Alfa Romeo Spider Road Test
Well, since we last met, when I was exploring the back lanes of the Cotswolds, as well as the back lot of my memories, in a Jensen Interceptor, summer has turned to autumn, autumn to winter, Christmas has come and gone, and so may I hopefully be the last to wish you a Happy New Year.
I have long ago learned that when you are tasked with producing a piece of writing about a particular topic it can be beneficial to do some research on the subject prior to putting pen to paper, or as in this case, digits to keyboard.
I know some fail by ignoring this important rule, even though it is a simple idea, but I have been caught out often enough in my younger days to know that preparation is everything. It was during my ferreting around for information that I stumbled across one snippet that made me pause a while.
More Convertible Cars Are Bought in The UK Than Anywhere Else
Did you know that the UK motoring population purchases more convertible cars than any other in Europe? No, I can’t think of a good reason for it either. It may be that we are a more hardy bunch, completely daft (a strong possibility), or perhaps we simply prefer the wind in the hair and insects in the teeth sort of approach to motoring.
Having said that, most of the rag tops you see out there seem to spend most of their days with roof in the raised position, the point of which eludes me. Surely the idea of convertible car is to be able to drive with the roof down?
From a personal point of view, as someone who has owned two convertible cars in his life so far, the second of which I bought last year, I can say that when you do manage to get out there with the roof down on the one day in the year when we have summer, there can be nothing quite like it. Looking above your head all of Gods firmament is there to be seen, with the sun on your face and with the extra noise it all go towards a more rewarding and more fulfilling driving experience.
A Keen Supporter of Open Air Motoring
Being a keen supporter of open–air motoring I looked forward to my last Ride Drive assignment for 2007, as I was to take possession, albeit for only a day, of a burgundy coloured, 1992 Alfa Romeo Spider. This particular example was one of the last to be built before the production run ended in ’93. Thinking about it, as I did in preparation for the event, I tried to get a sense of what the name Alfa Romeo did for me – emotionally that is.
Alfa Romeo says to me that it is the type of car would be involving, entertaining, and one that you had to really get to know before you discovered its complete personality. Certainly I expected I was going to meet with something that would deliver the whole gamut of driving fun arising from something that offered total driver involvement.
The Italian people are reputed to be passionate, excitable and even at times, dare I say, volatile, so one would expect an Italian thoroughbred such as this to have at least those qualities. If the Alfa Romeo was good enough for Juan Fangio to race with, I thought, then who am I to argue? Certainly I was looking forward to it and determined to grab this opportunity with both hands.
What Does The Name Alfa Stand For
Now here’s a bit of trivia for you. Do you know what the name Alfa actually stands for? I have to admit that before I did my research I didn’t. I knew that BMW stands for Bayerisch Moteren Werker, or something similar, TVR is three consonants from the first name of it’s founder, TreVoR Wilkinson, but I just thought Alfa was some Italian name that just said – well, Alfa. It actually stands for Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili, so there you go. That is just the sort of knowledge you can dine out on.
The company itself started with a French–Italian partnership producing Darracq cars in Naples. When that partnership split, the Italian side moved car production to Milan.
It was from there the first Alfa rolled off the line in 1910. Therefore, 2007 was nearly the centenery aniversary for the marque.
The Romeo part of the name came from the new director, Nichola Romeo, who joined the company in 1916, following on from which, in 1920, the name changed to what we recognise it as today – Alfa Romeo.
So, what was happening when this particular car was made? Well, John Major was the British Prime Minister, George Bush snr was President of the USA, with a young Bill Clinton going through the primaries. Sarajevo was a battle field, the I.R.A were bombing London, Fergie and Prince Andrew announced their seperation, David Bowie got married and Nirvana’s Nevermind was the big popular music album seller. So, it was not all good news in the year of ’92 it seems?
The Mark–4 Alfa Romeo Spider Was Built by Pininfarina
Built by Pininfarina, and originally sold as a new vehicle in Germany before being imported to the UK, this Alfa Romeo Spider was acquired by Great Escape Classic Car Hire in 2005 from a fastidious previous owner, whose attention to detail included the remanufacturing and replacing of every visible screw to ensure that the heads all matched.
It is known that several upgrades from the original specification of this car had been made, including changing the exhaust system to improve throttle response, fitting polyurethane suspension bushes to reduce roll and the fitting of an original Alfa Romeo radio cassette player, this giving it even more of an authentic appearance.
The history of this car is not as well known as the Jensen Interceptor I wrote of in a previously written piece. After all, this is a different car altogether, being built more for the moment, and probably not thought by its maker as likely to still be going strong in 2007. Perhaps, as Pininfarina rather than Alfa Romeo built the mark 4, this would explain why examples can still be found alive today. There were actually just under 22,000 of them made before the end of production.
Bosch Motronic Fuel Injected System
I had played about with Alfa Romeo’s in the form of Alfasuds in the past and found they thrived on revs, and this being my first experience of the Spider model, I found it too had those endearing mechanical characteristics.
Under the bonnet is a two–litre twin cam 4–cyclinder unit, displacing 2000cc’s and which produced 120bhp when new. A Bosch Motronic fuel injected system had been introduced with the Mk4, to assist with reducing emissions, and I found this car was one that actually punches well above its weight.
Where the Jensen can be regarded is the school headmaster, it being refined, aloof and comfortable with its lot, this one should be looked upon more as the school upstart.
I was sure it could be well behaved, even quiet and happy to go with the flow, but this is after all an Italian sports car, and as the terms Italian, Quiet and Go With The Flow are not known as being normal partners within the same sentence, I knew I was in for some fun.
At 3,500 Rpm It Is All Goose Bumps on The Skin & Fortissimo
Out on the road I wasn’t disappointed. Indeed, when you drop the hood down and then a gear, at 3,500 rpm it is all goose bumps on the skin and fortissimo in the air! It doesn’t seem to matter at what setting at which you have your right foot, the engine just screams for more, and given enough free reign, this little pony soon becomes a wild stallion. What a hoot this car is – all flying hooves as it is sent galloping for the finish line and with me thoroughly enjoying the ride!
Now don’t get me wrong, this car will purr along quite happily in town and traffic all day. The engine is both flexible and agreeable to almost any road going environment, but if you want to get an idea of the proper Alfa Romeo Spider experience you have to find the back roads, get the roof down and let the horses loose.
It is true it does not provide the smoothest of rides, as it is not a lover of uneven road surfaces. It could be regarded as rather noisy for some, but for me these characteristics were all endearing features, adding to the charm and the appeal of the thing. After all, we can all drive refined modern Euro boxes whenever we want, but just ask yourself, when was the last time you heard mentioned the term scuttle shake? Ha, now we’re talking!
The Sound of The Alfa Romeo Engine as I Squeezed The Throttle
Heading out into the twisty bits, with corners approaching faster and faster; I was really getting into the spirit of this car. As confidence increased, and when holding a third gear in the higher revs, I found that after hitting the bend apex, and then giving it some more beans, it simply screamed in its excitement at being played with. It remained perfectly balanced through the bends on a neutral throttle, and with no under or over–steer being noticeable throughout.
Squeezing in the power on the other side and I was immediately rewarded with a sweet crescendo of a musical accompaniment, and that was not from the radio either! In fact, everything about this car was so responsive it is easy to realise why those who are in the know can get so excited. Indeed, the steering was so positive the car happily went in whichever direction it was pointed.
I spent a whole day playing in this car and found it was easy to forget it was 15–years old. Indeed, it was in as near perfect condition as you could have asked for, almost giving me the impression I was driving something that was practically brand new.
Internally, the magnolia trim, finished in high–quality hide, was in magnificent condition, as indeed were all the external bits.
The panel fit was as near spot–on as you could want, and in the brilliant sunshine of the day, the deep almost liquid gleam of the burgundy paintwork displayed this car with all the beauty and radiance of a rare and exotic bloom. This was certianly elegance, but with passion.
An Upper–Class Sports Car
When considering what a sports car should be you might be forgiven, depending upon in what era you were brought up, for thinking that to be rightfully called a sports car it should have a certain decadence about it, as well as all the other attributes associated with speed and excitement.
However, the Alfa Romeo Spider has the appearance and feel of being slightly upper class, somewhat refined, and certianly has an air of sophistication about it.
These are certainly very pretty cars, with clean lines and everything appearing in the right proportions. I often think, when I look at one from the front, and when considering how long Alfa Romeo have been importing cars to the United Kingdom, why is it they could never design it in such a way so as to take a UK registration plate mounted in the centre. That, I suppose, will forever go on record as being one of life’s great unsolved automotive mysteries.
The Strangely Angled Gear Lever Fell Easily to Hand
From the driving seat the strange–in–appearance and near horizontal positioned gearshift, complete with polished wooden knob, actually fell easily to hand. The gearbox itself was light and easy to use, and seemingly contained all the right ratios this car would ever need.
The brakes were reassuringly responsive and appeared well tuned to the car, the instrumentation easy to read, and all things considered, it was difficult to identify any one area that should have been improved upon.
Those who know me will not argue at the suggestion that stature–wise I am perhaps not gravitationally challenged, but even so I found the driving seat nicely positioned and very comfortable. Everything that should be within reach was within reach and all was snug within.
In fact, with the windows up, the hood down, and with the wind in the hair, it was all so nearly Franco Zeffirelli. I just needed a brunette wearing a white scarf tied around her head to complete the scene – or was I more a case of Dustin Hoffman in the Graduate seeking Mrs. Robinson?
The Alfa Romeo Spider – A Future Classic Car
This car is not top of the league for being a head–turner, but sometimes that is not such a bad thing. You can park this one up and expect not to return to a gathered crowd putting their sticky fingers all over it, unless of course you encountered an aficionado of the marque.
I suppose part of it is the age of the car, in that it isn’t really old enough yet to have that, “Cor, look at that,” value, but give it a few years, and if it is maintained in this sort of magnificent condition, it could all be a different story.
Certainly, classic Alfa Romeo’s are a dying breed, not least due to their susceptibility to the effects of the dreaded Greater British Metal Moth. Think about it, when was the last time you saw an Alfa Romeo Alfasud on the road, an Alfa Beta, Gamma or the GT Coupé? No, they are just about all gone, being well known in their day as a very biodegradable product.
It is a shame really, but us Britons never really have caught the Alfa Romeo bug in a big way. Sure, there are people who go crazy over them, but they do not have the same numbers as those who might preferably go gooey eyed over a Jaguar, Austin Healey or a well preserved and polished proper MG.
Not that they do rust these days, Alfa’s that is. Perhaps it is that old metal moth–ridden reputation, as well as the one they seem to have acquired for unreliability, that quells the desire for people to buy them, as certainly the depreciation in value of latter day examples is the worst of any car sold in the land.
When you get to enjoy a fine example of Alfa Romeo spider such as this, all that doesn’t seem to matter some how. This is indeed a beautiful, well sorted, and dare I say, desirable motorcar, and one that will reward you with lots of thrills every time you take it for a drive.
Compare The Alfa Romeo Spider to The Jensen Interceptor
When considering which you might take on hire, given a choice between the Jensen Interceptor and the Alfa Romeo Spider, I have to say it is a case of you pays your money and you takes your choice. Both cars are great in their own different ways, but both are as far apart from each other as Katie Price is to wisdom. Both are undeniably beautiful, both are great cars in their own way, as neither will disappoint, but from my own personal perspective, after driving them both, I can tell you the experience of either one will live long in the memory.
First Published October 2007
Ride Drive would like to thank Great Escape Classic Car Hire for the loan of the car featured in this article. If you would like to know more about the Alfa Romeo Spider, or you would like to enquire about the range of classic cars available for hire, then call Great Escape Classic Car Hire on 01527 893733.
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Alfa Romeo Spider Road Test