Alfa Romeo Spider – The Duetto
For an unbelievable 52 years now the 105/115 series Alfa Romeo Spider has been turning our heads. The continuous modifications it had to undergo during its unmatched 27 years of production show a strange mixture of appreciation and rejection. Time to look back and see how it all came about.
Let’s take a look at the competitive environment of roadsters in 1967.
In Germany for example, the boat-tail or “Duetto” with its 109 bhp cost 12,950 Deutschmarks, the Triumph TR4 (100 bhp) 12,750, the Fiat Spider (90 bhp) 10,980 and the VW Porsche 914 (80 bhp) 11,995. No need to think twice, if you ask me, especially when knowing that the Porsche 911E offered a mere 20% of additional performance for more than twice the price.
In the US and the UK however it was a whole different story. In the US the car sold for $3,950 and compared to the $3,991 for a Lotus Elan and the $2,607 for an MGB it was obviously aspiring a premium positioning, similar to the the UK where the Duetto’s price was close to that of a Jaguar E-Type.
Premium or not, in the beginning the Duetto found the unanimous support of neither journalists nor customers. This was unusual for an Alfa Romeo, the main reason for this being its design. Neither at its presentation at the 1966 Geneva Motor Show, nor in the numerous car magazine reviews that followed, the public opinion about the Duetto’s round design was enthusiastic. Its styling had resulted from the several “Superflow” design studies by Pininfarina and eventually the show-car Alfa Romeo Giulietta SS Coupé Speciale Aerodinamica, which premiered at the 1961 Turin Motor Show.
They all had the soap bar shaped body with Plexiglass® covers of the head lights in common, a convex-concave lateral bead to give the car’s side view structure and a transparent glazing of the cabin with pillars so reduced that they almost became invisible. And they were all fixed head coupés. When Alfa Romeo looked for a successor of their Giulietta roadsters, Pininfarina’s Superflow style was selected as a design concept. However, with the fabric top instead of the glazed hard top, the whole thing abandoned its aerodynamic pedigree and suddenly the car’s tail looked somewhat out of context. It also provided ground to give a feminine connotation to the design and let’s not forget that buying cars in the Sixties was a man’s business, much more than today. Alfa Romeo’s head quarter was growing increasingly concerned.
There is no doubt that the Fastback “Coda Tronca“ which was released in 1970 radically changed the Duetto’s styling towards sportiness and masculine appearance. Officially Alfa justified the new version with aerodynamic improvement and bigger boot capacity.
Another revamp followed in 1983. This was mainly motivated by the changing admission requirements in the US that requested more robustness against low speed parking damage. The introduction of black rubber front and rear bumpers can not be universally praised from a styling point of view, neither can the soft rubber spoiler that was added to the boot lid.
That all said, from the vantage point of the present, the original Spider doesn’t look more feminine than any other car of its time. If you compare these elegant little drop-tops with contemporary cars and SUVs you want to pet all three series. The original design of the Duetto sends out a coherence and harmony today that obviously wasn’t perceived as such in the Sixties.
Where the Coda Tronca carries an open space to integrate the front bumpers and the “Alfa Cuore”, the Duetto shows finely modeled sheet metal. Its hood, cabin and boot look perfectly proportioned with the sense of a consistent artistic intention, the newer designs from many angles look somewhat tail-heavy and radiate subsequent modification.
Don’t ever be fooled by the fact that the Spider has a rigid rear axle. While this suspension concept is widely associated with pre-war technology, in fact it works excellently if properly executed. The Alfa 105 series combines lightweight design with highest kinematic support. Two longitudinal arms and a central wishbone provide proper wheel guidance in longitudinal and lateral direction with constant camber and toe angles.
The front double wishbone suspension which is state of the art even in today’s terms and its low centre of gravity, give outstanding handling to the Spider with no bad surprises even when pushed hard to the limit of tyre grip.
Apart from the 911 there is no contemporary car with an accordingly sensible steering feed-back and compared to today’s dish washer steering systems the control is magnificent. High steering force when parking? Well, yes. So what?
The steel that was used in Arese had its bad days, but all the affected cars are long gone and in the early Seventies there was no self-supporting body design that was superior to the Alfa‘s. You just have to make sure that all the problems are fixed and modern means of protection are upgraded. Basically every panel below the lateral bead is vulnerable to corrosion and actually every panel above as well. Please see our table for details.
If these lines have threatened you in any way, take heart and read on.
The Spider‘s interior is magnificent. If the huge gauges for speed and revs don’t make you melt away, your heart must be made of stone.
I have a soft spot for leatherette seats, but of course there’s nothing wrong with leather either. And the rubber floor mats make me shiver.
All has been said about Alfa’s engines and no matter whether you take the Junior with 1300 cc or the Veloce with 2000, their sound is drums and trumpets. You will want this sound as a ring tone on your mobile.
The Junior combines super direct response with easy revving, the Veloce with highest elasticity, accordingly the 1600 and the 1750 are somewhere in between.
Contact ignition systems require some attention and diligent maintenance and if you haven’t studied Weber and Del’Orto so far, a Spider is a good opportunity to finally start.
Does that read like a love affair? Yes, it does.
Credits for the pictures go to Ernesto Mantovani SRL, Mantova (Italy) und British Sportstars Overijse
(Belgium). Both cars are for sale.
2 additional images. Click to enlarge.