Bangernomics: MoT time with a cheap Alfa Romeo

We all dread MoT test day, but we can promise you it’s ten times more terrifying when you own a classic Alfa Romeo. As Max Holder explains…

Part one of my Alfa saga was not so much a chronicle, but one rip-roaring celebration of the first eight months of ownership. You could call it the honeymoon period perhaps. Well, recently it seemed as though divorce was looming, and it was going to be a messy one.

Experiencing possibly the finest V6 engine ever produced, the taut handling and pin-point steering were just a select few of the noticeable positives associated with my GT V6, and that’s before the words character or passion were thrown around with all the attached clichés.

Although an excess of 6000 trouble free miles were stuck on the odometer, it came round to that time of year, the go-wait-in-a-garage-like-you’re-in-a-children’s-hospital-waiting-room kind of time. The annual vexation that any modern classic’s owner is subject to – the dreaded Ministry of Transport Test. Argh.

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I was aware that the front tyres were in need of replacement, and that the eBay sourced LED headlight conversion probably couldn’t fathom the term beam pattern, but I was not prepared in the slightest for the following re-enactment to occur.

Disaster

An MOT usually takes 45 minutes or so, and having worked on a number of cars I gave the Alfa a quick once over a few days prior to D-Day. A quick bulb change later and I felt relatively calm about the forthcoming.

The only cars under my ownership to have comically failed MOT’s have been ones I have found loitering in barns, or had trees and a thriving community growing within. Well, 45 minutes steadily turned into 60 minutes, then an hour and a half. At this point I was manically pacing around the forecourt, wonkily rolled cigarette in shaky hand, whilst enjoying the least-coffee-tasting substance ever offered gratis.

A sullen looking man, whom resembled a surgeon escaping the operating theatre, walked into the waiting room. Like a school boy who was about to receive some raunchy corporal punishment, the man beckoned, ‘Mr. Holder, could you come with me please?’

For the onlookers, a mix of relief and solidarity humidified the room as I walked towards my Alfa’s fate, in addition to a number of expletives which fell out of my mouth en route to the honourable gentleman’s office. I was presented with several sheets of paper and enough failures to make a grown man weep.

Rust here, holes there, ruined brakes, tyres with a comical number of nails in them (in addition to the overwhelming lack of aforementioned tread), hoses perished to the point of explosion, leaks, and the ballsy LED conversion for the icing on the somewhat tarnished cake – a minefield of all the words that are rather upsetting to see when put in a relationship with anything automotive.

At this point the list was so exhaustive I was put into a state of shock, just smiling and nodding at the man who was explaining in elaborate detail how utterly buggered my pride and joy really was.

As it turned out, the list of failures was not actually the most upsetting part. Whenever I have a butchers at a potential purchase I know what to look for, especially on cars of this age. I will have a good look underneath, have a nosey at all the fluids and all of that caper amongst other things on an actual test drive.

Sadly, in this instance, my expertise failed me because of a delightful substance that gave J.K. Rowling her inspiration for Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak (probably) – Polyfilla.

The honourable gentlemen who sold me the Alfa explained that some welding was required and that as a reputable garage, they had undertaken it as a matter of precaution and to a high standard.

The dangers of Alfa rot

Being the apparent naïve soul I am, I failed to realise that this translated to likely purchased from an auction for an incredibly good price considering age and mileage. The garage probably took it to their MOT guy and realised you shouldn’t be able to see wires or carpet underneath. So, some rather violent welding later – and by welding I mean a couple of spot welds, literally – there were some random bits of metal covering many, many holes underneath.

A bit like a demented child discovering paint for the first time, biblical quantities of filler were then thrown around underneath, producing a finished article that looked rather convincing, that and some black Hammerite applied liberally to replicate fresh under-seal. Sadly, this abstract approach to structural engineering meant the rear suspension was mostly held in by filler, due to the complex multilink rear suspension that gives the baby Alfa it’s pizzazz.

Then, I came along and saw a one owner GT V6 with 60,000 miles on the clock. The paintwork was immaculate, the service history was the stuff of legend and the engine sounded smoother than any of the other cars test driven. I was fooled. Furthermore, this winter was rather grim, and I will assume that salt and filler don’t like sharing the bed – you can connect the dots yourselves.

The repairs begin...

Once I had come to terms with the upset, I was determined to remain hopeful. One sunny morning I rang Alfa Romeo themselves, yet I soon learnt this was a preposterously silly idea. They told me some hilarious stories, such as one can only purchase the entire side of the vehicle, and that individual panels are unavailable. Considering I needed complete outer sills, this was rather amusing if not totally soul destroying, in a way that made my worst relationship breakup seem amicable.

For your general amusement, you can buy a complete side of a GT for £1800 plus VAT, if you’re interested. Not sure why you would – banter, wall mural, coffee table? A stylish coffin lid?

My local specialist agreed they could fabricate sills for my little Italian monster and that this is a common issue. Annoyingly, the tin worm is drawn not from poor quality metal, or even poor under-seal at the factory, but stupidly located jacking points (or in layman’s terms: clinical morons who can’t read a manual before jacking up the weight of a car on a pressure point the size of a coke can).

Eight long weeks went by, and although I was fully prepared to take out a mortgage considering the surgery undertaken, the overall cost was the best news I had received in many moons. I wasn't going to be declared bankrupt and I was going to get my Alfa back!

Considering the work involved, everyone lived happily ever after. The Alfa is now freshly welded with actual underseal applied, rear suspension no longer replicates a rave-bound teenagers jaw , and a whole host of niggles have been terminated – resulting in a fresh, advisory-free MOT certificate.

Naturally I had to celebrate, so a custom made exhaust was manufactured – I know I said it sounded like a Ferrari before, but now I really mean it.

Although Max's Alfa is road-legal, because it's an Alfa the potential for breaking down is still high. If you live in the Oxfordshire area, please carry a fire extinguisher in the event you clock him at the side of the road.

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