Think Alfa Romeo Spider and you instantly think of a gawky Dustin Hoffman and a sexy siren that is Anne Bancroft. The Spider, like Ms Bancroft aged gracefully with very little input from science or cosmetics. Here we take a look at a 1992 Spider that is some 25 years into the production run.
Launched in 1966 the Pininfarina Duetto as it was then known was built on a very shortened Giulia chassis. While the Giulia exhibited some fine body architecture in its details, it was upright and square and built around a typical 3 box design saloon. It also spawned the very handsome Bertone penned GT coupe models and then came the pretty open top tourer.
It won praise from the motoring press. For its time it was sophisticated in its underpinnings and no matter what the engine size was, it liked to be driven hard. From the humble 1300cc to the very latest 2 litres with injection, it had the much enthused about twin cam from Alfa Romeo. All the UK could offer at the time were leaky MGB’s and shoddy build quality.
The Italians have always been good at getting sports cars just right the first time. And ‘the time’ is the essential downfall for them too. It was perfect. So perfect that Alfa Romeo decided to halt development almost immediately after it was launched and close the book on it.
There were some changes made over its 26-year production run. The stylised boat tail of the early ones was sheared off and made square for the series 2. Then following US regulations where the Spider was an important big seller for Alfa Romeo, it was endowed with big impact bumpers and a rubber spoiler that was literally stapled on it for the series 3. The final model as seen here was developed again out of regulations and fitted with fuel injection and those building girder bumpers were smoothed out. The rear end was also treated to another new look and in some ways looked more like a modern take on the boat tail.
The main criticism for the UK lover of Alfa Romeo was that the Spider was available only in left-hand drive. Again another classic “qualunque cosa” or ‘whatever’ from Milan. UK importers did, however, offer right-hand drive conversions on the series 4.
All this didn’t matter. It was an open-topped Alfa Romeo. There is something very passionate about Alfa Romeo and until you have owned one you never fully get to understand them. While they are not quite so thrown together as they were back in the 60s and 70s, they exude an unrivalled following.
Driving one today is a bit of a culture shock. This year sees the 50th year of the Spider. It’s hard to believe that it really is 50 years since it was exposed to the world. In this series 4 model, we are also granted power steering. Something I am told by owner Nigel that is essential. It certainly feels nicely weighted if a little indirect to gentle inputs. The Spider might have been a sports car five decades ago but like over cooked pasta it has gone a bit soggy on the edges when pushed to the limits.
The driving position is very Italian. Read any old reviews on anything from Italy and you often would read about the long-armed, short-legged driving position you needed to adopt. It isn’t that bad. Again the passion for an Alfa Romeo by its owners is that they will put up with it just because it’s an Alfa Romeo. And don’t be put off by the gearstick that protrudes high up from the dashboard. It looks unnatural though in practice it works a treat.
Treated as a weekend cruiser for pub excursions or showing off how wonderful your life is then the Spider makes sense. The 2 litre injected engine is eager though sadly because of the injection it loses the roar of the carburettors and the rasp in its exhaust note. It will keep up with modern traffic with a recorded maximum speed of 120mph. Not too shabby even by today’s standards.
Roof off motoring is what the Spider is all about. With the roof up it really is a bit ugly like someone knocked up the roof in a shed so you’ll always want to lower it as often as possible. Roof lowered and it comes alive. The rush of air around you on a balmy early autumn day brings out the giddy grin in your face that makes you more excited than that day you got offered your first dance on a balcony in Sitges by a handsome man in a linen suit and exotic cologne. It’s refreshing.
On the drive around town owner, Nigel did tell me off for changing up the gears too early. “Why are you in forth? Put it back into second and enjoy the sound” he said. Perhaps I was being a little mechanically sympathetic to someone else’s car but true to his word I did just that and lazy low down torque was replaced once again by the eagerness of the twin cam on tap and mechanical music.
Owner Nigel has had the car for around 8 years. In that time it has seen a repaint and the wheels have been replaced by retro looking originals from the earlier Spiders. They look fantastic. Wife Helen was less impressed with the hit the bank balance took for them. Some mechanical dramas have been averted thanks to a fantastic network of support for old Alfa Romeos. He still has work that he wants to do it but at the moment she’s a keeper and Italian car nut Nigel wouldn’t be without it.
I’d certainly have one. The pretty looks and Alfa Romeo engine are a pleasure to all the senses. Despite its visual faults, I’d have a series 3. I just happen to like a bit of tacked on ugliness and an underdog.