Alfa Romeo Spider Driven

The Alfa Romeo Spider stood the test of time for nearly thirty years, before finally bowing out just as the Mazda MX5 was establishing itself as the long lost love child of the Lotus Elan.

The fact the Alfa Romeo Spider was in production for that length of time with only cosmetic changes on each new release means that even a late edition Series 4 car can propel you straight back to where it all began. The year 1967, the film The Graduate and the actor a young Dustin Hoffman whose character drove a Series 1 Alfa Romeo ‘Duetto’ Spider.

Much like the GTV 2000 we drove the Alfa Romeo Spider is a very attractive car to look at, this time though appealing more towards your feminine side, rather than any last remains of masculinity allowed in today’s increasingly PC world. It has pretty lines and proportions, a delicacy about it that as you step inside and drive away says only one thing, you have a penchant for styling hair. Now let’s face it the MX5 carries the same mantra and there is nothing wrong with that, it just doesn’t generate feelings of excitement normally associated with the anticipation of an engaging driving experience. Which shows just how wrong you can be.

Alfa Romeo Spider
Note: spacious boot area and 164 styled rear lights

As it turns out an Alfa Romeo Spider really is a true driver’s car which, I have to say, was a complete surprise. Its looks and generally how it is perceived mean you feel strongly inclined to wear a scarf over your head and drive 10mph below the speed limit everywhere you go. All while hiding behind a sophisticated half smile that keeps everyone guessing where in Europe you might be from. Wiltshire in this case, can’t you tell? No this car is all about how its mechanical feeling traditional front engine and rear wheel drive layout behaves when out on the open road.

This is a great car to pilot even with its uniquely Alfa driving position (Picture: Julia Nichols)

Because as the last of a long line of Alfa’s using the 105 platform; the Spider has the same cold steel bars lurking beneath its model like exterior that secure it to an old school live rear axle. Significant in that the axle weighs an awful lot more than the boot space immediately above it and so able to significantly influence what happens to the back of the car.  As you navigate yumps and bumps, bends and crests it is the axle that decides the route it wants to take before pulling on those same steel bars to dictate what the rear of the car does. As the driver you steer the front, while the axle affects the rear. It is a partnership arrangement that works very well serving as reminder of the underpinnings that make this car every inch a classic to pilot.

Alfa Romeo Spider
Pininfarina himself had a direct hand in the original design

Mastering the back end of the car, predominantly by accelerating from the apex out of every corner, allows you to also fully appreciate the two litre fuel injected twin cam engine, that at 124bhp might not be the last word in outright power, does provide some really useful mid-range torque to help maintain a decent pace most of the time. The five speed gearbox it is mated to has a sweet enough action, albeit with a relatively long throw and slightly odd near vertical movement for up and downshifts, but the ratios all make perfect sense. This is a genuinely easy car to hustle, and one that will return 35mpg so as not to break the bank either.

Alfa Romeo Spider weaves a delicious web from which there is no escape (Pictures: Julia Nichols)
Spider weaves a delicious web from which there is no escape (Picture: Julia Nichols)

Then of course there is the seating position, being completely classic Alfa, designed for people with relatively short legs and long arms. As someone with nearly the reverse of those proportions my arms were at full stretch and yet the tops of my knees touched the back of the steering wheel. Also with floor hinged pedals shin splints soon started appearing as my feet were forced to over extend forwards. All this might sound like a recipe for disaster, but not one bit of it. There is so much pleasure to be had driving an Alfa Romeo Spider that any initial discomfort is soon forgotten.

Alfa Romeo Spider
Timeless design remains stunning today

Inside an Alfa Romeo Spider is plenty of room with additional space behind the two seats for loose items. The boot is surprisingly large and easily able to swallow a couple of suitcases, uncanny given the low profile boot-lid, and proximity to the live rear axle underneath. The roof has the classic pair of chrome steel up and over catches that attach it to either side of the windscreen surround. The action of putting it up and down couldn’t be any simpler, for a manual system, negating the need to even get out of the car. All of which means slightly odd driving position aside, there is no real hardship in spending time with the Spider.

Of course this should come as no surprise given that spiders make webs to trap their pray and never let them go. The Alfa Romeo Spider weaves its own web to entice you with every mile you travel together. Fortunately you are not likely to suffer the same fate as our annoying insect friends, although you still risk being entangled and finding it just as hard to escape. The comfort and 30+mpg don’t help much either, meaning there are very few excuses to stop regularly or limit the distance traveled. THe Alfa Romeo Spider is simply a very enjoyable car to drive that just happens to also look absolutely stunning.

The Alfa Romeo Spider seduces everyone who drives it, using those model like looks to entice you before trapping you completely in its web of mechanical feeling front engine and rear wheel drive balance once out on the road.

 

How does this car make you feel?

In one word: European

As a favourite meal: Authentic Italian pasta dish that you tried once at a Restaurant in Rome before failing dismally to re-create back at home yourself. Better return and have it once again then.

Anything Else: Being trapped in a spiders web should be more than a little embarrassing, but not in this case.

Key Ingredients: Combination of stunning good looks, space inside and behind, classic Alfa Romeo rear wheel drive chassis, 2.0litre twin-cam engine and five speed gearbox containing very well judged ratios that enable a decent pace to be maintained.

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With thanks to Great Escape Classic Car Hire

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6 Comments

  1. Thank you for your enthusiastic review, Matt! I bought a Spider this spring (Silver paint, black interiour). Best decision in my life … what fun it is was to take the Spider across the Alps to his birthplace in northern Italy!

    cheers to all Spider-owners from Switzerland,

    Jonas

  2. Hello Matt,
    I read your enjoyable write-up on the Spider and cannot have put it better. This Summer in the States, the national Alfa Romeo Owners Club held its annual convention in both Thompson, Connecticut (track events and autocross at America’s oldest original road course) and at a hotel in Warwick,Rhode Island. Classic Motorsports magazine gathered together all four versions of the Spider you wrote about for what may be the first time they have been driven back to back for an article that ran for nine pages. The article appeared in the Nov. 2015 issue, and I was very lucky to get a call two weeks before the convention, just as I was completing my refurbishment of all the worn front and rear suspension components on my ’86 Series 3 car, asking if I could make it available to editor Tim Suddard. In the four hours he spent with us and our cars on the delightful Thompson Motorsports 2.2 mile road course, we each drove each others cars and gave Tim our impressions, after he first drove the cars. The cars evolved in relatively subtle ways over 27 years, but we all agreed they were all closely related. There was virtually no difference between the Series 3 and 4 cars, which were substantially stiffened to support increasingly high-grip tires. Best, Jay

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