Alfa Romeo Spider buyers’ guide

10 Mar 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Alfa Romeo Spider buyers’ guide
Alfa Romeo Spider

Alfa Romeo Spider

(1966-1993)

The Spider is now viewed as the classic Italian droptop – but what should you look out for when buying?

However, the parts supply situation is better now than it’s been for years. Because of the car’s complex structure it’s worth looking into who has done any work and, if possible, getting hold of supporting pictures to show it being done.

INTRODUCTION

The lifespan of the Spider was long and complex, with four different engines offered and an equal number of incarnations – all of which shared the same superstructure. But it doesn’t matter which derivative you choose, it’s always going to be a great drive thanks to wonderfully sonorous powerplants and a chassis that is so communicative you truly feel you’re at one with the car.

As with many cars of the 1960s and ’70s, the eighth owner some 40 years down the line wasn’t really at the forefront of the designers’ minds when the models were conceived. Consequently there are many traps for the unwary. Rust protection was pretty much non-existent and repairs are often complex and expensive.

Buy a good one and it’ll take years off you; jump in without looking and you could end up ageing very quickly!

If you don’t want to get caught out, you will need to spend at least £5500 on a car that’s usable and shouldn’t require any significant work. Even better if you can stretch to £8000 for a Series 3 or £10,000 for an earlier model; these kind of figures will secure you something that’s really good.

Looking for a quality Duetto? You’ll need more in the region of £15,000 – but for that you’ll be able to get one of the best cars out there. If you’d prefer a challenge, you could buy a restoration project for £1500 upwards, but be warned: putting one of these cars back together is not the same as with your typical Meccano-like Triumph or MG.

ENGINE

The all-alloy twin-cam fours fitted to the Spider are renowned for their sweetness, the basic design having first been used in 1954. However, they don’t take neglect very well, and a common malady is for the head gasket to blow, giving the usual tell-tale signs of white emulsion in the oil.

One of the rules which is often broken by owners is to let the engine warm up thoroughly before exercising it – being an all-alloy unit this is especially important. As long as the motor has been serviced properly (preferably with 3000-mile oil-change intervals and the correct anti-freeze) it should last for 120,000 miles before needing a rebuild.

One of the things that doesn’t help the potential buyer is the fact that Spider engines can still appear healthy long after a rebuild is due. The nature of the unit means it’ll always sound a bit thrashy with noise emanating from the timing chains and valvegear, but it shouldn’t be unduly unpleasant.

Oil pressure should not fall below half way on the clock (4kg/sq cm) once above tickover, and make sure you check the air cleaner: if the engine is on its way out, this will have traces of oil from the breather pipe. Other weak spots are the O-rings below the camshaft bearings. If these have failed there will be a trio of oil trails down the side of the engine block (from the head) or traces of oil in the cooling system’s header bottle.

Because of its cast alloy construction, the engine block is easily damaged by frost. Modern sealing compounds can hide this quite effectively, so check the thermostat housing for evidence of them. Also, engine mountings have a habit of failing (especially on the exhaust side), so you should make sure you rock the motor via its cam covers to check these.

TRANSMISSION

Apart from some US-spec Series 4 models, all Spiders were fitted with a five-speed gearbox. This should be quiet and easy to use – the first problem you’ll encounter is likely to be worn syncromesh on second ratio. It’s probable that the gearchange won’t be too sweet until the box has fully warmed through, but once up to temperature it shouldn’t be at all baulky.

The clutches originally specified were prone to wearing out quickly, but by now most have been replaced with much stronger units. Meanwhile, the back axle rarely gives any trouble as it’s the same as is fitted to the heavier saloons and coupés. Any whines coming from it could indicate that there is trouble ahead.

The most likely cure is a replacement axle, and the most cost-effective solution is buying a secondhand unit for around £100.

Rear hub bearings can be a problem as they’re not very easy to replace. There’s a shrink-ring used to retain the bearing, but if you’re not too handy with the toolkit a specialist will ask around £50 to fix each side.

SUSPENSION, STEERING AND BRAKES

Right-hand-drive cars were fitted with recirculating-ball steering, but some Spiders were reputedly equipped with a worm and roller set-up. Neither system normally gives problems, but the bottom steering joints do wear to cause MoT failure.

If you need to buy lower ball joints, don’t go for the cheapest available as some aren’t really up to scratch – generous tolerances give enough play to produce an immediate MoT failure. The bushes within both the steering and suspension systems are also wear-prone, as are those in the rear suspension’s trailing arms. Another area that gets neglected is the central reaction trunnion locating the rear axle.

Alfa Romeo Spider

These are cone-shaped rubber bushes which quickly wear out, allowing the back wheels to feel unstable. When replacing this it is worthwhile fitting a bush made of harder rubber or nylon, available from specialists.

As if that’s not enough, there’s another fault which often afflicts the Spider’s suspension: the Metalastik bushes in the wishbones. There are four bushes, all of which can be affected by seizure as a result of water getting into the trunnion. If left, the wishbones can be damaged by the undue strain.

Replacing these is a big job, and again you should be wary of cheap bushes. At the same time check the lower spring pans for rust. Furthermore, inside the pan is an aluminium shim that tends to dissolve with the passing of time. These are selectively fitted in order to control the height of the suspension.

This isn’t easy on older cars, but EB has shims ranging in thickness up to 10mm.

Another job that’s well worth doing every 20,000 miles or so is to ensure the tracking, caster and camber are set correctly. To get the best handling out of the car the suspension must be set up very accurately, but it’s not easy to find somebody who can do it properly. A good bet is BenAlfa in Westbury, Wiltshire, which charges £140.

Check the anti-roll bar mountings, which will probably have corroded and may need to be welded up. Front anti-roll bars often pull out of their retaining links as the bushes tend to be of poor quality, but new links complete with bonded bushes are available for £20. As well as brake servos leaking, the master cylinders are particularly prone to bore wear. A regularly used car may need a new cylinder within four years of replacement.

If you’re looking at a right-hand-drive model that was built between 1970 and 1978, it’s fitted with a dual cylinder which costs £195.

Brake calipers can corrode and seize up, and after years of having to settle for rebuilt units which were sometimes not that great, it’s now possible to purchase new ones again. They’re the same price whether you’re buying for the front or the rear: £130 apiece.

CONCLUSION

Buying a Spider isn’t to be taken lightly, and if you’re thinking of purchasing a car imported from America you could be setting yourself up for huge amounts of grief thanks to the specification differences between US-market cars (which featured Spica fuel injection from 1969) and European models.

However, the parts supply situation is better now than it’s been for years. Because of the car’s complex structure it’s worth looking into who has done any work and, if possible, getting hold of supporting pictures to show it being done. It’s easy to buy an example which has been badly restored and will end up costing you even more to put right than an honest car needing a complete rebuild.

But find a good Spider and you’ll wonder why everybody doesn’t have one!

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