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Alfa Romeo Spider

SPIDER MAN? Published: 3rd Sep 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Alfa’s iconic sports car that was advanced in its day and still comfortable on today’s roads. Full of character and an easy car to own yet far classier and more sophisticated than an MGB or TR Triumph

If you define a classic as a vehicle that was ahead of its time and a trailblazer then the Alfa Romeo Spider is up there with the best of them. Introduced in the mid 1960s when sports cars were by nature crude, Alfa rewrote the rule books with its Duetto (later renamed Spider) sporting such niceties such as overhead (twin) cams, sexy dual Weber carburettors, wind down glass windows, disc brakes all round, a five-speed transmission – the sort of spec that you’ll find on a Mazda MX-5.

The Spider was a world away from our homespun efforts such as the MGB and Triumph’s TR but there again, when new, this Italian was closer to a Lotus Elan and E-type price-wise.

A top Spider can still command Elan money but lesser average cars remain good value. Best of all, the Alfa remained in faithful production for almost 30 years, meaning you can buy a comparatively new classic and effectively get the best of both worlds if you buy right. Here’s how.

HISTORY

1966 Alfa Romeo ran a competition for its new sports car, in search of the most appropriate name. Many entries suggested the name ‘Duetto’, and so it was. However, Pavese’s biscuits protested and so Alfa Romeo quietly dropped ‘Duetto’ from all literature and references to the car, at the first available opportunity, which came a year later. The Duetto (of which over 6300 were made) featured a chassis based on the earlier open-top Giulietta and Giulia models powered by Alfa’s new twin cam engines. 1967 Alfa Spider 1750 Veloce arrives. This was identical to the Duetto in everything, apart from the engine. The Italians 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. The nickname was to apply to all Spiders, regardless of their engine size, until two years later, when the new ‘Coda Tronca’ (cut or square tail) Spider was introduced.

The Spider 1750 Veloce, sported a hydraulic clutch, and an optional ZF limited slip diff. Almost half the production was destined for the USA market where even a special Gradute model was marketed after the film rocketed the car to stardom.

1968 The following year a Junior version joined the range, with a happily-revving 89bhp 1.3 engine and a lesser braking spec but overall it was a similar car.

1969 The original and much loved ‘osso di seppia’ shape (of which less than 1000 UK cars were made) was retained by the Junior until 1969, and then underwent the first styling development that many felt was retrograde even though the squared-off tail was more modern looking – the earlier tail is now more preferred. The 1.7 also had flush door handles and changes to its instrument console. The overall length was increased which improved boot space. 1971 It was only a question of time before Alfa fitted its new 2.0 engine. This model became a huge hit in the United States, with more than half its production (over 22,000) being shipped there.

1972 The 1.6 originally fitted to the first Spider (Duetto) made a comeback this year, joining the 1.3 (dropped in 1977), 1750 Veloce (which would be phased out soon anyway) and 2.0 versions.

1983 After almost a decade of stagnation, a substantially revised Spider was launched and boasted moulded front bumpers (which incorporated a spoiler and front indicators), complete with wider tyres, front and rear spoilers, new side skirts and revised interior and trim.

1990 Pininfarina got to pen the last version and got rid of the fussy design, hailing a return to simpler, better integrated, chic lines. Power steering, fuel injection and three-speed autos (for the USA) were among the goodies lavished upon the restyled car, available in 1.6 and 2.0 guise, which lasted until the mid 90s.

DRIVING AND PRESS COMMENTS

This Alfa was – and is – streets ahead of say an MGB or TR and still feels relatively modern even though the chassis wasn’t quite as sophisticated as the spec initially suggested; its real rival was the Jensen- Healey. By today’s diesel standards, Spiders aren’t particularly quick; even the top fuel injected (133bhp) 2-litre takes a ten second jog to 60, while the 1750 is slightly slower albeit sweeter – it’s the purist choice. If you find one, don’t overlook a 1300 as it’s a gem of an engine although fairly sedate (0-60mph in around 14 secs).

In terms of fun, the early Spiders are best and most wanted but later LHD (mostly US cars) the most usable and retain much of the original character. The S4 with its standard power steering may be beneficial, even if it loses out on precision to the earlier set ups.
It has to be said that, today, a determined Fiesta driver would show a Spider the way home, but speed isn’t everything and the controllability of the RWD Alfa, with that twin cam bellowing out such happy tunes is compensation and then some. Five-speeds always came as standard although the gearing is more titled at go rather than a restful cruising gait. It is Italian, after all.

As is the cockpit. The cabin is roomy enough for two although tall drivers will need the seat right back, using up the limited leg-room provided for back-seat passengers (yes that’s right it was an optional 2+2). And although that rear seat was fully trimmed until 1979, Alfa then replaced it with a simple parcel shelf.

The steering wheel is a long way off in the best Italian tradition, but it was heavily dished from the introduction of the 1750. The pedals on RHD cars were all floor- hinged (LHD versions got the more modern hanging pedals from the Kamm tail revisions). They are set close together and some people will find that they take some getting used to. They are also offset to the right meaning a skewed sitting position.

In its 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, “Duetto scores over most other genuine sports cars in having a softer and more comfortable ride”. Five-speeds are mandatory these days but a rarity some 45 years ago. “It’s not merely in having a five- speed gearbox that the Duetto is head and shoulders above most other sports cars, but in having a five-speed that is so superbly pleasant to use,” it added. 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. In general, today, a Spider is dearer to buy than an MGB but not by much. Older cars are the most valued and £20k+ for a top one is common although ten-to-fifteen is more the mark and around £6500 for a fair one. The Series 2 cars can be up to £5000 less and an easy ten grand buy; the 80’s models the least valued, and little more than £5000 for a peach. Series 4 cars can sell for around £1000 extra as these are starting to be liked for their better interiors, and equipment levels such as power windows and power steering. Right hand cars ceased along with the 1300 in 1977.

Given the undoubted desirability of the Spiders, it’s extremely surprising to learn from Richard Norris of Classic Alfa that the overall standard of cars out there is at best only average.
Original boat-tailed cars are the most wanted, preferably with the sweeter 1750 engine and it’s expected the gap between these and later Kamm-tailed cars to widen significantly, which in turn will harden S2 values believes Norris who adds that Kamm- tailed values have soared by some 30 per cent during the last two years alone.

The S3 seems universally least liked due to the crass body kit; the S4s are better bets all round, especially with their reliable fuel injected variable valve-timed engines and easy-to-live-with power steering although condition can cancel a lot of the above out. Talking of which, basket cases can be had for around £1500 but may not be the bargain they purport to be…

IMPROVEMENTS

Advanced for its day, this twin cam engine is already well tuned and certainly the standard Weber or Dellorto carbs can withstand a fair chunk of added breathing just by re-choking and jetting. For a mild tune, the first step is a session on a rolling road to optimise the carbs and ignition (fit an electronic set up if possible) followed by a tubular 4-2-1 manifold. Next step are a change of cams, suggests Classic Alfa but, a nice cheap tweak on the 1.3 and 1.6 is to fit ones from the 2000 engine.
If you can find a 2000 Berlina, nick its rear axle because it’s a limited slip affair with a rare 4.3 rear axle ratio.

Harder and adjustable damping along with better springs and a thicker (29mm) front anti-roll bar are the best mods and the company markets a dedicated kit for those who want to go the whole hog. You can, for more than £700, fit Classic Alfa’s complete braking kit but if you have a 1300 or 1600, then using brakes from the Alfa 75 is a cheaper upgrade. There’s no rack and pinion conversion known but late LHD Spiders came with PAS which will fit other LHD models with some graft.

Three Of A Kind

LOTUS ELAN
LOTUS ELAN
These were partners in price when new and similar in mechanical make up as well, although the Italian is usefully roomier plus always boasted five speeds. Today, a compatible Elan is far costlier to buy, unless you’re talking about Plus2 coupés. An all time great that’s a better buy now than when new thanks to dedicated specialists developing the car and making them reliable but Elans are an extremely expensive classic to properly restore even if parts aren’t.
MAZDA MX-5
MAZDA MX-5
People say the MX-5 is a ‘modern Elan’ but it’s also a latter day Alfa Spider, launched a few years before the Italian was finally dropped. Lacks the character of the Alfa as you’d expect, but has one of its own as well as reliability for 24-7 dependability and user friendliness. Good Mk1s are now making tidy money but the Mk2s are better drivers while the Mk3s are currently fine value on the second-hand car forecourts which is where you should look.
JENSEN-HEALEY
JENSEN-HEALEY
Launched just as the Alfa was getting into its stride, the Jensen-Healey is the closest rival to the Italian and a rapidly improving sportster in its own right – if you get a good one. Facelifted Mk2 is said to be the better car although so much depends upon condition but spares and club support is ever improving. More a tourer than road burner, a J-H is far more civilised than a TR or MGB and yet usually significantly cheaper to buy.

Verdict

The Spiders just seem to mellow and get better with age and top ones will soar in value. All are easy to run and maintain while the later S4s make a fine alternative to the almost mandatory MX-5 and is almost as dependable to run every day.



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