The Carchive: The Alfa Romeo Spider (916 series)

20140618_194346 Welcome to this week’s second visit to the festering compost heap of motoring history, from the bottom of which we hope to scrape something vaguely of interest. On Tuesday we chanced upon a brochure for the Series Four Alfa Romeo Spider of 1990, the final iteration of a car which had been in production for aaaages. In 1993, things changed for ever….. and I didn’t take any notice for seven years. So here’s a brochure for that car as it was in 2000. 20140618_194356 “The Alfa Spider is the modern interpretation of the concept of the open sports car that Alfa Romeo has always embodied so superbly” In 1993, with the launch of the “916” Alfa Romeo Spider (and it’s GTV Sister), Alfa Romeo drew a line in the sand between the past and the future. Gone was the evolutionary updating of a car which had been around for over three decades, in its place would be a thoroughly modern and totally avant-garde replacement; a massive risk when you’re meddling with one of the most recognised model name plates in the history of the wheel. It was deadly important, then, that Alfa got their sums right. I’ll go into more depth about the development path taken by Alfa Romeo Centro Stile, working with Pininfarina, in a future feature (sorry to moisten you with anticipation), but the abridged version is that not only was the answer bang-on, but the working-out was pretty spectacular along the way, with a slew of tantalising concept cars being involved. 20140618_194414 “The Alfa Spider was designed with a simplicity that does not exclude sophisticated refinement, as a single block of matter conceived to “clothe” the outstanding engineering perfectly” The end product, though having virtually nothing in common with the Spider of old, looked magnificent in its own way. The headline angle was the front three quarter view, where the unbroken clamshell bonnet was pierced by a pair of focused-looking ellipsoid projector headlamps either side, much smaller and therefore more precise in appearance than anything we had seen before. The line of the clamshell continues on an upward trajectory around the car, migrating to the upper deck line where it turns and embraces the passenger compartment. Meanwhile a pair of broad hips bulge out to carry the rear of the car, into which is set a single, neat full-width panel incorporating the rear lights. Overall it’s a simple and very effective shape, the near-diagonal swage line doing much to impart a sense of forward motion. That said, it looks even better as a tin-top; the practicalities of the Spider’s folding roof conspired to compromise ultimate elegance a little and the side on- roof down appearance is a little odd. The GTV on the other hand, has a very elegant roofline, which seems a little unfair. 20140618_194406 “All the freedom that comes from driving in an open car, without having to forgo the qualities of a modern sports car” Starting from scratch meant that Alfa could totally re-imagine how an Italian sports car interior could be, and the result was a huge improvement over the old car in comfort, ergonomics, build and general usability. The only cost being an absence of that nostalgic feeling that used to be served up in bucketloads. That was inevitable, but Alfa were taking strides to make their interiors feel special, with the Alfa shield being embossed into leather which could be provided in white, blue, black or red leather; evocative tunnel-mounted dials and (slightly unconvincing) titanium-effect plastics. Best of all, though, there was a far better chance of remaining comfortable after a moderate journey. The driving position wasn’t perfect, but it was a huge improvement. 20140618_194423 “Alfa Spider. A star-studded sky for a roof plus performance, entertaining driving, safety….” And real power was available for the first time, too. The smallest engine in 2000 was a four-cylinder two litre with two spark plugs per cylinder, had 150hp to its name, but that was merely an understudy to the star of the show, Alfa’s legendary three-litre V6. I’m pretty sure that everybody reading this can instantly recall an in-built audio track of how this engine sounds, which is something in between a Stradivarius violin quartet, a serenade from Kate Bush and a dawn chorus. You can insert your own preferred cliche’s, but whatever, it’s The Alfa V6 Sound, and along with its own music the engine brought with it 218 hp, sub-7 seconds to 60 and a set of chrome plated inlet tracts which could bring a grown man to tears of elation just by looking at them. And here’s the thing. Of all the Alfa Spiders, in fact, of all the Alfa’s, this is the one I want. As sports cars go, there are wrongnesses all over the place. Firstly, it’s front wheel drive and that should be a definite no-no for sports car fun and games. Well, it was before Lotus built the sublime M100 Elan, but a wrong-wheel-drive chassis, if well set up, has advantages in traction and only really misses out on the cheeky mischief on demand that characterises the rear-wheel-drive alternatives like the BMW Z3. Also, it’s a convertible and a REAL driver would rather walk than say goodbye to his roof. But maybe, just maybe, the actual driving isn’t the most important bit. Drop the roof and driving gains another dimension, where you’re enveloped by the sights, sounds and smells of the outside world. You are also much more exposed to that spine tingling exhaust note. So. Anonymous benefactor; I’ll take mine in silver with red leather, please. Thanks. (Disclaimer: All images are of original manufacturer’s publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of Alfa Romeo. Yeah, the 4C is nice, awesome in fact. But it all looks, you know, a bit like hard work.)

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