Curbside Classic: 1986 Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce – A Work In Progress, For Four Decades

(first posted 11/12/2011)    Alfa Romeo and longevity. Does that seem like an unlikely pairing? The Alfa Spider, a vehicle whose gestation alone ran a decade, was built for almost three decades. Longevity indeed; well, of some sort. In sports car years, the Spider’s life-span is almost an eternity, and the only competition was the Porsche 911, which went through more substantial changes. Whether the Spider’s longevity was a good thing or not, is subject to debate. But let’s just say not everything gets better with age.

Let’s start with a quick look at the Spider’s predecessor, the Giulietta Spider, which had a more typical lifespan of ten years, from 1955 to 1965. Designed and built by Pininfarina, it was a gem in every sense of the word, and a hard act to follow.

Pininfarina got an early start on what would end up its successor. The 1956 3500 Super Flow was the first of a number of design exercises that led to the production car ten years later. Here, the front end first takes shape. Not easy to see in this picture are the plexiglass fairings over the headlights and those “exposed” front wheels.

The second edition of the Super Flow was a bit closer to earth, but 1957 was still in the fin era.

By 1959, the Spider Super Sport already had the major design elements down, including the scalloped sides and the rounded tail.

The 1960 Coupe Speciale shows the tail here quite clearly.

The Giulietta Spider Speciale from 1961 might as well be the “concept” for the the final Duetto Spider.

The production Spider arrived in 1966, and was named Duetto, from a write-in contest. And who better to show off its handsome lines than Dustin Hoffman, in the 1967 mega-hit, The Graduate. And how much did Alfa reap from that fortuitous appearance? Perhaps it’s the biggest single reason for the Spider’s longevity.

The original Duetto was only built for two years, 1966 and 1967, with its plexiglass headlight covers and 109 hp 1570cc engine.

For 1968, the Duetto was replaced by the Spider Veloce 1750, which had a number of improvements including of course the larger 118hp 1779 engine, which even received a SPICA fuel injection system for the US. But the plexiglass headlight covers had to give way in the US, as the result of new 1968 regulations.

The biggest single change in the Spider Veloce’s long life happened in 1970, when the long tapered tail was chopped and filled in. It certainly looked more contemporary, but count me in as one of those that has ever since lamented that tailectomy. By 1971, engine size reached its final 1962 cc size, which was rated at a healthy 132 hp, at least in Europe. Needless to say, US emission regs began to take their toll about this time, and it’s probably too depressing to dig up the actual ever-shrinking hp numbers. By the mid-late seventies, the Alfa was increasingly more about style and tradition than leading-edge performance.

The Series Three Spider covers the years 1982 – 1990, and our CC car falls somewhere in there, but I’m not sure exactly where. The most blatantly obvious change was a black rubber spoiler, and that name is very aptly applied here. It was very painful to see Pininfarina’s brilliant original design be sullied like this, but, hey, it was the eighties!

Here’s a closer look, if you can bear it. I can’t. Next shot please!

Compared to the back, the front is almost bearable, if one doesn’t look below the front edge of the sheet metal. All things considered, and compared to abominations like the final MGBs, the integration of the front 5 mph bumper really isn’t all that bad.

Pinin, who died shortly after the Duetto appeared, was probably spinning in his grave when he saw how the last car he still had a hand in its design, ended up.

And in case you’ve ever wondered about the origins of the word Spider, just look closely at this picture. No. it’s not photoshopped, and I didn’t notice it until just now.

The Spider’s interior also evolved, but I’m not going to show all the steps. Well, except the first, because as usual, it was the best.

Isn’t that pretty much always the case? Maybe not, but I’ll take body-colored painted steel  over cheap plastic any day.

At the time, I assumed that the Series Three Spider Veloce, including the rather bizarre hard-topped Spider Veloce Quadrifoglio had to be the final blow-out. Good riddance! I’m such a carmudgeon.

But no, in 1990, a fourth series appeared, with a concerted effort to leave the eighties’ gauche black plastic behind, and try to recapture a bit of the original Duetto’s clean lines. Or I assume thta’s what it was trying to do.

The rear was in for a more serious redo, and although it’s of course drastically cleaner, it also lacks any character. Dull, generic, anodyne. I’d long given up looking at them by this time anyway, unless it was an early one. At least the fourth series was a short ine; by 1993 the end finally arrived. I’m sure Pinin could never have imagined it lasting this long anyway, but it did keep a line in his factory going for almost thirty years until it finally graduated.