• The Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce is one of the quintessential Italian roadsters.
• Collectors shunned third-series Spider models for decades due to their rubber-intensive design, but in many ways they’re better than some of the earlier cars—and considerably more affordable.
• This well-kept convertible is for sale right now on Bring a Trailer, and the auction ends on May 12.
Every time I see an Alfa Romeo Spider, I’m teleported back to my high-school days. This might sound odd, because this red 1988 example currently live with no reserve on Bring a Trailer (which, like Car and Driver, is part of Hearst Autos) is exactly as old as I am. I met the Spider when it was too old to be considered a late-model car yet not old enough to earn the coveted classic status; it was just an aging European car.
I’ve been obsessed with—”possessed by” might be more accurate—cars since before I could talk, and I had the good fortune of growing up largely in Salt Lake City, Utah. While the Beehive State may not sound like a mecca of classic European cars, and it wasn’t, you’d be shocked by the number of vintage Italian machines that were scattered throughout the state in the 2000s. Many were unloved: they were beached in industrial zones, left for dead at mom-and-pop junkyards, or forgotten behind a barn. They were also cheap. After landing a job in the kitchen of a local Italian deli at 16, I turned leaving a friendly “I’d like to buy your car” note into a form of science and began buying, selling, fixing up, parting out, trading, and hoarding. I started the Italian Motor Club of Utah to meet like-minded enthusiasts.
Several species of Spiders ended up in my driveway over the next few years, including Fiat 124s, Fiat 850s, and Alfa Romeos. Some were mine, while others were owned by friends and/or club members. As a side note, real spiders often swung by as well; Utah is home to three or four types of tarantulas. Nearly everyone preferred the Alfa, even when compared to the 124 (no one cast a ballot for the furry ones).
It’s one of those “drive it and you’ll get it” cars, and it perfectly captures the essence of what this segment of the market was about. The Spider is a low car to begin with, and you sit low in it. Its driving position is one that only the Italians could dial in, and the shifter pokes out at you almost horizontally. There is no linkage, it goes straight into the transmission, so each movement is crisp and direct. The engine is a real gem: 115 horsepower isn’t a lot to ask from 2.0 liters, it’s eager to explore the upper echelons of its rev range, and it sounds phenomenal. Hearing the symphony of four pistons and two cams singing their hearts out is enough to convince you to get a convertible rather than a coupe.
Alfa made several visual and mechanical changes to the Spider between 1966 and 1993. The third-series cars, like the one listed on Bring a Trailer, were maligned for many years because they look like they fell out of a rubber tree and hit every branch on the way down. Sure, they’re not quite as elegant as some of the earlier cars, but here’s a secret: they’re also better. By that point, the 2.0-liter had gained a Bosch electronic fuel injection system that was considerably less finicky than the SPICA mechanical system it replaced. I have no data to back this up, but in my experience the later cars feel better screwed together than the earlier ones, and they come from an era in which Alfa took rustproofing a little more seriously.
In short, the Spider was a gateway drug to Italian car ownership: exciting, affordable, and easy-going. The creek of cheap examples listed in the classifieds ran dry at some point in the 2010s. Folks figured out what most of us already knew: this little roadster is tremendously fun to drive, it’s nowhere near as scandalously unreliable as many asseverate, it’s reasonably simple to work on, and reproduction parts are readily available from a number of vendors whose products are good enough that even the Italians buy them. Some older Alfas are difficult to own; that’s not a myth. Tracking down parts for the Milano Verde’s ABS system is an effective antidote to Italian-car ownership. The Spider is not one of them.
Because it was relatively undervalued for so long, the Spider morphed into an unlikely paradox: a throwaway exotic. For many drivers it was appealing as a red convertible, but for many drivers it was also too obscure to pour any significant amount of money into. The example live on Bring a Trailer looks like it has been unusually well kept: it features around 63,000 miles and it’s offered with a clean Carfax report that shows it has been California-registered since 1994. It’s not entirely original. The steering wheel, shift knob, and CD player are aftermarket, but it wouldn’t take much to bring it back to stock if that’s what you’re after. You could also enjoy it as-is; these are minor changes, all things considered.
Bidding stands at $9100 as of Tuesday, and the auction ends on Thursday, May 12. While $9100 would have bought you the nicest 1988 Spider around nearly 20 years ago when I was hoarding Alfas, I’d guess this one isn’t done climbing. Far from it. The seller didn’t set a reserve, so the highest bidder will take this Spider home when the hammer drops. I suggest holding on to it: these cars aren’t getting any more common. And, looking at how much the older Duetto models are now worth, they’re not going to get any cheaper.
I wish someone had told me that in 2006!
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