Buy­ing Guide: Alfa Spi­der

Gor­geous and great to drive if sorted – here’s how to net a good one

Practical Classics (UK) - - CONTENTS -

What you need to know be­fore you buy this lit­tle sports car.

Un­til rel­a­tively re­cently the Alfa Spi­der was sur­pris­ingly un­der­val­ued de­spite its ex­cel­lent dy­nam­ics and ap­peal­ing de­sign. This was es­pe­cially true of the ear­lier cars – and it’s these mod­els that are now the most sought after and most valu­able. But with a pro­duc­tion run strad­dling four decades with four dis­tinct se­ries, the Alfa Spi­der range of­fers some­thing for ev­ery­one.

Which one?

Although each se­ries has its own spec­i­fi­ca­tion and ex­te­rior de­sign, all are ba­si­cally the same un­der the skin, so it’s a ques­tion of buy­ing whichever model takes your eye. The S3 is the runt of the lit­ter with its less co­he­sive styling, while the S4 has a fol­low­ing and was of­fered with a right-hand drive con­ver­sion (by Seak­ing or Bell & Colvill); look out for cor­ro­sion in the bulk­head of such cars.

The S4 has mod­ern ad­di­tions such as fuel in­jec­tion, power steer­ing and elec­tric win­dows. Ear­lier cars are no more re­li­able even though they’re sim­pler – they’re also more likely to be rusty be­cause they’re older and have in­fe­rior cor­ro­sion pro­tec­tion.

The 1300 is rare and came in S1 and S2 forms only. This is the sweet­est-revving of the en­gines; although short on power it means you have to use those revs and the gears more, which gives a more in­volv­ing driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. The 1750 and 2000 pow­er­plants have sig­nif­i­cantly more per­for­mance, es­pe­cially the lat­ter with its ex­tra low-down torque.

If you want an au­to­matic you’ll have to buy an S4, but the three-speed ZF gear­box on these cars is hardly a joy to use. Be­sides, one of the loveli­est things about the Spi­der is its man­ual trans­mis­sion.

It can be worth shop­ping in Eu­rope; there are rust-free cars in south­ern Italy. If you’re buy­ing a car that’s had work done, pin down who did what. Says mar­que guru Richard Nor­ris: ‘Be wary of cars that have had a small amount of work done by a spe­cial­ist, but which are passed off as com­pletely re­stored by them. It’s easy to buy a Spi­der that has been badly re­stored and will end up cost­ing you more to put right than an hon­est car need­ing work.’


Get a Spi­der pro­fes­sion­ally re­stored and at least three-quar­ters of the £25,000-£40,000 typ­i­cal cost

will be spent on the body­work and ba­sic struc­ture. There was no fac­tory-ap­plied rust­proof­ing in pe­riod and lots of rust traps mean cor­ro­sion is com­mon, ex­ac­er­bated by a three-piece sill struc­ture. If you can see signs of rust, there will be much worse hid­den from view. Orig­i­nal cars are rare and many Spi­ders that have been re­stored have been the sub­ject of low-qual­ity work when val­ues were lower.

Home in on the cross­mem­ber un­der the ra­di­a­tor; on Kamm-tail cars there’s a plate on ei­ther side of the ra­di­a­tor and wa­ter gets trapped where these meet the lower panel, so it rots through.

You can also ex­pect cor­ro­sion in the sills, whee­larches (es­pe­cially the dou­ble-skinned rears), floor­pans and in the seams where the front valance at­taches to the wings.

On all cars but the S1, drainage pipes run on ei­ther side of the car from the hood scut­tle to an out­let in the chas­sis. These pipes get blocked lead­ing to rot­ten lower rear wings, but the rot of­ten isn’t ob­vi­ous. Also, scru­ti­nise the trail­ing edge of the bootlid and spare wheel well; wa­ter leaks cause this to fill with wa­ter, which then eats its way out. The fuel tank mounts rot too. From in­side the car, thor­oughly check the base of the footwells for holed floor­pans and also crusty in­ner sill walls and seat run­ners. Ex­am­ine the area be­hind the front seats; the S2 is the only model that got a small back seat, with all other Spi­ders be­ing two-seaters. Other weak spots in­clude the area around

each front jack­ing point, and the rear sus­pen­sion mount­ing points. Any sign of bodged re­pairs in these ar­eas means ma­jor ex­pense to put right. Also in­spect the front and rear valances, which rot from the in­side out.

The front wings rust along the edges and in the seams, while at the front of the whee­larch there’s a ledge that traps mud and rots through; at the rear, a re­mov­able splash panel pro­tects the struc­ture be­hind. You should be able to take this off to check the con­di­tion of the pan­el­work be­hind, in­clud­ing the front of the mid­dle sill.

Oily bits

The all-al­loy twin-cam fours are renowned for their sweet­ness but they won’t tol­er­ate ne­glect, so look for a blown cylin­der head gas­ket be­trayed by white emul­sion in the oil; al­low six to eight hours’ labour to fix and maybe some ma­chin­ing too, plus the cost of a gas­ket set (£30). If the all-al­loy unit is warmed thor­oughly be­fore the revs are ap­plied, the oil changed ev­ery 3000 miles and anti-freeze lev­els main­tained, 120,000 miles be­tween re­builds is typ­i­cal. When a re­build is due, bud­get be­tween £3500 and £6000 to get it done prop­erly. Spi­der en­gines can ap­pear healthy long after a re­build is due. Ex­pect things to sound a bit thrashy with noise from the tim­ing chains and valveg­ear, but it shouldn’t be un­pleas­ant. Oil pres­sure shouldn’t fall be­low half­way on the clock (4kg/sq cm) above

tick­over and make sure you check the air cleaner, which may have traces of oil from the breather pipe if the en­gine is get­ting tired.

Other weak spots are the O-rings in the cylin­der head gas­ket. If these have failed, there will be a trio of oil trails down the side of the en­gine block (from the head) or traces of oil in the cool­ing sys­tem’s header bot­tle.

Be­cause of its cast al­loy con­struc­tion, the block is eas­ily frost-da­m­aged. Mod­ern seal­ing com­pounds can hide this ef­fec­tively, so check the ther­mo­stat hous­ing for ev­i­dence of these com­pounds. En­gine mount­ings fail, es­pe­cially on the ex­haust side, so rock the en­gine by grasp­ing its cam cover to check its mount­ings.

Apart from some Us-spec au­to­matic S4s, all Spi­ders got a five-speed man­ual gear­box that should be quiet and easy to use, although the change won’t be too sweet un­til the oil is hot. Even­tu­ally sec­ond-gear syn­chro wears; bud­get £1000 for a gear­box re­build.

The shrink-ring used to re­tain the rear hub bear­ings means they’re not easy to re­place, but a de­cent spe­cial­ist will fix this for around £250 per side.

The Spi­der got a steer­ing box rather than a rack; ei­ther a re­cir­cu­lat­ing ball or worm-and-roller set up. Nei­ther box gives prob­lems, but the six track rods (or steer­ing joints) wear, so check for play here by mov­ing the steer­ing wheel and see­ing if the road wheels turn straight away. If not, bud­get £70-£75 for the parts.

The bushes within the steer­ing and sus­pen­sion sys­tems are wear-prone, as are those in the rear sus­pen­sion’s trail­ing arms. Re­plac­ing these can trans­form the car’s han­dling. The cen­tral re­ac­tion trun­nion lo­cates the rear axle and uses cone-shaped rub­ber bushes which wear, so the rear wheels feel un­sta­ble. The trick is to fit a bush made of harder rub­ber or ny­lon.

There are four Me­ta­lastik bushes in the front wish­bones, which seize once wa­ter has found its way into the trun­nion, po­ten­tially dam­ag­ing the

‘The all-al­loy twin-cam fours are sweet but won’t tol­er­ate ne­glect’

Nick­name Only the 1600 S1 is known as the Duetto – and even then, that’s an un­of­fi­cial tag.

Is it orig­i­nal? Un­re­stored cars are ul­tra rare, so check the his­tory to see who did what, why and when.

The S3 is sweet to drive and a great-value Spi­der too.

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