Looks aren’t everything, but they sure do help. Take, for example, the Alfa Romeo Spider. From every angle it dropped jaws, and still does today – especially when in the right guise in good condition. A starring role in the iconic 1967 movie, The Graduate, made this stylish roadster an international star.
When it came along in 1966 it epitomized the stylish fun-loving decade it was born in; those rounded body panels, that intricate grill, that subtle-yet-stunning rear end. By the point it met its maker in 1993, the Spider made use of electronic fuel injection and larger painted plastic bumpers, but it still managed to look and drive with all the charm of the original. As the years go by, the Alfa Spider continues to look gorgeous and drive in a thrilling manner. Buy the right example, and you could be enjoying some fairly trouble-free top down motoring, but you will soon regret sinking your cash into a bad example. Here’s what you need to know.
Which one to buy?
It’s always wise to choose a classic car that comes complete with a good history, but with any Spider it’s paramount. You should not be afraid to inspect and sample a number of different cars before you make any decisions. There are many rough or poorly restored examples on the market, and the more you inspect, the better your idea of what you’re looking at.
The oldest cars are most desirable, meaning it’s the boat-tail 1600 Duetto Spider – as seen in The Graduate – that is generally the most expensive. Generally speaking, the later the cars offer a better driving experience, as well as a simpler ownership experience. Many have larger more powerful engines, as well as suspension tweaks. If you’re looking for a classic that can be enjoyed regularly, then you shouldn’t shy away from these upgrades - if they’ve been carried out correctly.
As the years went by, and the engine capacity increased, so did the Spider’s weight. There’s no disguising the added weight of the later cars, however power also increased throughout the years. Many reckon the early 1750cc cars are perhaps the best compromise.
Performance and specs
Engine 1570cc, four-cylinder
Power 91bhp @ 6200rpm
Torque 80lb ft
Top speed 106mph
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
Kerb weight 1038kg
• The Spider’s biggest problem is rust, and it is not an easy model to restore properly or inexpensively. The Spider’s lack of any corrosion protection from new means signs of rot on the car will have come from the inside out. By the time it’s visible it’ll be much worse underneath, so it’s normal for three-quarters of the cost of a Spider restoration to be on the bodywork.
• One of the first areas to rot is the crossmember under the radiator – on Kamm-tail cars there are two plates which are fitted on either side of the radiator. They meet the lower panel where water gets trapped, eventually rotting through.
• Also badly affected are the rear of the sills, the wheelarches (especially the back ones, which are double-skinned) and floorpans. The seams where the front valance meets the wings also harbour rust.
• The lower half of each rear wing will have seen better days, due to a blocked drainage pipe which runs from the hood scuttle to an outlet in the chassis. Although the area may look presentable, there’s a good chance it’s been patched and is not as solid as it appears.
• If the car isn’t given a good thrashing regularly, the Spider is likely to ‘oil’ its spark plugs. These engines are highly strung thoroughbreds, and while generally reliable, they definitely need regular maintenance to stay at their best. Any proof of this is a good sign that the car has been used correctly.
• Neglect is not good however, and you should always check for signs of head gasket failure, which includes a mayonnaise-like substance in the oil cap (indicating oil and water mixing) with
• All but a few late US-market cars came fitted with a five-speed manual transmission, which should be quiet and smooth in operation. Don’t worry about a bit of stiffness when the ‘box is cold, but any crunching going into second is a bad sign, meaning that the synchromesh is worn.
• A low-slung sump is vulnerable underneath the car, particularly when parking.
• Leather upholstery is prone to split along the seams, but most will have been re-trimmed by now. Watch for low-quality leather or cars needing a full re-trim – this will cost a significant amount.
1966: Alfa Romeo unveils its all-new Spider, unofficially tagged the Duetto. The first Spiders (badged 1600) have a 1570cc engine and two twin-choke Webers to give 109bhp, 103lb ft and 111mph.
1968: The 1750 Spider debuts at the 1968 Brussels motor show, still with a boat-tail; its 1779cc engine is reckoned to be the finest incarnation of Alfa’s twin-cam powerplant, with 118bhp and 127lb ft giving 116mph. Changes include an alternator instead of a dynamo, a brake servo as standard and suspension tweaks. Harsh Italian tax laws also lead to the introduction of a 1290cc Spider Junior, aimed at the home market – RHD cars are rare. 89bhp equates to a 110mph top speed, but three-quarters of the cost of a 1.8-litre car ensures strong sales.
1970: The Duetto bodystyle is superseded by the Kamm-tailed version, still with the 1779cc engine. It is six inches shorter than its predecessor, and its revised dashboard has cowled instruments in place of the original ones set in a flat dash.
1971: The engine size is increased to 1962cc and the car becomes the 2000 Spider Veloce. A limited-slip diff is standard, and styling changes include a broader front grille, recessed door handles and modified sidelights.
1977: Official UK imports of the Spider stop, but some cars aren’t actually sold until 1978. However, Spiders continue to be imported (including 1983-1989 Series 3 models) by companies such as Bell & Colvill.
1990: Official imports resume, with LHD only. These Series 4 machines are structurally the same as 1970s models but with a heavily-restyled nose and tail. The interior is also spruced up and electronic fuel injection is installed along with variable valve timing. An official right-hand-drive conversion is £2200, taking the overall price to £18,550.
1993: Production ceases, a year before the introduction of the all-new GTV-based front-wheel-drive Spider.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.aroc-uk.com – Alfa Romeo Owners Club
• www.alfaowner.com – Alfa Romeo Forum
• www.alfaworkshop.co.uk – The Alfa Workshop
Summary and prices
The Spider is considered one of the most beautiful cars ever put into production, so it’s no wonder that prices are on the up. Concours-slaying boat-tail models can command up to £40,000 in today’s money, although less rounded examples can be picked up for just shy of £30,000. Average editions come in at £18,000, however are a big risk; peel away the bubbling bodywork and you’re likely to find rust, and a lot of it, revealing just why it’s over half the price of a well-looked after Spider.
The series 2 Kamm tail models can be picked up for a little over half the price, meaning a mint example can sell for around £25,000. Pay between £7000-£15,000 for a reasonable example. As you might expect, it’s the series 3 and 4 cars that provide the best value for money. Even the best S4 models go for around £10,000, and S3 models even less. £7500 will get you a fine example, with rough runners starting from £3500.