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Alfa Romeo Spider

BUYER’S GUIDE

Alfa Romeo Spider Review

Pretty as a peach and with a lovely Alfa Romeo twin-cam under the bonnet, the Spider is as evocative as two-seat roadsters come

What Is It?

A successor to the gorgeous Giulietta Spider, the 1600 Spider was based on the 105-series Giulia platform and was a concerted effort by Alfa Romeo to take its exotic little roadsters mainstream. A huge hit in America, the car was shipped to New York on a liner where on-deck demonstration drives delighted passengers and journalists alike while a public competition to name it resulted in its ‘Duetto’ moniker.

A legal dispute with a chocolate biscuit manufacturer saw it rebranded as the Spider but, informally, the original name stuck. A supporting role as Dustin Hoffman’s ride in the 1967 film The Graduate sealed the little Alfa in American hearts, Steve McQueen’s evaluation of it as “a very forgiving car … very pretty, too” cementing its credentials among proper petrolheads as well. Over four generations the distinctive ‘boat tail’ was chopped, bumpers got bigger and attempts at modernising were tried but, essentially, the formula of a modestly powered but revvy twin-cam engine and the lovely Pininfarina styling remained true.

Corrosive Areas

Sills

Boot floor and spare wheel well

Front crossmember and headlight surrounds

Checklist

  • The Alfa Romeo Spider was built in four main series over a life running from 1966 through to 1993
  • The Series 1 – known variously as the boat tail, cuttlefish bone or, more evocatively, the Osso di Seppia – launched with a 1600 version of Alfa’s famous twin-cam, later replaced by the 1750 Veloce and joined by a 1300 Junior version
  • The Series 2 ‘Kamm tail’ or Coda Tronca arrived in 1969 with heavily revised styling, top-hinged pedals, a more substantial interior and other changes; 1750 replaced by 2000 Veloce and Junior reintroduced as a 1600
  • Series 3 launched in 1982 with more substantial rubber bumpers and a more prominent lip spoiler at the rear; engines comprised 2000 Veloce and 1600
  • Series 4 in 1989 stuck with the same engines but revised with more modern looking body-coloured bumpers and features like power steering and air conditioning
  • Fuelling varies according to where the car was first sold, with twin carburettors for most European markets and mechanical and then electronic fuel injection, first on American market cars but then more widely later in life
  • Most are left-hand drive, right-hand drive Series 4s likely converted by third-party vendors here in the UK
  • Engines are easily interchangeable so check history and bulkhead build plaque if you’re bothered about matching numbers originality – a marking within the square stamping at the front of the block will tell you what engine you have if you’re not certain, 1300s bearing a vertical line in a circle, 1600s a square, 1750s a triangle (with or without a dot) and 2000s a diagonal line across a circle
  • Minor oil leaks around the engine or gearbox are not unusual and only a concern if the levels are low or the drips get serious
  • Sagging engine mounts common and can cause fan to damage radiator over bumps
  • Distinctive low-hanging sump susceptible to grounding so check for damage
  • Rust is an ever present concern, especially in sills; check panel gaps and, if possible, jack car on one side to check doors open and close properly – if not the structure may be weakened
  • Blocked B-pillar drains can cause rust from inside out

How Does It Drive?

For a mid-60s design the Spider is commendably modern in its engineering, with a zesty twin-cam engine of varying capacities, a five-speed gearbox, disc brakes all round and power, size and weight pretty much bang on the same as the first-generation Mazda MX-5 it so obviously influenced.

Only the recirculating ball steering and live axle date it but, like the MX-5, the Spider delights for its innocent sense of open-air fun, an engine that punches above its weight in terms of character and enthusiasm and a sense of Italian glamour to set it apart from the MGs and similar it competed with. True, the body can get a bit wobbly over bumpy roads, and it’s a car for enjoying the scenery and admiring glances more than on-the-doorhandles sportiness, but with the sun out and wind in the hair that’s just fine.

What’s Good?

yellow 1969 alfa romeo classic car

With those gorgeous Pininfarina-styled lines and the romantic pull of that famous badge the appeal of the Spider is all too easy to understand, the engine under bonnet equally evocative for its distinctive twin-cam valve cover and classically Italian power delivery.

With plenty made over a 27-year production run, and many of those cars having lived lives in the Californian sunshine and escaped the worst of the rot afflicting many contemporaries, there’s a reasonable supply of cars to choose from as well, though the more desirable early models are getting expensive now.

The proven powertrains and running gear meanwhile ensure there’s a huge support network of expertise and parts to keep them running sweetly, while the interchangeability means opportunity to swap engines if you want a bit more poke.

What’s Bad?

Depending on who you speak to the Spider is either a proven and dependable classic or a stereotypically Italian nightmare of poor build quality and iffy reliability. The reality will very much depend on the quality of the car you view, so go with an open mind and prepare to move on to the next one if something looks awry.

Flexy bodies are a known feature of the Spider but serious structural corrosion can make this a more significant issue if you don’t do your due diligence when inspecting a car – blocked B-pillar drain holes that allow water to collect and rot the sills from the inside out are just one of many traps to catch the unwary. Given the endless market-specific modifications over the long production run it may be hard to establish or prove originality as well, if that matters to you. Most cars will be left-hand drive as well, which shouldn’t be a deal breaker for UK roads given how small it is.

Which Model To Choose?

Alfa Romeo Spider Red Car

This will largely be dictated by your budget, and generally the older the Spider the more desirable and expensive it will be to buy. So, if you find the boat tail is as seductive as Anne Bancroft’s portrayal of Mrs Robinson expect to dig deep to secure one. Debate rages about whether this is the best-looking, many preferring the chopped Kamm tail of the Series 2, especially in its earlier form with its delicate chrome bumpers. Given these were sold in greater numbers over a longer period this may be the more sensible option, the choice of engines also including the stronger feeling 2000 Veloce.

When it comes to the rubber-bumpered Series 3 these cars wear the look more convincingly than the leaden MG Bs of the same era and are better value, while the late Series 4 cars have their fans as well and can be had in converted right-hand drive form as well. Our pick? The revvier 1750 engine in the Series 2 body would seem the ideal combination of looks and driving manners but each to theirs.  

Specifications

 

Engine

1.8-litre four-cylinder, petrol

Power

134PS (99kW) @ 5,500rpm

Torque

187Nm (137lb ft) @ 3,000rpm

Transmission

Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

1,040kg

0-62mph

9 seconds

Top speed

115mph

Production dates

1969-1971 (total production 1966-1993)

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