cruising. Spiders are a lot more cultured than an equivalent TR or MG – a Lotus Elan is about the closest. With an Alfa it’s all about character but with that comes foibles - such as second gear synchro weakness where it’s best to do some double-clutch shifting, especially before the oil has warmed up, if you want crunch-free changes. In terms of fun, the early Spiders are best; later (mostly LHD US cars) may boast the same recipe, but they lose the taste. Try one fi rst, though, as the S4 with standard power steering may be benefi cial to some, even if it loses out on precision to the earlier set ups. In the same vein, S3 and S4 RHD converted cars aren’t done too well say some experts. Today, a well driven Ford Fiesta diesel would show the Spider home, but on the other hand you wouldn’t have the enjoyment that comes with the badge. In it’s day the Alfa was considered to enjoy ‘superb ’handling’ according to the Motor test of May ’67: “the Duetto (this was before the name was changed-ed) is a supremely checkable car” while it added that, “ The Duetto scores over most other genuine sports cars in having a softer and more comfortable ride”.

Five-speeds are mandatory these days but a real rarity some 45 years ago. “It’s not merely in having a fi ve-speed gearbox that the Duetto is head and shoulders above most other sports cars, but in having a fi ve-speed that is so superbly pleasant to use”. Mind you with a top gear ratio giving under 20mph/1000 rpm it’s not an overdrive cog.

Prices

When new, the Alfa was only a couple of hundred shy of an E-type coupe. In general, today, an Alfa Spider is slightly dearer to buy than an MGB. The older cars are the most valued, of course, up to £17,000 for a top one has been known, although ten grand is more the mark. Pay around £6000 for a half decent example. The Series 2 cars are up to £5000 less, with the 80s models the least valued, starting from £2500 for a runner and little more than £5000 for a peach. Series 4 cars can sell for around £1000 extra. Deduct at least 20 per cent on all prices for left-hand drive, irrespective of model. Don’t expect values to shift signifi cantly as it seems the GTV is where currently most interest lies.

What To Look For

  • Like all Alfas of this era, they don’t weather too well and neglect soon leads to general decay. What you are looking for when vetting potential purchases are careful enthusiastic ownership and lots of repair and renovation bills rather than cheapskate bodged repairs.
  • It’s an Alfa so check for rust! Penny to a pound that some remedial work will have been carried out in the past. Naturally wheelarches, panels, fl oorpan (pour water through the windscreen scuttle vents and see if it wets the carpets), driver’s side foot well and spare tyre’s case are the usual suspect areas. Watch for bodged repairs as these cars were badly protected from new.
  • However, it’s the car structure that needs the most vetting, like the front crossmember, the double-skinned sills, A pillars, inner wings, the scuttle behind the seats, at the front where the anti-roll bar is located and similarly at the stern where the rear axle location arms are secured.
  • According to Alfa experts draw a mental line of six inches up from the sills and check for rot and fi ller, especially door bottoms and the valances, the latter being real rot areas.
  • The rear wings are notorious rotters but panel sections are available. At the front check around the light units and look for the seam where the sill meets the wing. If it’s smoothed over, then suspect fi ller work. Under the wheel arch lurks a splashguard – remove it if possible to check for hidden rot and past repairs.
  • According to Alfa experts the S3 and S4 cars should be the best protected against rot as they used superior metal, plus their all encompassing plastic bumpers protected the rot-prone valances better. However build quality slipped and you can see some very ropey later cars around.
  • Check panel fi ts, which are a sign of the integrity of the shell. Incidentally, while purist will love the shapelier tail of the early cars, these are a lot harder to repair than later short-tail Spiders.
  • Although new shells aren’t available, a lot of full and part panels are. However getting them to fi t properly is where all the skill and cost lies so check.
  • Mechanically the Alfa fares better. The engine (a design dating back to the early 1950s) may leak oil – not because it’s just an Alfa, but rather as a result of some oil pooling in the spark plug recesses, a symptom of a leak in the fi ller cap. Other leaks are from the head gasket (which can also fail and crack on the 2000 models) and cam box.
  • Oil pressure should be strong, although the gauges can be erratic so don’t be surprised if it drops to zero when idling hot. And talking of hot, ensure that the car doesn’t overheat, perhaps caused by clogged waterways.
  • Depending upon model, sexy twin choke Weber or Dellorto carbs will be fi tted – or plainer Solex units, the latter least favoured. However, all these exotic carbs wear and are expensive to overhaul, as well as being tricky to set up properly.
  • Two types of fuel injection set-ups were employed; Bosch and the less popular Spica, which is a plain mechanical system that gained a reputation for unreliability. That said those in the know reckon it’s not bad at all – if serviced and set up right.
  • Old Alfa traits are weak second gear synchros, and again, before one blames the marque for it, the synchros were designed by Porsche… so there you have it! Clutches are generally okay as are the rear axles, except on the S4 cars strangely. Incidentally a limited slip diff was optional on 1750s, standard on the 2000.
  • Rear hub bearings aren’t though but are simple enough to replace. Loose steering is also something to be on the lookout for. It is due to the ball joints (recirculating ball steering)/rod ends wear as do anti roll bar bushes. Not expensive to fi x but a bit of a pain nevertheless. What are dear to renew are the wishbones themselves.
  • Check for sagging springs and tired dampers although a nose-down stance could be due to rot/deterioration where the springs are located in the bottom securing pans. Not only will these need to be replaced, but the ride height carefully set by shims. Special overhaul kits are available.
  • The brakes were pretty sophisticated when new and when serviced properly are well up to the job. However, lack of use can cause the calipers to stick of seize solid and the handbrake is never that good so MOT failures are commonplace. Most expensive woe is the twin servo set up which could be troublesome, especially the master cylinder.
  • The glass rear window is quite fragile and could be damaged by trying to bend it/ force it into shape when putting the roof up in low temperatures, although new hoods aren’t overly expensive. Check to see how the front fi ts to the screen. Hard tops are available;S4s came with one as standard for UK buyers. Is it still there?
  • Watch for left-hand drive Spiders shipped in from the States. Although they are usually free from rot, many come with an unknown history and detuned engines. Worse still they have nastier trim, and sun ruined interiors. Alfa specialists say these are the least desired of them all, not least because they use softer suspension settings.
  • Most parts should not be very diffi cult to source. Series 2 cars of the 80s are best served for parts, along with the last of the line Series 4, although be careful as Fiat stopped producing parts of the 90s Spider a few years back. Rear wings and boot lids on the early ‘boat-tailed’ Spiders are virtually extinct and prices refl ect this.
  • There’s plenty you can do to upgrade which responds well to engine tuning (headwork and camshafts - carbs are fi ne). The later Twin Spark 16v fi tted to the 145/146 can fi t okay but engine electronics will need the be tailored. Suspensions benefi t from dampers and polly bushing, brakes better pads etc.

Three Of A Kind

Jensen-Healey
Jensen-Healey
This car is a sort of ‘British Alfa’ in so far it uses a potent twin cam (Lotus) engine, fi ve-speed ‘box and a pretty sophisticated chassis. Sadly the Jensen-Healey never lived up to its on-paper promise, but it’s miles ahead of an MGB or Triumph TR for dynamics and better value, too. Spares and support isn’t as good, but it’s not bad either and these cars are fi nally starting to be appreciated.
Mazda MX-5
Mazda MX-5
This is the modern sportster that’s giving the establishment such a hard time. World’s best seller, it’s becoming as big as the MGB in the classic aftermarket and will eventually take over that role. A clone of the Lotus Elan, the Jap scores with modern mechanicals and reliability – in fact it makes a brilliant daily driver. Mk1 has most character although later 1.6 cars can feel a tad slow. Good value still.
Lotus Elan
Lotus Elan
In terms of make up and advanced engineering, the Alfa’s closest rival comes from Lotus and the Elan is still a motoring marvel. Brilliant packaging, fast and superb to drive, only iffy reliability and constant care makes you save one for special days and duties although later Spyder converted cars (using modern Mondeo mechanicals) fi xes this. Fixedhead Elan +2 is fi ne for small families, drives even better than standard Elan.

Verdict

The Alfa Spider survived the demise of most of its competitors and soldiered on virtually untouched for three decades, speaking volumes for the original Duetto design. A good one – preferably up to S2 – is a joy to drive and not much harder or dearer to keep or run than a home-spun MGB yet a lot more sophisticated and classy. Does that sound like the perfect classic roadster to graduate to?



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