There comes a time when a gentleman has to move on to an Alfa Romeo Spider. That moment comes to many of us, and whilst not everyone may be able to close the loop, I have been fortunate enough to do so. So, welcome to my new Curbside Classic, a 1997 Alfa Romeo Spider Twin Spark 16V Lusso. In case you missed it, it’s in Rosso Alfa. Other colours are available, apparently.
If you’re a regular CC follower, you may have spotted my Aflaholic tendencies. There is just something about the history, the associated glamour, the sporting achievements, the consistent style, the more recent left field choices in several cars (such as the Alfetta family and Alfasud) and, perhaps, even the underdog air compared with the premium German brands. They’re not everyone’s taste and I don’t suggest they should be, but they’re certainly tasteful.
This is not a daily driver – I’ve still got the 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulietta for that – but nor will it be a pampered concours garage queen. I expect to be doing many miles each year, as the MX-5 did for nine years.
Ah, the MX-5. My first classic, non-daily driver, weekend only car, and the host of a lot of enjoyable days out and driving experiences, and a car I’d recommend for such purposes (or indeed as a daily driver in the right environment). I did something over 20,000 in those nine years, and suspect I enjoyed every one of them. Almost got a speeding ticket but didn’t, went over much of England from the Lake District to the Isle of Wight, and many car shows and driving days.
Mechanically, it was as sound as you could reasonably expect for a thirty year old car, but, whilst still safe and legal, and covered by a UK MoT for 11 months, corrosion was beginning to spread around the notoriously vulnerable rear sills and wings. It was time to change, and to move on to another experience.
The hunting for a Spider began. I’ve wanted an Alfa Spider since I was about 14, so the choice didn’t take long to confirm.
I checked the usual sources, and set a budget. One car in particular looked promising, but the owner didn’t seem to believe I was willing to drive 90 miles to view it and turned into a timewaster himself. Another, closer, car came on the radar and two appointments to view were postponed at short notice. I even contemplated a black one. And then I checked one more website.
You may have seen shots on CC of the workshop where I get my Giulietta serviced, and also detour to on flimsy excuses for some forecourt Alfa drooling.
This is a nationally recognised independent Alfa Romeo specialist, who has seen over half of the Alfa Romeo 4Cs registered in the UK. And was once asked for, and supplied from stock, a door handle for an Alfa Romeo 33, but not the 33 on the left, the one on the right.
The garage’s website also hosts some private traders advertising their Alfas, and I checked in at just the right time.
There was one 916 Spider, one more than I had been expecting to be honest. 1997, red, leather, many miles but with a great history, almost all of it with one owner. It turned out that the car was owned by one of the team at the garage, and had been used as a daily driver for a few months. The previous owners had had the car, as part of life long affection for the brand, for something over 20 years before selling it in January. So, the long term owner had sold the car to the guy who had maintained it for around 15 years or more, who then used it as a daily car. That gives you confidence in the car’s basic solidity and temperament, even if the mileage is relatively high. But all the scheduled maintenance is up to date, including cam belt changes. There is honest patina in areas as well as the air of a cared for car. It was, as we say on CC, calling me.
A drive in the rain convinced me, a weekend sleeping on it convinced me even more and a deal was done. The MX-5 went on the familiar website and was sold within five days ( as a 21st birthday present for a very happy young lady), and the Alfa collected two days later.
A quick wash and off to our local classic car gathering on a village green. Even the rain stopped. And a Graduate appeared on cue.
So what have I got? The Spider, known as Tipo 916 in Alfa code, is the successor the Tipo 105 “Graduate” Spider; the related GTV coupe nominally succeeded the already discontinued Alfetta GTV. Production ran from 1995 to 2005 for the GTV and 2006 for the Spider. 80,000 were built in total, almost evenly split between Spider and GTV, at Alfa’s historic home at Arese until 2000 and then by Pininfarina. The Tipo 916 was in fact the last Alfa built at Arese.
The car was launched in 1995, with a choice of 1.8 and 2.0 four cylinder engines (the former in Italy only) or the wonderful Busso V6 in 2.0 litre (again Italy only) and 3.0 litre forms, and later the 3.2 V6, all transversely mounted and driving the front wheels . Despite the attraction of the V6, many prefer the lighter, better balanced four cylinder cars.
Essentially, the drive train and front suspension came from the 155 saloon. The rear suspension was unique to the Spider and GTV, not sharing anything with the 155 or the related Fiat and Lancia uses, and according to the brochure it has something called “false steering”. The forums suggest it is a doubtful translation and might be better expressed as passive steering. Still, a definite Alfa trait you won’t find on a BMW.
And the styling? Ah, the styling….by Pininfarina of course, and credited to Enrico Fumia. Fumia was also the artist behind the Alfa Romeo 164, and elements of that car can be seen in the 916. I’d suggest two other influences though.
First, the Alfa Romeo SZ coupe and RZ roadster, a cut down version the 75 saloon styled by Robert Opron and fitted with Busso V6 for a high power, high octane, high performance experience. these dated from 1989 and 1992 and were built in limited numbers until 1994.
The other is a car from Fumia’s own back catalogue – the 1981 Audi Quartz created as a one off by Pininfarina. Add the wedge profile and Alfa shield, and you’re pretty close, I suggest.
All in, distinctive, striking, attention catching, elegant and more complex as you look at it more. Is it sharp and edgy, or is it softer and rounded? Both, depending on the angle, the light, the time you use to take it in and, maybe, the mood you’re in. But not, it seems from experience, polarising. I like it, and seemingly so do others.
The engine itself is more complex than you think. It may have its roots in a humble Fiat unit, but Alfa has added the twin spark, head 16 valve twin cam head with variable inlet valve timing and twin balance shafts. Quite a specification I suggest, and the result is perhaps the smoothest four cylinder engine I have driven. And the exhaust note has been done by Alfa as well…..Power is 150bhp, 0-60 at 8.4 seconds and 130 mph are claimed. Fuel economy seems acceptable, and comparable with the MX-5 so far.
The hood folds under a rigid tonneau cover, and is lined with a velvet type material for warmth and sound. As much as anything else in the cabin, this moves the car upmarket from the MX-5, although the additional space contributes to that as well. This car is in Lusso trim, which adds the alloy wheels, leather seats and air conditioning to the standard generous specification.
Driving has been impressive. The ride is much better than I’d expected, and softer than the MX-5, and whilst it’s not as compactly chuckable as the Mazda, turn in and grip are very strong, as is traction and engine performance. The steering is typical Alfa quick, with just two turn lock to lock, partly achieved by a shockingly large turning circle. Pedal layout is typical Alfa, with the face of the accelerator pedal level with the brake, and most of the long arm, short leg position can be trimmed out with the seat and column adjustment.
The other ergonomics are not that bad – the minor switches are all visible from the driving seat if not very reachable round the wheel, the electric window switches are ideally located vertically on the face of the door handle below the mirror housing (surely the best place for them?) and the instruments clear if not large. You can’t see anything of the rear deck from the driver’s seat, so reversing is still a learning experience. Perhaps that’s why the electric aerial is on the rear quarter?
The boot is short but deep, with a spare wheel standing up against the bulkhead. The rear lights are all in one full width cluster, and there’s a useful shelf and lockable storage behind the seats, housing the battery and the CD autochanger. The tonneau and hood itself are released by electrical catches controlled from behind the driver’s seat. You need to get out to the hood up or down, but that’s no real hardship.
At the age and mileage, there are a couple of issues, the most pressing being a need for some new front tyres quite soon and some upholstery work on the driver’s seat. Some paint restorer might be handy too.
So, an adventure awaits, and I’m looking forward to it.
Beautiful car. As you have said Alfas may not be everyone’s cup of tea but you enjoy them, you got the perfect one for you and at the end of the day that’s all that counts.
May you have many miles of happy motoring.
Lively, lovely. One of the most warming word pairs in the world, Alfa Romeo; one of the chillingest, Magneti Marelli (don’t mention my first pointless ignition Ducati, its major benefit being the long, muscle making push home). I loved my Alfetta 2000 GTV, factory “Corso” engine with alloy conrods, classic longitudinal torsion bar front end, front-engined GP’s ultimate de Dion rear with inboard discs. Outhandle any heavy-buttocked, non-James-Dean-Spyder production Porsche. At the glimpse of a distant summer cloudlet, thar she rusts, but what delight to drive!
Wow, excellent, Roger, what a lovely car! While many (well, maybe not *many*) may have an Alfa in the garage, very, very few have two at the same time so I reckon that puts you in very rarified company.
I wish you as much fun with it as you got out of the Miata and your other Alfa so far, all signs point to it being a great relationship going forward!
Congratulations and many happy miles of motoring!
Congrats Roger and have fun!
That’s a beautiful car. Congrats on the score and hope you have a lot of fun with it.
That underhood shot is telling. What appears to be two individual lights per side are just a single unit under the “bonnet”, with the division done on the bonnet itself. Never knew that.
Congrats. It’s a beauty.
I’d be interested in hearing your comparison between this and the MX-5. Though I love Alfa Romeos, I’d expect the MX-5 to be a more fun ride based on configuration. It would be cool to hear your thoughts obce you have some more miles on this one.
Thanks Mads, and others for the wishes.
Comparison with the MX-5? Well I’d start with the fact they’re not really direct competitors – the Alfa is measurably bigger, more powerful and was more expensive as a new car, though of course roadster fans may well have cross shopped them.
Alfa plus – power, the smoother engine and exhaust note, much nicer and more spacious interior and better hood, solid, planted feel on the road, better more pliant ride and much better cruising comfort and noise levels, stronger image, scarcity
Mazda plus – the direct communication to the road that comes from sitting almost over the rear axle and the pivot point, rear drive, so leaving the corner can be better, simpler mechanically so home maintenance may be easier, direct immediate gearshift (the Alfa’s is not, in all honesty), directly accessible performance and driving enjoyment, driving position, providing you’re not taller than 6ft/180cm
Both seem like good cars, and good classics or starter classics, with active enthusiast communities. The Alfa arena seems more traditional, with less focus on modifications for trackdays etc but a strong sense of “if you get Alfas (and Alfa history) fine, if you don’t, then OK but don’t worry about us”
Yes nice car, my cousin in the UK has one in a sort of blue his is the 3.0 Busso V6 edition, Alfas Harleys BSAs and Ducatis he has interesting automotive tastes, Enjoy your new car Roger it should be everything the MX5 wasnt.
If you attend Alfisti events you may meet Graeme, my cuzzie it would not surprise me.
Great choice Roger. In fact quite jealous. Look forward to (not literally) bumping into you at the Alfaworks one day!
Congratulations, Roger! Excited for you, with this new purchase. I have ways liked the style of these, which we didn’t get in the U.S. Here’s to many miles and years of happy ownership.
Congratulations! Have a good time with it!
Well done, Sir. You’ve got a lifelong and sometimes feverish condition, and ofcourse you need to have done this at least once for relief of symptoms, and now you have.
On styling, some thoughts.
When this convertible first popped up, I’ve got to confess I practically did too. I mean, wow, what a thing.
Then, in a similar pattern to that that instant lust can take, I shrunk to “nice”. Shortly after, “ok.” Before I knew it, it was “whatevs”, and it even got as far as “Good god, what was I thinking, it’s a f*ing shoe!”
Yet in older age, it’s risen again (my estimation ofcourse, you dirty readers, you). It IS quite a fascinating piece, though it still must have the pram hood down for full effect.
Now, as for driving, well, hmm. I drove a friends coupe quite regularly back in ’99-2000, and it certainly drove. But…
I’ll completely agree that that motor is the smoothest four I’ve ever driven and unmatched since. And it was really fast when utterly murdered. But man, it needed 3,000 revs to just release the clutch, and 4,000 to join the 30mph traffic. The gearchange required several feeless feet between ratios, which was unfortunate as my knees kept hitting my earlobes on each row of the boat, such was the driving position. Each weeny bump in the tarmac put my head into the sunroof, rattled the dash to sound like a mice-fest, and, by far worst of all, caused the doors to jiggle in their apertures and the rear-view mirror to descend in a downcast sulk. It gripped corners like a limpet, but as the reclined limpee in the driving seat, this had little appeal after about half an hour. There were your actual glue runs on the interior, and the electrics actually did the cliche Alfa fry-up of bits at just a few months old, and not once either. To be clear, said mate bought it new.
Given the floppiness of the roofed version, I literally cannot imagine how bendy the convertible might be.
So, Sir Rog, once your Alfever has abated some, I’d be intrigued to hear of how this red temptress has worked out for you, but whilst still dazed and afflicted, do enjoy.
Beautiful car. You have excellent taste, Roger. I wish you many miles and many thrills in this Alfa.
Regarding the recipient of your Miata, props to her. Where I come from sadly most 21 year olds would be incapable of driving a typical Miata… or anything with 3 pedals.
Must be a good used Alfa if the seller is willing to allow a test drive in the rain….