I’m one of those guys who’s always loved the old Alfas, come close to buying once or twice, but never drove off into the sunset. Alas, today, I am a Mitsubishi man, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still feel my pulse quicken when I browse AlfaBB.com in the off chance fate will yet smile upon me and change everything.
Alfa Romeo is one of those storied manufacturers every gearhead knows. They pulled out of the US market back in 1995, but even now, almost 20 years later, we still spot the odd Spider or 164 around town. Often, these sightings are of tired, well-worn specimens, making those gearheads who notice wonder if it’s someone who just doesn’t care, doesn’t have the budget to properly restore, or maybe knows something the rest of us simply do not.
I’ve been wanting to interview an Alfa owner or two for some time, but don’t know any personally, and all those random visits to AlfaBB.com result in dozens of gorgeous machines – and a bit of depression, knowing I have expensive tastes in old Alfa Romeos. So how do I choose?
Fortunately, on a recent visit to the BB, one thread jumped off the screen at me. This guy had pictures of his GTV, gorgeous in yellow, a Spider which reminds me of the one I almost bought 15 years ago in Wichita (which was savagely vandalized the night before I went to buy it, thus ending that dream), and the rest of his small, tasteful collection that just made sense.
[bd] Introductions. Before getting into specifics on your cars, I wonder if you could share a little bit about why Alfa Romeo is such a beloved – and, to some extent, feared – marque. I get the feeling you’ve been doing this for a while and can speak to that which makes Alfa ownership so meaningful. How did you come to discover this?
[cl] My name is Carmelo La Spina. I was born in Nissoria, a small town in the island of Sicily in Italy. No, I never did drive the Targa Florio race, but as an adult, I had the pleasure to drive the complete route with my wife Graziella in the fall of 2011. I became an Alfista at the age of 4, when my father brought home a beautiful Giulietta pedal car.
My family moved to Chicago in 1970 and I began drawing automobiles – especially Italian racing cars – at a young age and found the little Alfa GTAs to be my favorites. Upon graduating with a degree in Architecture in 1986, I borrowed money from my brother Sal and purchased my first Alfa, a used 1981 GTV-6! The depreciation factor was on my side, 5 years old and with only 27,000 miles, I was able to own a Giorgetto Giugiaro designed car that stickered at almost $21,000 just a few years prior for about $6,500.
In 1981, Alfa Romeo decided to drop one of the most beautiful V6s ever produced into a more beefed-up chassis originally used on the Alfetta GT. It used a 2.5 liter V6 in 60-degree V, with a single camshaft over each bank and conventional 2 valves per cylinder. Like most Italian Vs, it makes all types of hair tingling symphony once it comes on cam at about 4200RPM.
My car boasts stainless steel header, oversized valves, higher lift cams from a 164 S and a reprogrammed EFI, “Pandoras Box,” which serves to advance the spark up to 5500RPMs and then retard it slightly as revs rise to 7400RPM. The front-engined car with rear-mounted transmission, combined with the use of a De Dion rear suspension, delivers a perfect 50/50 weight distribution with exceptional handling. After 28 years of ownership, it was my son’s first ride home in 1987 and I have agreed to pass it on to him when he’s ready to have her.
Anyone who’s been bitten by the “Alfa Virus” understands that Alfa stands for “Always Looking For Another.” Safe to say I have been an Alfa addict since that first pedal car.
I have been involved with the Chicago Alfa Romeo Chapter for over 26 years and chaired the National Alfa Romeo Convention in 2008. Just recently, I’ve partnered with a good friend and we have purchased about a dozen Giulietta /Giulia Spider Veloce and Coupes in hope of restoring them to their original glory. However, that is another story.
[bd] The cars. We can discuss each a little bit or one in-depth. I’ll let you decide, sir. Of course, I’d like to be sure we include the four I saw in your thread on the BB, but if one speaks to you more than the rest, we can focus on it and simply mention the others. That said, how would you like to introduce your Alfas?
[cl] Today I own what many consider to be the pinnacle of the 105 cars – a ’67 Giulia Super, a ’69 1750 Spider Veloce and a ’71 1750 GTV. Even though all cars share similar technical features, each car boasts completely different styling and an abundance of personality. Combined they form an interesting Germanic color scheme, however, they are about as “Crazy Italian” as any trio of cars can be.
1967 GIULIA SUPER
The ’67 Giulia Super, the grandfather of the original sports sedan (no BMW didn’t do it first) is the most intriguing of the bunch. Designed in-house and one of the first mass produced cars whose design was created by the use of wind-tunnels, it boasts a .34 drag coefficient. That’s right, lower than both the slick Spider and GTV, equal to that of a 911.
With the success of the Giulia Ti, Alfa created the Giulia Ti Super and did nothing less than give Lotus’s Colin Chapman and his Cortina’s continual fits on the race tracks. Its proven chassis was the beginning of the good things to come from the unbeatable GTAs and the later GTVs and Spiders. Because of this success, Alfa decided to upgrade the Giulia Ti with the Super.
Boasting a 1600cc engine equipped with two twin-throat Weber DCOE 40s, this car is no ordinary sedan. To the untrained eye, it looks like a brick. However, a closer look reveals details typically reserved for special sports cars; fluted lines throughout, roof overhangs and an unheard of Kamm tail typically reserved for race cars allows the car to easily reach speeds approaching 120 mph.
The interior is beautifully appointed with detailed 3-spoke aluminum steering wheel, and reclining seats, not forgetting a 5-speed floor-mounted transmission, servo operated ATE disc brakes all around and a stump pulling 4.56 rear axle ratio. I believe that the term “Wolf in sheep’s clothing” was created to describe this exact automobile.
1971 1750 GTV
In 1989 I purchased my second car. It was the car of my dreams, a 1971 Alfa 1750 GTV and it was the beginning of a special love for Alfa Romeo 105 series cars.
The ’71 1750 GTVs may be the most sought after of the GTVs. It provides a mature front façade, advanced braking system from the ’69 model year, nice interior ergonomics, and the last year of the much preferred 1750 engines. My car, originally used as a pizza delivery vehicle by a local Alfista, was restored back in 1990. The sound of the 1750 engine is intoxicating and one cannot get enough of its go-kart like handling. Of the three, this is the one you take on a long back road drive. The interior is comfortable even for guys up to 6’3” tall.
The engine was built by Besic Motorsports and it has been bulletproof for 23 years. The 1750 sports a polished and ported head with oversize valves, 11 mil camshafts, flowed header and stainless steel exhaust system. It rides on 14 x 7 Panasport wheels shod with 195 x 60V series tires. The induction sound never tires and every tap on the throttle produces sounds like those of a pack of Rottweiler tearing up cardboard boxes!
1969 1750 SPIDER VELOCE
My third Alfa was purchased from a retired aeronautical engineer from New Jersey. I flew to New York with pops, picked up the car and drove it back to Chicago. Best road trip I’ve ever taken and it means even more today because it was with my father. The car is a ’69 Alfa 1750 Spider Veloce.
When I purchased the car, I would walk around it and study the genius of the late Battista Farina. First year of the American 1750s and the last year of the “Round/Boattail” Spider Veloces. Many argue the ’71 and forward Kamm tail cars are more pure, I say that a car’s design can only be original once. Who am I to argue with old man Pinin Farina?
The “Boattail” is 100% completely original and that includes the paint as well. Today, you will be hard-pressed to find original USA version 1750s that still have rear nerf bar between the bumpers and front horizontal piece in front of the classic Alfa grille. The only items added were the European lenses because they really help to complete the design as it was foreseen by Pinin Farina.
Great for touring even in hot weather. Top down, playing period correct Lucio Battisti music, the growl from a healthy, maintained Alfa engine, and the aroma of high octane petrol smothered in my wife’s hair… just doesn’t get any better!! Well, that is until I pick another car to drive!
[bd] It’s clear that – like any other vehicle – a properly maintained and well-cared-for Alfa should be a joy to own and operate (and no doubt flog from time to time). Yet it’s hard to escape the notoriety of old European cars, perhaps Alfa chief among them. Why do so many associate Alfa Romeo with breakdowns and being stranded?
[cl] Having lived in the States through the rust ages of the 1970s, I believe the notion of Alfas rusting is a rumor that initially came from British car owners! [laughs] I can show you a dozen cars I presently own and the only time you’ll see rust on the chassis is if the car sat open to water.
Alfas don’t rust any more than Ferrari, Lambos, Maserati, Lancias, and for sure not like the FIATs, and I’m still waiting for someone to show me where the billion Chrysler/GM/Ford cars of the same era have gone. Research done in Germany shows more Italian classic cars in top shape than any other makes in Germany.
The cars Alfa built prior to the Italian government sleeping with the men from the Iron Curtain were rarely susceptible to rust. Like many European makes, rust problems began in automobiles built after 1973/1974. The metal purchased from Russia was terribly inferior and that was the biggest reason for rust. The other biggest player for rust in cars imported to the States was the practice of “rustproofing by drilling holes” in door panels and spraying enough gook inside to clog up all the drainage holes, making them rust from inside out.
[bd] What advice would you have for a complete rookie who lusts after cars of the caliber seen here in your collection today, but without the finances to afford such specimens? Are there specific years or models better suited to lower budget newbies than others? To that end, if there was just one rule of thumb for selecting one’s first Alfa Romeo, what might that be?
[cl] Today, there are many Alfas that make fantastic starter cars for the beginner lusting for a thoroughbred.
For those looking for handling, great engine and mundane silly looks, 1750 Berlinas can be picked up for a few thousand dollars. $8/10K will buy you one of the best cars in the States.
Early series 2 Spiders (1750/200) up to 1974 are the best to buy. They are the lightest at just under 2,200 lbs and make more power than the smog-tied later models. Exceptional to good ones go for up to mid twenties – $25K – but can be reasonably purchased between $8/$12K if you don’t mind doing a little bit of work. I picked up a wonderful ’71 1750 first year Kamm tail Spider Veloce that needed some tender loving care for about $4,500.
For those like myself that have always craved for the body of a GTV, keep looking at pictures of GTAs ‘cause they are now fetching anywhere from $175/$250K. The early 1600 Stepnose GTVs (’66-’68), later 1750 GTVs (’69-’71) and lastly the 2000 GTVs (’72-’74) make for a great selection. Projects starting at $4,500 really good ones up to $45,000. However, most cars fall in the $12/15K range.
The sleeper of the bunch is the GTV6s, for it can be had from $3,500 to $7,500 all day long. Recently, units selling for $18K are very common – HOWEVER – a warning to those with shallow pockets. Do not let the affordability blindside you because, like most fine engineered cars, repairs and maintenance can and will break the piggy bank.
Safe money and just pure enjoyment, a fairly nice 105 series Sedan, Spider or Coupe’ would be my choice.
[bd] Finally, where might the Alfistis – past, present, future – in our audience connect with you and others like you online?
[cl] People I’m connected with go on the BB (as you know), the local and national Alfa Romeo chapters. Most now have online chatting, etc.
There’s something about the old Alfa Romeos that I think speaks to all gearheads. Their relative mechanical simplicity, the sounds they make, storied Italian design, and the passion behind every nut and bolt – these are things which combine to deliver the ideal driving experience, right?
Someday, I’m gonna have to get an Alfa Romeo of my own. How about you? Already got one? Want another? Want your first? Which is your favorite?