We spent a wonderful week in northern Italy in late July, something I warmly recommend to anyone having some unplanned vacation time left this year. Enjoying the beauty of cities like Venice, Bologna and Florence without the crowds is a fantastic experience, and as long as we return to some kind of normality before hotels and restaurants go bust, my impression is also that the local population in a tourist hot spot like Venice enjoy the “break”. So go if you can and enjoy the quality of life and the beauty of the country, you won’t regret it!
If you do so, what you shouldn’t expect is however coming back with lots of pictures of old Fiat 500’s or some vintage models from nearby Maranello or Sant’Agata. At least in northern Italy the automotive scene has moved on and become as bor… dominated by the large, mostly German brands (preferably in grey or black) as in other countries. For us, it took until the last day with only a few kilometres left to the Swiss border until we spotted a beautiful example of a true legend of Italian car manufacturing, and with a total production time of 28 years, likewise the modern car with the longest production I can think of: the Alfa Romeo Spider.
The Spider saw the light in 1966 as a two-seated roadster with rear-wheel drive. Launched at the Geneva Motor Show the same year, it was a direct successor to the Giulia Spider and was in its first version produced until 1969 with a 109 hp, 1.6 litre, twin cam four-cylinder engine. From the beginning the car was equipped with a five-speed gearbox and disc brakes on all four wheels, something that was far from being the case on all cars at the time, even more expensive ones. Speaking of price, a new Spider was at the time around the same as a Jaguar E-Type, something that is definitely no longer the case!
In 1968 a slightly larger, 1750cc engine replaced the 1.6 litre in the version called the 1750 Spider Veloce, and a smaller, 1300 cc engine developing 88 hp was introduced in the Spider 1300 Junior. The smaller engine was replaced by a larger, 1600 cc four-pot in 1977, while the 1750 engine was increased to 2 litres in 1971. Whilst being further improved through the years with its power increasing to 128 hp at most, the two engines would equip the Spider until the end of production in 1993.
In spite of continued refinements through the years, you could still argue that the main differences between the four series are mostly cosmetic. From the lean lines of the first two series, over the spoiler-and-skirts third series of the 80’s to the surprisingly clean-looking, last series, the Spider evolved with time and managed to keep a classic look, never getting too old. To me, the first and last series are the best looking ones.
The Spider was a light car, but even with a kerb weight of at most 1100 kg in the fourth series, it’s clear that 128 hp doesn’t make it a race car. Then again, that was never the intention. The Spider is a cruiser from the mechanical car age, with no driving aids but with lots of road presence. The first thing everyone will notice next to the large, wooden steering wheel that equips most cars, is the gear lever that is basically mounted on the dashboard in an angle that you do however get used to pretty quickly. The chassis does not excel in rigidity to put it mildly, meaning a squeak here and there will always mix with the nice sound from the four-pot. Taken together, you will never wish for more power but rather quickly settle in to the cruising-type of drive the Spider was built for, and excels at!
When production ended in 1993, a total of 124.000 Spiders had been produced, of which a fair number have survived until today. Prices have started to move upwards, especially for the first series where nice cars now cost from EUR 40.000. My guess is that especially the later series that today can still be had for EUR 20.000 or even less for nice examples, still have further to go. Also, unlike something like the E-Type, a Spider with its uncomplicated mechanics is cheap to maintain, making it something of an ideal classic for country roads in Tuscany or elsewhere, but wherever you are, always with enough Italianità!