Curbside Classic: 1987 & 1988 Alfa Romeo Spiders – A Cluster Of Spiders

1988 Alfa Romeo Spider Graduate, Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.

I have always been intrigued by spiders.  I like the way they look, the mysterious way they move, the stealth swiftness with which they capture their prey / food, their grace, and more.  There have been two such fairly large creatures outside one of my southernmost living room window (they look like gray cross spiders) who have been eating dinner at the same time in the evening as me.  They must have been a couple, because now there are also seven (possibly more) baby spiders actively weaving their webs outside the same window once the sun goes down and also when dawn has broken.

I’m opting to keep faith in the food chain and the tightness and solidity of my screens, as I had been opening my windows to allow in some cool, late spring air.  I’ve also read that most house spiders in this part of the country take care of potential problems with other types of critters.  Compared to some of the red-ringed millipedes I remember seeing in my bedroom when I was a fourth grader living in my grandfather’s ancestral village in rural Liberia, these spiders might as well be fluffy bunny rabbits.

Spider Outside My Window. Sunday, June 7, 2020.

The Akan peoples of western Africa revered the arachnid, and the central character of Anansi, who took the form of a spider, was a key figure in much of their folklore.  Anansi was a cunning fellow, responsible for such things as wisdom, jealousy, disease, and stories, themselves.  When I was a third grader in Flint, Michigan, our classroom had put on a play based on a children’s book about Anansi and some of his cohorts.  I forget which of those spiders I got to portray, but even then, I remember thinking it was great that our entire classroom was participating and learning some west African folklore included among other stories, fiction and assigned reading from all continents and backgrounds which our young minds were absorbing.

I can’t be sure, but it’s quite possible that this was the point at which my love of spiders kicked into high gear.  I neither have nor want a pet tarantula, but I find arachnids to be utterly fascinating creatures.  Eight legs and as many eyes mean there’s just more of them to love.  Perhaps it’s not quite love, but having some touchstone of familiarity with them, even through the words of fictional tales, has somehow diminished my fear of spiders and what bad things they might be capable of doing to me.  I think this approach beats the daylights out of living in fear of spiders around the clock.

Seeing that they’re not leaving anytime soon and have as much right to be here as I do, I might as well make peace with them and admire them… through a screen or solid panes of glass.  I would go ape if I would awaken to see a cluster or clutter (either is an acceptable collective plural) of them rappelling down from the ceiling onto where I happen to be (a true story as told to me by my friend, Laura), but the way I look at it, I can generally handle only so much at a time, so I choose to just deal with the cards I have in my hand right now.

I had wondered for years about “spider” (or “sypder”) terminology as it relates to cars.  If asked what I think a “spider” is, what comes to mind is a light, sporty convertible, though there are other cars with this arachnid association don’t fit that definition.  I’m thinking of two particular Chevrolet “Spyders” in particular: the original, turbocharged Corvair Monza Spyder (which came as both a coupe and a convertible), and the slick, subcompact H-Body Monza Spyder 2+2 hatchback.

Both Autoweek and Road & Track seem to differ in what they consider to be a true “spider”, but both reference basically the same origins going back to the late-1800s and horse-drawn carriage days.  Back then, a spider was a smaller, lightweight carriage with larger wheels with thin spokes that gave those wheels a very spider-like appearance.  Over a century of automotive evolution has spawned divergent definitions of what constitutes a “spider”, but my idea above is the one that most often comes to my mind by default.

The three featured Alfa Romeo Spiders are from two consecutive model years, with the black one being an ’87 model, and both red ones being ’88s.  I photographed each at different points ranging from May of 2012 and June of 2016.  Since I was able to confirm the model years of each example using a license plate search, it would appear that all three are all alive and kicking at this writing.  All of these cars came standard with the same 116-hp, DOHC 2.0L four cylinder and five-speed manual.  With a starting curb weight of between 2,200 and 2,300 pounds, these Spiders would be capable of doing 0-60 in about 10 seconds, according to Consumer Reports.

The featured black, ’87 Quadrifoglio was the high-zoot variant in its lineup, and featured a leather seats, two-tone interior, power assisted windows and mirrors, air conditioning, ground effects, and a removable hardtop.  The latter feature, to me, would seem like a mixed blessing.  Almost like the inverse of a window-mounted air conditioner, for the owner of this Alfa, the arrival of summer would mean finding storage space for the removal hardtop, and winter would require help and/or a very steady pair of arms to reinstall it.  The black one also wears its rear spoiler and rubber bumpers better than its brethren of other colors, with their matte finish clashing less obviously with the glossy, black paint of its body panels.

The both of the red ’88 models are entry-level “Graduate” models, which featured vinyl seats and crank windows.  I would be completely fine with both of these things, as manually winding windows would mean one less electric niggle to worry about later.  Also, when I think about convertibles and open-air motoring, I also imagine things like heat, sweat, the occasional sprinkle of rain from passing clouds, return trips from the sandy beach, and cold sodas.  I think I’d be more able to enjoy my Graduate model a bit more than if I had to fuss with trying to keep the pristine features of my Quadrifoglio intact.

Even the mid-range Veloce model, with its power windows, power mirrors, leather seats, and air conditioning might be a bit more than I’d necessarily want to worry about.  It gets hot in Chicago during the summer, and air conditioning would certainly be welcome, but this Alfa is a convertible.  I remember riding around in my brother’s navy blue metallic Volkswagen Cabriolet with the top down and the air on full-blast, with him ever so suavely educating me that doing so was the only way to ride in a convertible.  He almost sold me on that idea, and I totally understood the appeal, as a young, optimistic twenty-something.  It’s just that for me, the very purpose of being in a drop-top is to somehow combine what’s below you, the road, with what’s above and around you, including the wind and ambient temperature as they naturally occur.

There weren’t all that many Alfa Romeo Spiders produced for either model year.  The black ’87 is one of just 4,339 produced, and the ’88s are just two of 4,090 made.  Over twenty-four years of production, there were just over 110,000 of these cars sold, with their best sales year being all the way in 1991, when 9,073 found buyers.  I have read that survival rates of these cars are relatively high owing to most of them having been used primarily as fair-weather cars, which makes sense.  I would steer clear of owning one only because I haven’t wrenched a single day in my life (which may be a prerequisite to Alfa ownership), but these Spiders surely are pretty and exotic enough to look at.  Just like the eight-legged creatures from which they borrowed their name.

All three Spiders were photographed in Chicago, Illinois.
The black ’87 was found in Old Town on Tuesday, May 29, 2012.
The moving, red ’88 was found in Edgewater on Saturday, November 10, 2012.
The stationary, red ’88 was also found in Edgewater on Sunday, June 5, 2016.