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by Jay Traugott
In just a couple of years we'll have an all-new Spider on the market - this time sharing its mechanicals with the all-new Mazda MX-5.
Some cars become popular simply because they look good, and that's just fine, but when there are certain mechanical issues that can increase the driver's risk of injury or even death, that's when a car can potentially become truly great. Of all the automakers who've built cars that fit this description, Alfa Romeo clearly stands out. While I'm not directly implying that you'll end up dead if you own an old Alfa, it's a well-known fact that older models weren't exactly up to par in terms of reliability and safety.
But you know what, who cares? Alfa Romeos are not only beautiful, but they also sound wonderful and provide pure driving pleasure. From 1966 until 1993, there was one Alfa that gave owners endless hours of enjoyment as well as mechanical heartache - the Spider. First appearing at the Geneva Motor Show in 1966, the Pininfarina-designed Series 1 Spider was originally powered by a four-cylinder engine with just 109 horsepower. Mated to a five-speed manual transmission, it also featured an independent front suspension and disc brakes.
It was also a relative bargain, selling for just under $4,000, making it even cheaper than other European competitors such as the Lotus Elan and MGB. It was given a power upgrade to 118hp in 1967 along with various improvements to the brakes, suspension and electronics. A less powerful version with only 89hp debuted in '68, but it didn't come with some of the nicer amenities the 118hp model had. For those classic movie buffs out there, the Series 1 is what Dustin Hoffman's character drove in the 1967 film "The Graduate." Although the car broke down in the film due to a lack of gas, real-life owners would soon experience the lack of long-term reliability in other ways.
The Series 2 Spider came out in 1970 and remained in production until 1982. Besides from receiving a more powerful engine, it was given some exterior updates such as a redesigned rear-end, front grille, and windscreen. The interior was improved as well. Less powerful versions were also offered, but the real gem here was the Spider-Targa. Copying off of Porsche, the Targa featured a fixed rear window and removable roof panels. All told, not even 2,000 Targas were built. Like other European-imported sports cars of the time, the Spider's stainless steel bumpers were soon replaced with black rubber units due to U.S. safety regulations.
Series 3 made its debut in 1982 with an all-new 2.0-liter engine with fuel injection. It was also given yet another exterior update that was not particularly well received by Alfa fans. In 1986 the "entry-level" Graduate trim was launched in order to commemorate the movie. Lacking power windows and even alloy wheels, it managed to stay on the market until 1990.
1990 also saw the debut of Series 4, which from afar still looked like a Spider, but up close the styling changes were quite apparent. For starters, the front and rear bumpers were completely redesigned as large plastic pieces that were the same color as the body.
The engine received some improvements, but with the introduction of the Mazda Miata in 1989, it was clear the Spider was long past its prime. Production finally ended in 1993. The owner of this 1973 Series 2 Spider Targa claims his car has no rust which is quite unusual considering they've been known to do just that. After buying it from the dealership, he set about fully restoring it and did major work to the engine, transmission, suspension and interior. As common with old Alfas, there was also work required to fully get the car's electronics back in proper working order.
The owner claims he's spent thousands of Euros so far and he'll likely pour even more money into it in the future, but he doesn't mind simply because the car is a joy to drive. And that's what you'll hear from most Alfa Romeo Spider owners: their cars can cost a lot to keep them running but its money well spent.