GRAD­U­AT­ING WITH HON­OURS

Mi­lan’s rak­ish road­ster makes a stylish and en­gag­ing al­ter­na­tive to an MX-5 or MGB. We see how it fares out on the open road

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Driving - WORDS David Simis­ter PHO­TOG­RA­PHY Stu­art Collins

We’ve all been there – don’t deny it. You stum­ble, half-asleep, into a kitchen aglow with early morn­ing sun­light, open the fridge and dis­cover the four slices of pizza that you didn’t fin­ish off the night be­fore. It’s a cu­ri­ous break­fast that shouldn’t re­ally work, but it does – it’s al­ways de­li­cious. Yes­ter­day’s treat still cuts it to­day, al­though there’s a part of you that would rather not ad­mit it. Which is prob­a­bly how you would have felt back in 1990 if you’d fore­gone the Mazda MX-5 and M100-gen Lo­tus Elan in favour of Alfa Romeo’s third-gen­er­a­tion Spi­der.

It’s easy to dis­miss the S3 as a dated de­sign strug­gling to do Alfa’s bid­ding in the face of newer, slicker rivals, but there’s noth­ing stale about the way its won­der­ful twin cam en­gine fizzes en­thu­si­as­ti­cally once you’re on the move. Snick the stubby gear­lever – which juts out of the cen­tre con­sole near-hor­i­zon­tally – into third, de­press the throttle and lis­ten as the 2.0-litre four starts strut­ting its stuff. Keep your foot buried, and it clears its throat above 4000rpm be­fore grad­u­ally giv­ing it the full Pavarotti. It’s ad­dic­tive stuff.

Ac­cel­er­a­tion is brisk rather than ex­plo­sive, but con­stantly to goad the en­gine into de­ploy­ing all of its 130bhp is to miss the point en­tirely.

The real joy of the Spi­der is when you slice it through a se­ries of sweep­ing cor­ners. Only then do the beau­ti­fully bal­anced feel from the three-spoke Nardi steer­ing wheel and the sub­tle vi­bra­tions of the coil-sprung sus­pen­sion com­bine with the tyres to trans­late what’s hap­pen­ing at ground level into some­thing you can play with as you power into the bends.

The re­sult is an or­ganic sense of fun that makes the Spi­der feel pos­i­tively alive. It’s not as alert as an early Mazda MX-5 and there’s body roll aplenty if you carry too much speed into a tight cor­ner, but it’s also a com­fort­able com­pan­ion that’s happy to sac­ri­fice some out­right cor­ner­ing im­me­di­acy to al­low you to savour the ex­pe­ri­ence. The ride is su­perb for what is ef­fec­tively a two-seater adren­a­line junkie too; it lets you know about road im­per­fec­tions, but never al­lows them to ham­mer un­com­fort­ably through the ribbed con­tours of those beau­ti­fully trimmed seats – and thence the seat of your pants.

Then there’s the driv­ing po­si­tion. Be­ing an Ital­ian car, it’s slightly off­set, but this seems to in­volve you in its old-school char­ac­ter rather than de­tract from the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

In fact, its en­tire am­bi­ence is a pe­cu­liar mish­mash of two dif­fer­ent eras. The MGBesque chrome quar­ter lights, swathes of black vinyl trim and del­i­cately thin A-pil­lars are en­tirely in keep­ing with the 1960s vibe of this aptly-named Grad­u­ate model. But the in­te­grated plas­tic in­stru­ment bin­na­cle and dou­ble deck of round plas­tic switches on the cen­tre con­sole are def­i­nitely from a time when Dustin Hoffman was star­ring in Rain Man rather than The Grad­u­ate. By far the worst of­fender is the hor­rid-look­ing dig­i­tal clock be­neath the gear­lever –it sticks out like a satel­lite dish on the Colos­seum and re­ally does its best to ruin the throw­back fun fac­tor.

Thank­fully, how­ever, it fails com­pletely. In fact, it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble not to be won over by the Spi­der’s in­fec­tiously en­er­getic en­gine, feel some han­dling, cos­set­ting ride and pin­sharp good looks. Crit­ics and afi­ciona­dos alike main­tain that the boat-tail orig­i­nal is bet­ter look­ing, but this later car’s Kamm-tail styling, big­ger rear lights and lash­ings of plas­tic trim can’t mask Pin­in­fa­rina’s glo­ri­ous orig­i­nal pro­por­tions com­pletely.

The Alfa Spi­der epit­o­mises whole­some, af­ford­able – and, yes, slightly ec­cen­tric – sports car fun that you can’t help but love.

Yes­ter­day’s treat tastes just as good to­day.

WHAT TO PAY // CON­COURS £9K-11K // GOOD £5-7.5K // US­ABLE £4-6K // PROJECT £1500-3K BUY MORE ALFAS THIS WEEK­END! This Alfa Spi­der has al­ready been sold, but there are three other Alfas be­ing auc­tioned this Satur­day (11 Fe­bru­ary) at Mathew­son’s sale in Thorn­ton-le-Dale, North York­shire.

www.math­ew­sons.co.uk 01751 474455 Clas­sic Pini­fa­rina lines still ev­i­dent on more pla­s­ticky S3.

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