‘It came back from sod­ablast­ing in two Tesco bags. We were close to bin­ning it’

When you’ve re­stored clas­sic Fer­raris, you know how in­volved the job can get. Imag­ine the re­solve it took to ap­ply the same process to a hum­ble lit­tle Alfa

Classic Cars (UK) - - Alfa Romeo Giulia Spider - Words NIGEL BOOTHMAN Pho­tog­ra­phy CHAR­LIE MAGEE

Some­times the choices we make in the present have a lot to do with the past. More than 40 years ago Jim Need­ham lived next door to Bernie Fosker, who sparked an in­ter­est in Fer­raris when he ar­rived out­side the house in a 246 Dino. Much later, in 2010, Need­ham hosted an event for his friend Fosker, fill­ing the grounds of his home with glo­ri­ous Maranello ma­chin­ery. In the in­ter­ven­ing years Jim Need­ham did a se­ries of jobs in the print­ing in­dus­try be­fore a side­line in rent­ing hol­i­day apart­ments to friends bal­looned into a se­ri­ous busi­ness: James Villa Hol­i­days. With the sale of his com­pany in 2007 he could, as he puts it, ‘af­ford a few nice cars’. Among those on the lawn that day – his cars and other peo­ple’s – there were two lit­tle Alfa Romeo Gi­u­lia Spi­ders.

‘ They were lovely,’ says Jim. ‘ I’d started a small Fer­rari col­lec­tion but I re­ally fan­cied an Alfa, so I went look­ing and found this one on the web in 2012.’

A few months of open-air mo­tor­ing were made less en­joy­able by fre­quent break­downs and it be­came clear the lit­tle road­ster would soon need at­ten­tion. Af­ter hav­ing two clas­sic Fer­raris re­stored, Jim Need­ham knew what it took to cre­ate a good car… and how far from good his Gi­u­lia then was.

‘I had a chat with Ian Bark­away. His garage is just around the cor­ner from my home and I used Bark­aways for the Fer­rari restora­tions. He asked me what we were go­ing to do with the Alfa, so I said we should strip it and see what hap­pens. It came back from soda-blast­ing in a right state… vir­tu­ally in a cou­ple of Tesco bags. We were close to bin­ning it.’

There was worse to come. Parts sup­ply turned out to be harder than for Fer­raris of the same vin­tage and this car is one of just 400 right-hand- drive ex­am­ples, mak­ing a num­ber of parts rarer still. But Need­ham liked the car very much and you sense that he does not en­joy be­ing beaten. ‘I didn’t spare any money on it. I said, “build the best Alfa there is”.’ This is an Alfa Romeo Gi­u­lia Spi­der, the 101- se­ries in­tro­duced in 1962 rather than the 750- se­ries Gi­uli­etta Spi­der that pre­ceded it. The two look al­most iden­ti­cal bar the bon­net bulge but, in the man­ner of ec­cen­tric Ital­ian pro­duc­tion de­ci­sions of the time, the 101 was slightly longer and shares rel­a­tively few parts with the 750. What they all have in com­mon is a ten­dency to suf­fer se­ri­ous rot.

Ian Tamkin was lead tech­ni­cian on the pro­ject from the be­gin­ning. He stripped the car and feared the worst when the bodyshell went away for blast­ing. ‘It was very, very ho­ley,’ he says. ‘Dur­ing the strip­down we no­ticed some dam­age apart from the cor­ro­sion – the rear ra­dius arms were bent like ba­nanas and would have to be cut off and re-made. The springs were too far gone and had col­lapsed on one side. But the real task was for the bodyshop.’

In the bodyshop is Gra­ham Gil­bert. Be­fore he could be­gin the re­pairs, he had to mount and sta­bilise the shell and en­list the help of John Davies – an old-school met­al­work ex­pert with whom he had worked on pre­vi­ous projects.

‘ The first thing we had to do was brace it up,’ says Gil­bert. ‘ It had sills tacked on over rot­ten sills. We braced it across the whee­larches and on top as well. Then we cus­tom-made and welded on the fix­ings for the spit – the ap­pa­ra­tus we used to turn the shell over and re­pair the un­der­side.’

And those re­pairs kept on com­ing. The Gi­u­lia Spi­der is con­ven­tion­ally built for the time, with chas­sis rails and out­rig­gers welded to a floor­pan. Whole lengths of chas­sis rail had to be cut off, re-made and re­placed; out­rig­gers too. ‘ The scary thing is that Mr Need­ham drove it in… this was an Mot’d car.’

The bodyshop team at Bark­aways used var­i­ous tac­tics to keep the shell from de­form­ing dur­ing such fun­da­men­tal re­pair. ‘ You can use the floor of the work­shop like a jig, drop­ping a plumbline from the sus­pen­sion points and mark­ing them with chalk. You keep mea­sur­ing as you go and it can be re­mark­ably ac­cu­rate,’ ex­plains Gil­bert.

An­other sen­si­ble prin­ci­ple was sim­ply to cut off as lit­tle as pos­si­ble – iden­tify each re­pair and com­plete it be­fore mov­ing on down the car. But even at such a fun­da­men­tal stage, the no- com­pro­mise ap­proach ap­plied, as Gil­bert de­scribes.

‘ We used a spot-welder to repli­cate the fac­tory welds be­cause it’s im­por­tant to get them right when the un­der­side is go­ing to be fin­ished to the same stan­dard as the bits you can see.’ As a fi­nal check that ev­ery­thing re­mained straight in three di­men­sions, axle as­sem­blies were ‘ dry-built’ back on to the car to check for fit be­fore be­ing re­moved again for the weld­ing to con­tinue.

Large ar­eas of floor were too per­fo­rated to save and, while re­place­ment sills can be bought, in­ner whee­larches are ex­tinct as off-the- shelf parts. Gil­bert dis­cov­ered that MGB items could be mod­i­fied to pro­vide a very good fit. ‘It was slightly less in­volved than mak­ing them from scratch,’ he says. ‘ But only slightly.’ Sev­eral times it proved eas­ier to make sec­tions than buy them, not least around the boot area. Gil­bert es­ti­mates 80 per cent of the bootlid frame is new metal, which then had to be cov­ered in en­tirely new skins. Still… noth­ing the Bark­aways team wasn’t used to, surely?

‘ The weld­ing took months and months. It de­manded a lot of pa­tience,’ says Gil­bert. ‘I think it’s the most in­volved one we’ve done.’

Mike Jor­dan took on the job of hunt­ing for parts, chas­ing items from as far afield as Canada and Texas. South­ern-hemi­sphere mar­kets such as Aus­tralia, New Zealand and South Africa were more im­por­tant for right-hand- drive Alfa sales than the UK, be­cause our im­port du­ties were still high. With North Amer­ica adding a con­sid­er­able vol­ume of LHD sales, it’s not sur­pris­ing Jor­dan had to cast the net wide. Yet the most help­ful find in the whole hunt was made much closer to home. Ian Bark­away takes up the story.

‘ When it ar­rived the car was jump­ing out of re­verse gear and baulk­ing into sec­ond and third. So we stripped the gear­box and dis­cov­ered why – some­one had been in there be­fore.’

Who­ever had at­tempted the pre­vi­ous work to the ’ box had re­assem­bled it with­out the in­ter­lock pins for the se­lec­tor forks and with part of the syn­chro­mesh hubs miss­ing. This may not have been purely down to care­less­ness, be­cause when Jor­dan started to look for re­place­ments he dis­cov­ered sup­plies were non- ex­is­tent.

‘ There are two types of gear­box used in Al­fas from this era,’ he says. ‘Of course, we had the one you couldn’t get parts for.’ That left only one so­lu­tion – find an­other com­plete gear­box of the same type and try to build one good one from the two.

Low point ‘Fit­ting the wind­screen frame was tor­ture. You have to get spac­ers un­der the cor­ners to get the rake to match the quar­terlights. You try, try and try again’

Jor­dan soon learned enough to recog­nise that a Six­ties Alfa trans­mis­sion he’d spot­ted on ebay was mis- de­scribed. It wasn’t the more com­mon type with a good parts sup­ply, it was the model they needed. And it was in Can­ter­bury – the one in Kent, not the one in New Zealand.

It was also Ian Bark­away’s job to tackle the en­gine re­build. ‘For a small en­gine it needed a hell of a lot of ma­chin­ing,’ he says. ‘ You have to get ev­ery mating sur­face truly flat – cylin­der head, block, sump, the sump mount­ing face at the base of the block and so on. With­out do­ing that you’re just ask­ing for oil leaks.’

The Alfa’s 1600cc twin- cam en­gine is a wet-liner de­sign. The lin­ers can be re­moved and re­placed when they be­come worn, as these were, with no need to bore them out like con­ven­tional cylin­ders. But fit­ting lin­ers is a time- con­sum­ing skill be­cause each one must be care­fully pressed into the block cast­ing un­til they are 0.002in (two thou) proud of the block’s mating sur­face to com­press the head gas­ket when the head is fas­tened down. What’s more, they must be per­fectly per­pen­dic­u­lar to the crankshaft so there’s no ex­cess drag on one side of a pis­ton.

‘ The cylin­der head re­ceived new phos­phor bronze valve guides,’ Bark­away con­tin­ues. ‘ The old ones had heaps of slop in them and a cou­ple of valves were burned out, which killed the com­pres­sion on one cylin­der.’ New valves and hard­ened valve seats were in­serted to keep the en­gine safe from un­leaded petrol and a fresh twin- choke car­bu­ret­tor com­pleted the top end.

The bot­tom end of the en­gine was fairly straight­for­ward in com­par­i­son. The oil pump’s gears were too worn to pro­vide enough oil pres­sure, so with new gears in new bronze bushes, they were lined up to be prop­erly cen­tral in the pump hous­ing.

‘ They’ll sing if you get it wrong,’ says Bark­away. ‘It speeds up wear too. It’s a mi­nor de­tail but we were do­ing ev­ery­thing to Fer­rari 250 stan­dards on this car.’

So a new wa­ter pump was fit­ted as a mat­ter of course and the crankshaft – which needed only a pol­ish – was sent away for bal­anc­ing with all four con­rods and pis­tons, then as­sem­bled with painstak­ing use of Plasti­gauge wax strips to en­sure ev­ery tiny bear­ing clear­ance was ex­actly as it should be.

Af­ter much Googling, Jim Need­ham had de­cided on a paint shade called Ce­leste Blue, a pe­riod Alfa colour. As you’d ex­pect, the ap­proach to the paint fin­ish was ev­ery bit as painstak­ing as the rest of the job.

’ The bodyshop put three heavy coats of primer on the car,’ says Ian Bark­away. ’ They left it a week to cure, then gave it a full block­ing down, which in­volves plenty of hand-rub­bing with a sand­ing block. Then came three more coats, with two weeks to cure and a fi­nal check to catch any tiny fixes still re­quired. Once that was done, it was ready to paint.’

Bark­aways prefers not to use any spray filler, be­liev­ing it can in­crease the chances of sink­age in the fi­nal re­sult. Be­fore any of this was started, the Spi­der was seam- sealed un­der­neath. Stonechip fol­lowed be­fore the base colour and clear coat fin­ished the job to the high­est stan­dard both above and be­low.

To go with the Ce­leste Blue paint, Need­ham picked navy leather with pale blue pip­ing. It’s rather grander than the orig­i­nal mono­tone vinyl, but that had long since dis­ap­peared any­way.

The trim­mer, Mark Web­ber, started by strip­ping the seats right down and re­pair­ing them. The frame of the driver’s seat had cracked and one shoul­der was drop­ping.

With the frames ready to re- cover, Mark re­placed the old fab­ric with tough new web­bing straps, proper hes­sian and Con­nolly- stan­dard leather. The Alfa’s min­i­mal­ist door cards were treated the same way.

The roof is Mark’s mas­ter­piece on this car. He started by re­pair­ing the bare frame and then made a new, fully lined roof from scratch, achiev­ing a per­fect fit all round and in­clud­ing a cur­tain be­hind the seats that drops to cover the spare wheel. It’s all held in place with the cor­rect press studs.

Bark­aways dis­cov­ered some time ago that the only way to pro­duce per­fect chrome was to have con­trol of the process through­out prepa­ra­tion. What this means in prac­tice is that each piece – take the Alfa’s quar­ter bumper, for in­stance – is stripped and then im­mersed in a plat­ing so­lu­tion to ac­quire about 20 hours’ worth of cop­per coat­ing.

This is then re­turned to the work­shop and care­fully fit­ted and hand-filed to get pre­cisely the right con­tours with no dips, bumps or de­fects. And then it’s done again. When the cop­per- cov­ered item fi­nally sat­is­fies the ex­pert eyes at Bark­aways, it’s sent back for a coat of nickel, a pol­ish and then a coat of chrome.

‘It’s the only way to guar­an­tee you won’t see wob­bles in the re­flec­tion when it’s fin­ished,’ says Ian Bark­away.

Chris Pratt took care of much of the de­tail work, es­pe­cially in the en­gine bay. ‘I sorted out the cor­rect hose runs, the re-mak­ing and ap­pli­ca­tion of the all the right la­bels and stick­ers, even the old hose­clips: they’re 50 year- old Cheney items and we were able to clean them and re-plate them.’

Pratt and Tamkin to­gether as­sem­bled and fit­ted ev­ery­thing from the small­est trim items to the en­gine and gear­box, which was so tight on its mounts they had to be re­moved and ma­chined to size.

They fit­ted a new fuel tank and lines, new hand­brake ca­ble, dampers, springs, bushes and ball-joints at each cor­ner, and a rear axle assem­bly with new bear­ings and half­shafts but with the orig­i­nal finned, vented drums re-fit­ted with new shoes and cylin­ders. A be­spoke wiring loom kept the amps where they should be and a spe­cial­ist trim-maker man­aged to recre­ate the stain­less steel strip be­low the doors. Even the drop- glass had to be re-made spe­cially, though Jor­dan tracked down an un­dam­aged wind­screen.

‘Once the car was nearly fin­ished, we had a bet with Ian Bark­away that we could get the ex­haust on, the flu­ids into the en­gine, set the tim­ing and have it run­ning in 15 min­utes. He took the bet, we man­aged it in 14 min­utes and Ian had to buy ev­ery­one an ice cream,’ says Tamkin.

It was a happy end­ing to a huge job for the staff at Bark­aways, but just a be­gin­ning for Jim Need­ham. He was in­vited to Salon Privé at Blen­heim Palace af­ter the show’s or­gan­iser, An­drew Ba­gley, had been to Bark­aways to view an­other car and seen the Gi­u­lia in the fi­nal stages of the build.

‘Peo­ple kept say­ing they’d never seen an Alfa like it,’ re­mem­bers Need­ham. ‘It got so much at­ten­tion. Boo­dles, the di­a­mond mer­chant, picked it as its car of the show and asked me to park it in front of its stand.

‘ We drove it across the lawn, Dean Martin blast­ing out of the ra­dio… it was just what I hoped it would be. Yes, it cost the same as do­ing a Six­ties Fer­rari, but I love all my cars and I won’t be sell­ing them, so why not?’

High point ‘See­ing it on the lawn at Salon Privé, or tak­ing it out for the first time – it just makes you smile, even though it’s a quirky thing to drive’

Pre-restora­tion, the Alfa didn’t live up to its owner’s ex­pec­ta­tions

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