Sprint­ing back­wards


New Zealand Classic Car - - Editorial -

ook­ing back over the years, when it comes to mo­tor­ing, there have been many times when di­min­ished fi­nances have forced me to scrape the bot­tom of the prover­bial bar­rel. In the late ’80s, self-em­ployed and prac­ti­cally pen­ni­less, I swapped a Pen­tax SLR cam­era for a ropey old 105E Ford Anglia that I sub­se­quently bogged up and painted red over black. The ‘re­stored’ An­gle­box proved it­self to­tally re­li­able, and I ran it as my ev­ery­day car for around six months, at which time some­one made an of­fer to buy the Ford that I sim­ply couldn’t refuse. With a bit of ex­tra fold­ing in my pocket, I ‘up­graded’ to a slightly less an­cient Mor­ris 1800. It drove a lit­tle bet­ter than the Anglia — al­though the gear-change ac­tion was rather akin to stir­ring a wooden spoon in a bowl of cold por­ridge. Hav­ing said that, the Mor­ris only let me down once, al­though it did de­velop a rav­en­ous ap­petite for oil.

My pe­riod of Mor­ris own­er­ship lasted about as long as my time with the Anglia, and for­tu­nately my fi­nances im­proved to the ex­tent that I was able to trade the 1800 in on a Sun­beam Rapier fast­back. Luck­ily for me, the dealer sell­ing the Rapier never both­ered to give the Mor­ris a me­chan­i­cal check — if he had, he would’ve dis­cov­ered that the sump was full of Wynns for Oil, the only way I could stop the car from belch­ing thick clouds of ex­haust smoke!

From the Sun­beam on, things im­proved some­what on the per­sonal mo­tor­ing front — al­though hav­ing one of my Tri­umph TR7S de­stroyed by a ne­glect­ful taxi driver on the South­ern Mo­tor­way, and the time my AW11 Toy­ota MR2 went for a swim in a flooded garage, were no­table low points.

In late 2005, I came to the de­ci­sion that I didn’t want to con­tinue us­ing my Lotus Elise as an ev­ery­day car and, with money tight, I found my­self look­ing around for a cheap ev­ery­day run­ner. New Zealand Clas­sic Car’s one-time deputy editor, Tim Nevin­son, came up with the an­swer when he told me about an Alfa Romeo Sprint be­ing sold at a lo­cal garage. The price was right — $1500 — and the car it­self didn’t look too bat­tered or beaten up. A deal was done, and I found my­self driv­ing home in the car — a sil­ver, 1985 1.5-litre QV, my very first en­counter with an Alfa Romeo car­ry­ing the fa­mous quadri­foglioverde.

In typ­i­cal Alfa fash­ion, the Sprint was great to drive de­spite a notchy gear change and squeaky brakes. The 1.5-litre boxer four wasn’t ex­actly a per­for­mance pow­er­house, but it had suf­fi­cient jub­blies to pro­pel the Sprint along the tar­mac at a re­spectable pace. Of course, as you’d ex­pect, the car re­ally came alive when pre­sented with a se­ries of tight cor­ners and, de­spite the fact that I’m not a real fan of front-wheel-drive cars, the Alfa never had less than a sure touch.

Mind you, it wasn’t all beer and skit­tles — the headlights had an un­nerv­ing habit of dy­ing ev­ery now and again, which made night driv­ing a rather chancy op­tion. I even­tu­ally solved that prob­lem by repo­si­tion­ing the earth strap so that it wasn’t bolted onto a patch of rust. How­ever, I didn’t bother to re­move the rust — do­ing that would have been a sure-fire route to a com­pre­hen­sive restora­tion, out of the ques­tion when con­sid­er­ing the woe­ful lack of bucks in my bank ac­count at the time. If I’d been a bit more flush, per­haps my 1.5 Sprint QV might’ve one day looked as good as the later, 1.7-litre ex­am­ple fea­tured else­where in this edi­tion.

An­other missed op­por­tu­nity — and there are plenty of those lurk­ing in my back pages!

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