Alfa Romeo Spider
With prices chasing the coupés now’s the time to buy a Spider, with our advice
With film-star-gorgeous looks, great handling and a gutsy twin-cam engine, the Alfa Spider is a superb sports car that’s better value now than when it was new – especially in Britain, where the cost of righthand-drive conversion by the UK distributor whacked the price up. There are now more here than ever, imported from many countries over the years; the fact that most recent imports are left-hand drive helps to keep prices down.
Take time to consider which of the four series is best for you, then look carefully for a car that has been well cared for – especially the bodywork.
Sharing their wisdom on Spiders with us on these pages are Stuart Taylor, Alfa Romeo Owners Club Giulia 105/115 Registrar for more than 20 years; Chris Sweetapple, whose company Highwood Alfa supplies and manufactures a wide range of Spider and other Alfa parts; and Peter Smart, whose Classic Alfas company services, restores and race-prepares Guilias, Spiders and other classic Alfas. Which one to choose? There were many variations through the Spider’s exceptionally long life, with four engines ranging from 1.3 to 2.0 litres. Over time styling changes and emissions requirements diluted looks and performance, but later cars still have plenty of appeal and pack modern comforts such as power steering, electric windows and electronic fuel injection.
1966-69, S1 ‘Duetto’, identified by round tail. Launched in 1966 in 1600 (1570cc) form with 109bhp, joined in 1967 by the 1750 Veloce using the GTV’S 1779cc, 122bhp engine, then by the 89bhp 1300 Junior.
1969-82, S2 ‘Coda Tronca’, identified by Kamm tail. A steeper windscreen and revised grille and trim accompanied the cut-off tail and bigger rear lights. In 1971 the 2000 Veloce replaced the 1750 with 132bhp, updated interior and options of limited-slip differential and alloy wheels. The 1600 and 1300 continued but the latter was dropped in 1978. A dash restyle came in 1980 and headlight covers were deleted in 1982.
1982-89, S3 ‘Aerodinamica’, identified by spoiler tail. A black rubber tail spoiler and restyled grille and bumpers gave the Spider a new look (arguably its
least attractive), still either 1600 or 2000. In 1986 the Quadrifoglio Verde introduced an integrated front spoiler and ugly side skirts, along with the optional three-way catalytic converter with Bosch L-jetronic fuel injection. Power dropped to 127bhp.
1989-95, S4. Full colour-coding and smoother bumpers gave the Spider a distinctive style again, now all with Bosch Motronic fuel injection, power steering and optional three-speed auto transmission. The 1600 was discontinued in 1992.
Corrosion is, unsurprisingly, the biggest enemy of all models. S4s are particularly rust-prone because the sills fill with water when their drains clog up; the sills are complex structures and replacement costs around £1500 per side. The boot floor and footwells also need careful inspection; when checking the latter have a good prod at the base of the inner sills because it’s not unusual for covers to be fitted over rotten outer sills, leaving the metal to fester away inside.
Rot can strike almost anywhere on earlier models. The steel used on Alfas up to the Nineties was very poor and seemed to rot from the inside out even if attempts were made to protect it. Check that rusty metal has been cut out, new metal has been let in correctly (seam-welded if within 30cm of a suspension mounting or load bearing point as per MOT rules) and protection applied for the future.
Most body panels are available, especially for the S2 onwards; Duetto panels can be costly with front wings more than £1000 each. A full professional body rebuild will cost about £20,000, so project cars are really only for the DIY enthusiast.
Engines are a delight – the compact all-alloy fourcylinder with twin-cam crossflow cylinder head is efficient and powerful in all its guises. When it does wear out (look for excessive oil breathing, leaks, blue smoke in the exhaust and listen for bearing knock), it can be fully rebuilt for £4k-5k.
Many owners discard the Spica fuel injection fitted to meet emissions control on Us-market cars from 1969 to the Eighties, although those who can make it work (try Porsche 911 specialists) say it’s not at all bad. It’s often replaced with Webers or Dell’ortos but you’ll need to budget £1000-plus for the carburettors,
‘There are now more in the UK than ever, imported from many countries over the years’
Over four iterations the Spider’s appearance, engine capacity and performance evolved markedly – but the common thread running through the whole breed is that they all offer fine looks, performance and handling