1979 Alfa Romeo Spider 105 series: owner review
Everyone loves new cars. They are brilliantly efficient, remarkably comfortable, and incredibly safe. Except they're also kinda dull.
Owner: J Boss
Everyone loves new cars. They are brilliantly efficient, remarkably comfortable, and incredibly safe.
Except they're also kinda dull.
Not in performance, mind you – modern cars drive really well. But at the risk of pointing out the emperor's new clothes, there aren't many (any?) outstanding designs.
Sure, you could point to those finely sculpted exotic supercars, but I'm not a property developer, don't play on the LIV-Golf circuit, and never invested in crypto. For the rest of us wage-earners, the current offerings are restricted to lots of same-same SUVs, ubiquitous two-box hatchbacks, or the ever-dwindling selection of sedans.
My dismay isn't based on any rose-tinted nostalgia, as each era had its share of automotive atrocities. The overdone fins of the '50s. The chrome and wood veneers of the '70s. Everything from the '80s...
But our current epoch is not exempt. Take all those weird headlights – I've seen LED set-ups on Christmas trees that have more nuance. All those mismatched angular body panels with haphazard creases – it's like they're auditioning for a Transformers sequel. Fake grilles. Fake vents. Even fake exhausts (looking at you Mercedes). Spoilers on SUVs – seriously? The whole dual-cab-ute thing (how did small trucks become the new 'car'?).
You see, while every car is 'designed', few – very few – possess iconic style.
For that, you have to look beyond the current offerings. After much deliberation, I have decided that the three most beautiful cars ever made are: the E-Type Jaguar; the Lamborghini Miura; and the Alfa Romeo 105 Spider. Your opinions may vary.
I can't afford the first two. So the Spider became my must-have automotive objet d'art. To my eyes, it is truly a thing of beauty. Clean, simple, uncluttered, elegant lines. Balanced and symmetrical proportions, the side profile is pure missile. No chintzy bits or superfluous adornments. It is minimalist perfection. A colleague commented that it looks like "a hundred miles-per-hour standing still". And there's no forgetting its starring role in The Graduate. I love it.
I got lucky on this one (bought interstate, after much arduous searching on the Net). This Series 2 model was a low-mileage Californian import: no rain = no rust. It's a proper RHD conversion, too, using the same kits the Alfa factory sent to the UK for their Spiders.
The original US-spec crash bars were ugly and heavy, likely designed to withstand driving in LA. Or a monster-truck derby. Fortunately, the much lighter and elegant stainless steel Euro-style bumpers were a simple bolt-on swap.
Ditto the SPICA fuel injection: specced for the US market to address fuel economy and emissions, it has been described as an over-complicated slide rule; a mechanical precursor to the mappings calculated by the electronic systems. It was a complex device that few mechanics could decipher. This was replaced with the simpler and more effective carburettors standard on the European models.
While the body is good, rust-proofing from this era is just not up to modern standards, meaning La Nina has confined it to the garage a lot lately.
What's it like to own? Well, it's an Alfa. From the '70s. So it has twin-cam brio with rorty induction through the quad-throat Webers – what Italians call 'character'. It also has a really hot and cramped footwell, with an impossible long-arm-short-legged driving position – what we Aussies call 'character'.
The engine is impressive, with the 2.0-litre besting even the bigger sixes from Holdens and Fords of that era (offering between 93–111kW depending on the year/version). These days it would be outrun by any Corolla driven in anger, but the power is linear and tractable, with ample torque available in any gear. In truth, any more would likely overwhelm the chassis.
The venerable twin-cam, all-alloy, four-cylinder is bulletproof and easy to service. These cars had a long production run (1966–94), so parts availability is very good.
The five-speed gearbox has a long-throw lever directed straight into the 'box. It feels a bit industrial in as much as it does unbreakable (designed by Porsche, there are YouTube videos full of conspiracy theories about the dodgy second gear the Stuttgart engineers may or may not have purposely built to foil Alfa. It's not really an issue, you learn to live with it).
Four-wheel disc brakes were advanced for their era, and still effective in such a light car. The steering has some amount of play off the centre, but otherwise the double-wishbone front points and turns with accuracy when you need it to. The lack of power assistance makes it a chore when parking, though.
The ride is softish, which makes it perfectly suited to rural B-roads – it's more grand tourer than sports car. The 70-section tyres on 14-inch rims ensure potholes and speedbumps aren't anywhere near as hazardous as they are on the latest low-profile fashion statements.
Front engine, rear drive means tail-out oversteer happens if your right foot is too heavy, and there's no traction control to rein it in. It's worth remembering that these are effectively classic cars, meaning it predates ABS, airbags and safety tech. It handles well enough so long as you keep within its limits.
You sit low in the cabin, and for such an old design wind buffeting isn't a problem – you can still chat at highway speeds. The roof folds simply and effectively, and doesn't leak (I did accidentally drive it in rain once... Only once).
Fortunately, the style doesn't stop at the sheetmetal. There are gorgeous interior highlights everywhere: the wood-rimmed steering wheel and gearknob, stainless centre tray and chrome-ringed gauges. The black-frosted aluminium dash binnacles are the best version of Alfa's iconic twin-cowls ever created. It's truly a lovely view for the driver.
The heating is effective in winter. And also spring, summer, autumn... You can't really modulate it by using the fresh air vents – those are purely decorative. Still, it's an open-topped car, so vents are as pointless as sunscreen is mandatory. Electrics? Yes, it has some. Though it's more of a 'vibe' than a proper system.
The upside is it's a simple 12V set-up with little other than wires, relays and the odd solenoid. You become very adept at using a voltmeter, crimping pliers and DIY roadside repairs. When all is considered, the Spider wouldn't be my first choice as a daily driver.
Yet for all its quirks and foibles, the Alfa Spider remains a style icon. It makes for a glorious weekend tourer, a traffic-light conversation starter, and a sonorous blast from the past. All those aside, there is a simple joy that happens each time I open the garage door. Of all the cars I have owned, this one's a keeper. Cue the Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack...
Owner: J Boss
MORE: Everything Alfa Romeo