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.
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.
When I was younger, I wanted to test-drive the updated Spider. The sales consultants discouraged me from doing so due to my towering height (I’m 205 cm tall with 36″ inseam, by the way.). I offered the $100 bet that I would be able to get in and drive around. They accepted and called others to join the betting pool.
Well, I figured a perfect technique a long time ago (thanks to my school mate who had MG MGB) and was able to slide in quickly and effortlessly. They lost, and I was $100 richer. I enjoyed driving Spider, but I decided it wasn’t an ideal car for daily drive and didn’t like the automatic seat belts creeping up and down on my left leg.
I’ll bet that the hardware and housing associated with the automatic seat-belts took up a substantial amount of space in probably what was already a small cockpit. Congratulations on winning that bet!
I always like those Alfa Romeo Spider and I remember in an older car magazine published in China, it was used as an example about translation issues: Spider.
Those cars have a similar vibe like MGB, both having rather long running lifespan and being exotic at the same time, something not quite easy for sports cars. ( probably it’s quite easier for economy cars, and serious luxury cars. Plenty of those from Russia )
But MG had the miracle of making an MG TF, too bad Alfa Romeo never quite makes any car just like that.
You know, before you mentioned it, I never drew a parallel between the run of the MGB and that of these Alfas. Brilliant.
The reborn 1995 Spider, while I like / liked it, seemed to lose a lot of the timelessness of this design, filled with many of-the-moment styling cliches (round headlights, etc.).
On my bucket list to follow the MX-5 in due course. Still great value for money, with of its time styling..
I have to confess that there has always been something about the looks of this car that never hit the bull’s eye for me. The combination of the swoopy front and the blocky rest of the car aft of the front wheel have never looked quite right. I thought for a minute that the original with the droopy tail fixed the design, but have reconsidered. The worst part is that I have no idea what would make it better.
All of that said, I’ll bet this would be a delightful experience behind the wheel.
For me, the styling feature that took a while to grow on me was the longish rear. I’ve been conditioned to accept “long hood, short deck” as shorthand for “sporty”.
The first car I liked with similar proportions was the final-generation Buick Riviera. Then, the second-generation Chevrolet Corvair caught my eye.
On these Alfas, I think the long rear deck is one of its defining characteristics, and I like it.
Then you probably like the ’57 T-Bird, as its tail is even longer than the Alfa’s.
If you don’t like the long rear deck, made longer by the spoilers on these examples, go for the earlier Duetto with a Jaguar E Type like boat tail.
I agree the spoilers don’t work visually.
I’m a big fan, having owned one for a while, and they still make me look every time I see one. Lots of fun to drive, they are actually reliable *if driven regularly*, and parts are easy and cheap(ish) to find. Finding three in Chicago is no mean feat, even spread out over that period of time. Mine was the Veloce which I think was the sweet spot in the range, with leather seats, the 5-spoke alloys that look better than the hubcaps, steelies or the flush Quadrifoglio units and some other niceties.
I for one consider them to look “correct” with the big black spoiler on the back, that’s how I’m most familiar with them, hence that’s what’s right (to me). Chevy Chase managed to drive on in Fletch, and with him as tall as he is, anyone could fit…sort of. Still, turning that big wooden steering wheel, rowing the somewhat dash mounted shifter, even in the 80’s it was like driving a twenty year old car, an experience unlikely to be offered again.
It’s funny that you mention the black spoilered versions as the ones that look normal. Those were also the ones I saw most of the time.
To flip that perspective, the first time I saw the original round-tailed models, I didn’t like them! I thought they looked droopy.
I have found something to like about all four visual iterations of these, including the final ones.
And that shifter. I have seen it. That would take more getting used to than Ford’s 5-Speed manual Overdrive from the early ’80s with fifth right and down.
Thanks for this fine essay on spiders. Got over my fear of them early on. Had a GF who had a big tarantula. Lovely creature, to have walking up your arm.
Always liked these Spiders too, but make mine the original boat tail version. Having that cut off was a bit harsh, but I understand why.
There used to be a couple around here on the streets, but they seem to have gone into hibernation, unless a worse fate befell them, like so many spiders..
Thanks, Paul. I’ll have to look up why the switch to the “Kamm” style rear. I’d assume it was because of forthcoming bumper requirements?
We had a storm last night, so it remains to be seen if the big spiders outside my window got blown away.
Trunk space? Most European manufacturers didn’t seem to care about US bumper laws, they’d just stick whatever monstrosity of a thing on and load them onto the boat. If height is an issue just use longer springs ala MGB. Plus it happened in 1970, if alfa sensed it was a looming regulation in the US, you’d think US makers wouldn’t have had such rushed looking designs for 1973-4 on brand new bodys in many cases
It happened in 1970, well before the bumper regulations. The main reason was simply to make it look more contemporary, as the original tail dated back to 1960-1961, in the styling concepts that predated the production version in 1966. Back then, that was a long time between concept (below) and production. By 1966, when it arrived, that type of long tail was already a wee bit out of date. But by the end of the decade, it was clearly so, as everyone had moved to more cut-off Kamm-inspired tails.
Since Alfa had no plans to replace the Spider completely, the new tail made it look more contemporary. A larger trunk was a fringe benefit.
This picture really emphasizes the comet-like profile of the original cars.
And now that you mention it, Paul, there was a lot of “Kamm” going on in the early ’70s.
(And XR7Matt, that was a great educated guess. I hadn’t even thought about more trunk space being a benefit of the new styling.)
Funny enough I was thinking about Collonade Pontiacs changing changing for that reason in 74, from the pinched low 73. I hadn’t realized the design dated that far back as Paul explains, that must have looked like a space ship in 60-61!
I’m a big fan of these. I’ve always wanted one, in basic Graduate trim. Like the title of yesterday afternoon’s Spitfire piece, I’ll likely never own one of these either, but it’ll always be on “The List”.
I’ve never really been afraid of spiders, in fact, like you Joseph, I’ve always been intrigued by them, watching them do their thing, and even rescuing them when they got in the house before someone else (my wife, or stepson while he was in college) got a chance to kill them.
I now have my wife (a preschool teacher) rescuing them too, after she realized that having arachnophobia is just dumb. The realization that these guys are beneficial critters finally sunk in after much persuasion. The other day when one of her kids screamed “BUG!!!” when she saw one, my wife used it as a teaching moment and relocated the little spider outside to perhaps teach them not to be afraid.
Ironically, she loves ‘spyders’ although she’s never owned one. When she and I started dating, she was shopping for cars and fell in love with a 4th gen Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder, but it was too much money for her, and she ended up with her 2009 Lancer instead (which she loves and still has).
Taking a page from JPC’s playbook, wherein he says, “The answer is always Miata”, that may be a fun car for me to get for her one day, but she can’t drive a stick, and an automatic would be a letdown for me regarding owning a roadster.
Then there’s her curly blonde hair. How many times is she likely to drop the top?
Maybe that long curly hair has something to do with her original arachnophobia. ;o)
RS Rick, all of this is great. “The answer is always ‘Miata'”… I’m familiar enough with many of JPC’s writing and didn’t remember this phrase, but it sounds spot-on.
What’s funny is that as I sat down at my computer on my lunch break to respond to some comments and correspondence, a spider literally started dangling in front of my computer area. Isolated incident.
Your mention of “arachnophobia” reminded me of the same-name movie from 1990 that I remember seeing in theaters when I was a high school student.
That trailer was hilarious Joe… never saw that one though.
As to whether or not I should’ve attributed that quote to Jim, I’m not sure… let me see if I can scare up a link…
…ok, searching the site, there are several people who have said this, including a COAL or something from Tim Finn that had that line “the answer is always Miata” in the title. But JPC had one, and would likely agree.
Searching outside the site, I see that it is a common phrase among the little roadster’s enthusiasts.
Arachnophobia and the made for TV movie movie “killer bee nightmare” scarred me for life!
You guys are actually using the phrase wrong if you’ll indulge my pedantry – it should be “Miata Is Always The Answer” – Look at the first letter of each word in the sentence to see why it’s phrased that way… 🙂
And suddenly, I feel like Lisa Simpson playing “Anagrams”. Or “Acronyms”. You get it.
If there’s ever a stick to learn on, it’s the Miata’s. It’s so light and effortless, she’ll be an expert within a week. The second-gen’s 6 speed is known for having a bit of crunchiness in the 1-2 shift (some are much worse than others), but the 1990-2005 5 speed is a dream. Should mention that the 2016’s are known to fail so that’s maybe another one not to train a novice on.
I mean, you’re right, a Miata without a stick is a bit of a letdown but I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s ridiculously easy to feel like an expert when that’s your trainer.
That’s what I told her after driving her son’s Mazda 3… It’s so easy to drive that car. So smooth, and six gears too. He even offered to teach her on it. She just has no interest in learning that.
Spiders are Ok in the house unless they are bigger than I care to see. Spiders outside are fine except for black widows which love to get up under cars seasonally around here. I have only seen one person truly freak out over spiders. Back in the 80s a friend of mine, I’ll call Stella, I took her back to her apartment in San Rafael.
She opens the wall walks in, I hear a scream and she is out the door in the blink of an eye. What, what! There is a spider up in the corner of the living room. You know the type a small daddy long legs with it’s wispy web. This was a small web. I said you’re kidding, right? No she wasn’t and refused to re-enter so I had to go in and get it. Once done it is time to have a little fun. You know that is not the only one in there? I’m not searching for anymore bugs. What happens when you are in there by yourself and you see one? Do you run screaming into the night?
These Alfas always attracted me more so the cars 1975 and prior. The rear bumpers afterwards become a little much while the front, in later models, looks somewhat less sexy.
Some spiders are fine, such as a grandaddy longlegs. Some spiders are not, such as brown recluse. This house was infested with them when we moved in. Those are some mean little monsters.
As for the automotive type, I’ll pass. These AR Spiders have proportions that are simply off. Not horrible, but just not my sugar stick.
However, Joe, thank you for the dive into an automotive spider. The phrase never made any sense until now.
Every once in a while, I’ll end up teaching a section of World Lit., and we sometimes read fun stories about Anansi. As a person who sometimes bristles against authority, I enjoy the trickster archetype; it shows up all over the place. Years ago, I read some of Schoolcraft’s writings about Native Americans, with Manabozho playing the trickster character.
Man, I really got off-topic there. 🙂
Aaron, maybe Anansi’s trickster persona was what spoke to me at the time! I was such a rule-following kid, and Anansi had a puckish quality I probably admired, envied, or both.
It’s probably also why Bart Simpson is still entertaining to me decades after he and his sayings were on a gazillion t-shirts in the early ’90s.
Alfas are the only spiders I like (as opposed to the 8-legged variety, which I detest). In fact, the word ‘spider’ itself gives me the creeps, so it’s a testament to just how much I like these Alfas that I’m able to overcome that aversion and actually like the car.
But like you, I wouldn’t seriously consider buying one… too much of a needy reputation, which I certainly don’t need. And if I ever have any doubts, I’ll think back to the one time I drove one, when several things fell off the car over the course of a short drive.
However, given my loathing of arachnids, if I ever did get an Alfa convertible for some reason… I think I’d choose a Graduate.
Eric, I think I remember your story about test driving a Spider… Wasn’t a relative with you? That might have been the ultimate deflation of any fantasy about these cars.
I had owned a new car buyers guide from 1988 when I was a kid. This was pre-Miata. I remember reading the editors’ assessment that this car was pricey for its age and design.
I may not have bought one as a new car, but I like them in 2020. Again, I’d avoid ownership, as I’m not mechanically inclined, but I respect these Spiders. (And spiders.)
Yes, that’s right. I was about 18 or so and my father took me to an Alfa dealer to test drive a Spider (this test drive was a birthday gift from my father, and incidentally one of the few birthday gifts that I remember).
The salesman went on the test drive with me, and an interior mirror, a wheel cover, and the door handle all came off during the drive. Yes, the ultimate deflation for me. But hey, at least I wasn’t dejected that I wasn’t actually going to buy one!
I used to be petrified by spiders, mostly because they’re so sneaky. When a fly gets in front of my face I hear it coming, a spider on the other hand comes down it’s web like a damn ninja and to this day makes me scream like a child before I come to my senses. At the end of the day though, I have never been bitten by one to hold any kind of rational fear of them, and I almost always bring them out of the house rather than stomp them.
Alfa Spiders on the other hand I used to really love, first time I saw one was in Wayne’s World 2 parodying The Graduate(which I didn’t see until like 7 years ago), but sports cars gradually waned on me, and the rust problems these have is unreal, awful soviet steel ruined the best years of these cars for me. These later ones I just cannot get into, I actually like the original kammback design ok but when these sprouted this rubber monstrosity with its chintzy lip spoiler it looked wrong, as was additional yuppieization efforts like the squared off bumpers/chin spoiler and dimensionless silver wheels only made it look like a fallen star trying to stay relevant. *squish*
MGB black plastirubber front bumper > Alpha Spyder plastirubber rear.
Great post. I wondered about the etymology of the word “spider” in the automotive lexicon, but never looked it up. I guess the Italians spell it “Spyder” to make sure folks pronounce it like the English word.
strangely enough, back when convertibles had rumble / dickey seats, those were termed as “le spider” in French.
I’m awfully curious about the Italian spelling. I know Ferrari had used spyder in the past, but I had thought that Alfa Romeo always used spider. However, I came across this excerpt (below) from a 1931 Alfa sales booklet, where such cars are clearly identified as spyder.
So I really wonder about the origin of the ‘y’ spelling, particularly in Italy (assuming that the Chevy Monza was just copying Ferrari).
I’m no expert on the matter (I don’t speak Italian), but I do think they spell it like this to mark pronunciation. They don’t really use the letter Y in Italian. “Spider” would be pronounced “spee-der”, not “spai-der”. The French use the correct English spelling, but they pronounce it “spee-der”.
Here’s as good a reason as any that they don’t use the Y and shouldn’t try to…
I am a very big fan of the original long tail Spider “Duetto”. It doesn’t have the classic long-hood short-tail proportions, but it’s an exquisite piece of automotive sculpture.
I have a very hard time with these later versions with the plastic spoiler. Ouch! But the early version of the square tail Spider (below) is still quite handsome, and works remarkably well, considering the depth of the surgery involved.
It’s got something for every decade – round tail for the 60’s, kamm tail for the 70’s, rubber spoiler for the 80’s and then body color integrated bumpers and smooth tail for the (very early) 90’s and then it went all to hell for the 2000’s with that post modern wedge shaped four-eyed thing.
I’m always amazed at the value for money these offer – comparable prices to a tidy MGB Roadster…..how does that work?
Thought I saw one today when I got on the freeway right after reading this. Saw the car way behind me in the rear view mirror. Twas red, sloped nose, and top down. I slowed so it could catch up and as it got closer it was even rarer than a Spider. It was a bright red 1974 Triumph Spitfire 1500 which I haven’t seen since the 70s. From a distance the front is similar.
With you on no A/C with the top down, unless you are stuck in urban traffic (in which case you shouldn’t have put the top down anyway). The biggest part of the convertible experience is feeling the ambient conditions.
Alan, I had to think about this… being stuck in urban traffic with the top down. I think I would be okay with this in Chicago (pre-COVID). But we agree.
I also realize I probably wasn’t being completely fair to my brother, as that was in Florida where it does get beastly hot in the summer. But still, I stand by my thoughts on open-air motoring as being a way to feel like one with the outdoors.
How did the automatic seatbelts work on these?