Alfa Romeo Spider Buying Guide

Exciting and drop-dead gorgeous, the Alfa Romeo Spider is more complex than you may imagine. Here's what to look for when taking the plunge

How much to pay

• Project £7000-9000 • Good £19,750-30,000 • Concours £45,000+ •

Overview

Practicality ★★★
Running costs ★★★
Spares ★★★★
DIY Friendly ★★★
Investment ★★★★
Desirability ★★★★

Alfa had offered Spiders before, in the form of the Giulia and Giulietta, but when the company unveiled an all-new model at the 1966 Geneva salon it was more modern, more usable and every bit as attractive. The Alfa Romeo Spider would go on to be produced in four distinct series over the next 17 years.

The lifespan of the Spider was long and complex, with four different engines offered and those four different incarnations each sharing the same structure. However, each offers the same intoxicating blend of great looks and thrilling drive thanks to a slick gearchange, lusty twin-cam engine and superbly responsive chassis.

Due to its high profile, the Spider isn’t one of those cars that you can buy cheaply if it’s a good one, but that high profile does mean the car is well catered for by clubs and specialists while parts availability is good, too. As they say in its homeland: Bellissimo!

Your AutoClassics Alfa Romeo Spider inspection checklist

Engine

Any Spider’s all-alloy twin-cam four-cylinder engine won't take kindly to neglect, with blown head gaskets common. However, if the engine is serviced properly (with 3000-mile oil changes and the correct anti-freeze) it’ll last 120,000 miles between rebuilds.

Spider engines can appear healthy long after a rebuild is due, although the timing chains and valve gear tend to be noisy. Oil pressure shouldn't fall below halfway on the clock (4kg/sq cm) just above tickover; the air filter will have traces of oil from the breather pipe if the engine is on the way out.

Other weak spots are the O-rings below the camshaft bearings. 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.

Its cast-alloy construction means the engine block is easily damaged by frost, so check the side of the engine for evidence of oil and coolant leaks; they’ll be obvious. Engine mountings can also fail, especially on the exhaust side, so rock the engine via its cam covers to check the mountings.

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Gearbox

Apart from some US-spec Series 4 models, all Spiders had a five-speed manual gearbox, which should be quiet and easy to use – the first problem is usually worn syncromesh on second gear, although the gearchange probably won't be too sweet until the 'box has warmed up.

Suspension and brakes

Cheap lower balljoints are often fitted but aren't always up to scratch – noticeable play means an immediate MOT failure. The central reaction trunnion, which locates the rear axle, features cone-shaped rubber bushes which quickly wear, allowing the rear end to feel unstable. Bushes made of harder rubber or nylon are available.

The four Metalastik bushes in the wishbones can seize through water getting into the trunnion. Replacement is a big job and be wary of cheap bushes, which won’t last long. The lower spring pans also rust; inside the pan is an aluminium shim that dissolves. Replacements are available in varying thicknesses up to 10mm.

Check the anti-roll bar mountings, which will probably have corroded and may need to be welded up. Front anti-roll bars can pull out of their retaining links as the bushes tend to be of poor quality, but new links with bonded bushes are available.

As well as brake servos leaking, the brake master cylinders are prone to bore wear; a regularly used car may need a new cylinder within four years of replacement. RHD cars built between 1970 and 1978 have a dual master cylinder, which is expensive to replace.

Bodywork

Rust is the biggest problem and these cars aren’t easy to restore properly or cheaply. A lack of factory-applied protection means rust works its way out from the inside. By the time it's visible, it's much worse underneath and often terminal. Three quarters of a Spider’s restoration costs are usually for the bodywork alone.

Start with the crossmember under the radiator, the rear of the sills, the wheelarches (especially the double-skinned rears) and floorpans, plus the seams where the front valance meets the wings, the lower half of each rear wing, the trailing edge of the bootlid, spare wheel well and the fuel tank mounts.

From inside the car check for rotten floorpans along with the inner sill wall and seat runners. Also inspect the A-posts which rot, leaving the doors to sag. Other weak spots include the front jacking points and the peak of the wheelarches, the front and rear valances plus the front wings.

Parking nudges can also wreak havoc. Check the bootlid’s alignment and ensure the front wings haven’t been filled. The complexity of the boat-tailed Spider’s construction means restoration is even more involved than that for the later cars.

Interior

The seat trim falls apart and door trim panels can warp, but everything is available. The hood is easy to use but replacing it isn’t for the amateur and it gets damaged easily, plus it's prone to leaking even when working correctly.

The electrical system is simple, with rusty connections the most likely problem. On cars with air-con (most common on US-market cars) make sure it works. The same cars are likely to have electric windows which will probably be suffering from sticky motors.

History

  • 1966: The Spider debuts, unofficially tagged Duetto. The first Spiders (badged 1600) have a 1570cc engine.
  • 1968: The 1750 Spider debuts, still with a boat-tail but now a 1779cc engine. There’s now an alternator, brake servo plus suspension tweaks. The 1290cc Spider Junior debuts too – right-hand drive cars are rare.
  • 1970: The Duetto bodystyle is superseded by the Kamm-tailed version, still with the 1779cc engine. Six inches shorter than its predecessor, the dashboard is revised too.
  • 1971: The 2000 Spider Veloce arrives with a 1962cc engine plus a limited-slip diff is standard. Styling changes include a broader front grille, recessed door handles and modified sidelights.
  • 1977: Official UK imports of the Spider stop, but cars continue to be imported independently.
  • 1983: The Series 3 is introduced, with fresh bumpers, plus spoilers front and rear.
  • 1990: The Series 4 debuts and official imports resume, with left-hand drive only. S4 cars 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.
  • 1993: Production ceases, a year before the introduction of the all-new GTV-based FWD Spider.

AutoClassics says…

The Spider that’s the most collectible is the earliest model, the Duetto. Later cars are every bit as desirable in that they’re more powerful, more usable and more affordable too. The sweet spot is the Series 2 – cheaper to buy than the Duetto, offers the most investment potential and it still has classic looks; things started to go downhill aesthetically from the Series 3 for most enthusiasts.

The Series 2 was also available with factory-built right-hand drive, whereas the later cars were converted from left-hand drive independently. Whichever model you buy there are plenty of traps for the unwary, but despite their reputation, these cars aren’t inherently unreliable.

While rust protection was pretty much non-existent and repairs are often complex and expensive, if you buy a good Spider it'll take years off you – but jump in without looking and you could end up ageing very quickly.

Specifications

Duetto (1966-1967)
  Power 109bhp
  Top speed 113mph
  0-60mph 11.2sec
  Economy 25mpg

1300 Junior (1968-1972)
  Power 89bhp
  Top speed 98mph
  0-60mph 11.4sec
  Economy 27mpg

1750 Spider Veloce (1967-1971)
  Power 122bhp
  Top speed 115mph
  0-60mph 10.0sec
  Economy 26mpg

2000 Spider Veloce (1971-1983)
  Power 132bhp
  Top speed 118mph
  0-60mph 8.8sec
  Economy 28mpg

Picture courtesy of MagicCarPics

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