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Andy C

Alfa Romeo Spider 916



Thereís that old motoring clichť Ďyou arenít a petrol head until youíve owned an Alfaí. Well I havenít. In fact I hadnít even driven one until Wednesday, so god knows what that makes me.

A mate had been asking me for months to clean his recently acquired weekend toy, an Alfa Romeo Spider 916. I finally got around to doing it on Wednesday night, so after a wash, dry, clay bar, HD cleanse, super resin polish and HD wax, we went to find some country lanes to go for a drive and get some good pictures.

Having spent around 3 hours cleaning it, itís fair to say I managed to get a good look around the car. One thing Alfas always seem to do is look good. Even if dynamically theyíre not quite up there with their German rivals. †It didnít take long to make up my mind Ė itís a fabulous looking and very well proportioned car, aided by the striking Rosso Alfa red paint, and the not-too-big, simple, but effective 16inch alloy wheels. Itís definitely one of pininfarinaís better moments.

This car falls just shy of the face lifted model which was bought out in May 1998. That got a better interior, slightly tweaked exterior, and more powerful yet more frugal engines. †

From the passenger seat, the first thing you notice is how low you sit. This is no bad thing, and very sports car like. With the roof up, itís a cosy place to be. There are no bright colours; itís all black, with a few bits of grey here and there. Roof down, itísÖ pretty much the same. Having googled the interior of the facelift, I canít help thinking how much better the brushed aluminium looks. The quality was surprisingly good. The plastics on the dash felt solid, with only the door cards and some of the centre trim by the handbrake feeling a bit flimsy. Interior quality doesnít bother me too much, but even I wasnít expecting much from a mid-90s Italian car.

Getting into the driverís seat for the first time, knowing youíre going to get to drive it is quite exciting. You sit very low like Iíve already mentioned which gives a proper sports car feel. †Iíve driven hot hatches and saloons which are a lot faster, but you donít get that same edgy, hunkered down, almost race car like feel. Get into a Focus ST, and apart from a sportier seat, it feels just like any ordinary Focus. †With the spider, even with the engine off and just sitting there, it makes you want to turn the key, drop the roof and take it for a blast. †Mooching around getting the ideal driving position is very easy. The steering wheel is the right size; the seat is a very simple design, which doesnít really look very inviting at all looking down at it. However, once sat down, it provides surprisingly good comfort and support. Adjustment is very basic (tilt and reach), but to be honest thatís all you really need.

Start the engine, and once the 2.0 twin spark has settled to a steady idle after a few seconds, thereís not much drama at all really. It did give a slight tinge of disappointment from the initial excitement of getting into this sports car. If Iím honest, the engine didnít sound very sporty at all. When idling, itís quite a loud and rough sound. Blip the throttle and the rough sound just seems to amplify. It never really gets Ďexoticí.

Once thing thatís immediately noticeable when you first drive it is just how old skool, simple and mechanical it feels. †The gear change is heavy and has quite a long throw; get it wrong and it can feel horrible and jagged. Get the relationship between the creaky clutch and gear change right, and it can feel great.
The steering is laughably accurate and is full of feel. Think Peugeot 306 or Mk1 Focus and you wonít be far off. Like I said, it has an old skool grainy feel which you just donít get with modern cars. A hugely pleasant surprise.

At this point, I couldnít get my old Clio Cup out of my head. The above was reminding me how similar they both felt. It continued to the engine: both 2.0 N/A. Both had that loud, mechanical sound that made you feel like you could sense everything that was going on. Both had a Ďnot very niceí natural sound, and both had razor sharp, instant throttle response. The Clio, being lighter and more powerful, was much much quicker. There is apparently only 22hp in it, but if feels like a much bigger gap. Regardless of that, itís the way the power comes that makes them so similar. For example, floor the throttle in 3rd gear at 20mph. Not much happens below 3k. Just over 3k things start to get a bit more interesting. Above 5k, another cam kicks in and you get the full on force of the engine to the red line, accompanied by a screaming yowl from the induction (when both engines sound good). They both feel the same, in the Clio it just happens a lot more quickly. Think of the Spider as though youíre watching a programme on Sky at normal speed, whereas the Clio is like watching the same programme, just with the x2 fast forward button pressed . Everything is sped up. Youíre still aware of whatís going on, but itís a lot more frantic and over a lot quicker!

Handling is unfortunately where the similarities end. The Spider has a reasonably supple ride around town, and will go around corners at normal speed no problem. The issues start when you throw a bumpy, uneven country lane at it. Again, at normal speed its fine, but when you start pushing on, it starts to get a bit crashy and wobbly. This is where I donít think the steering works in its favour. Being so accurate, itís easy to start getting a bit cocky and piling on too much speed into a bend. Do this, and things do start to get unruly. ĎScuttle shakeí I think the term is. You can definitely feel it. Outright grip seems to be fine, even on budget tyres, and it never feels dangerous, but quick changes of direction do not feel good!

After how it made me feel when I first got in, did how it drive disappoint? Yes in a way. †I think the best way to drive it is the opposite of how you would normally drive a small Italian car. Even so, getting to drive an Italian open top sports car, on a good b road, on an English summers evening with not a cloud in the sky, something clicked and it was definitely motoring highlight.


A lovely modern classic. The paintwork looks like new in the "after" shots.

Like you I have never owned or even driven an Alfa. Must try and correct that at some point.
Chris M Wanted a V-10

PG wrote:
A lovely modern classic. The paintwork looks like new in the "after" shots.

Like you I have never owned or even driven an Alfa.

I have driven an Alfa, once.... it was a pool car that was previously a senior Manager's company car. The interior was falling to pieces including a severely sagging headlining.
I have no plans to own an Alfa myself

You've done a great job sprucing it up!

I drove a MiTo when they were launched, but it wasn't a patch on the MINI.  Haven't driven any others and nothing in the current range will change that.

You can't beat a convertible on a summer evening.
Andy C

I can't help thinking that the coupe (66% stiffer structure) and yet still great looking, aluminium interior and a 3.0 V6 engine under the bonnet will be one hell of a (bargain) car.

*searches autotrader*

Chris M Wanted a V-10 wrote:
I have no plans to own an Alfa myself

Ditto. Can't think of one that does anything for me.

An very tempting alternative to the MX5. It certainly has the Mazda beaten in the looks department, though I imagine it would be beaten in the running costs and reliability test. Almost as tempting is the Fiat Barchetta.

PG wrote:
A lovely modern classic. The paintwork looks like new in the "after" shots.

Like you I have never owned or even driven an Alfa. Must try and correct that at some point.

+ another.

That looks stunning in the photos. I'm bringing my car to you for an evening of cleaning and polishing!

Good work, good words, and good photos!  Thanks for sharing, Andy.

I've only driven one Alfa - a 156 2.0 petrol back in 1999.  I quite liked it but wasn't remotely tempted further.
I have a soft spot for those GTVs though - at leas the front numberplate is in the correct place ;-)
Nice Guy Eddie

Great cars, my favorite was the GTV 2.0 TS as the Spider really suffered from scuttle shake and the 3.0 upset the balance.

I've always thought the Spider looked like it had a broken back, too fussy.

I'm another who has no desire to own an Alfa. I have driven one - a 33 Cloverleaf and it was a complete shed of a car.

PG wrote:
...Like you I have never owned or even driven an Alfa. Must try and correct that at some point.

I'm going senile. I just realised that I have driven an Alfa - a MiTo Twinair - last year. Nice seats, nice leather wheel. Noisy engine. Absolutely hateful gearbox due to the terrible ratios chosen that ruined the whole car.

It was clearly a totally forgettable car.  

Nice write-up.

The only Alfa I've driven was the Giulietta, which was disappointing.

I want to drive an older one, like this. Even a 155 or 156 would be good.

Will you be posting this in the git plate thread as well?  

The car looks amazing - I'll be queuing behind Stu for you to do mine as well please!
Alf McQueef

That scrubbed up very nicely didn't it! It must have been in decent nick to end up so nice, many are sheds by now, sadly.

It has a fairly coherent design outside and in. I prefer the coupe and like others I would be very tempted by a 3.0 (especially the Cup) or ideally a late 3.2 with the Alfa LSD retro fitted. Very very nice car for the money.

Alfas tend to have a nice keen feel to drive, which can go a bit pear shaped if you readlly put the hammer down on bumpy roads. Try a light-engined petrol 156 or 159 in good nick and even the worst anti-Alfa snob can have a nice time in one, though the 156 is best kept away from very bumpy roads. The 159 was a good all rounder but hopelessly heavy and well behind on MPG/emissions by then. A good 156 is still a head turning car now and another cheap classic for someone prepared to keep it in good nick, 159's must be good value daily drivers now.

Shame about the reliability stats but that does not seem to put people off of Range/Land Rovers - they are nearly as bad!

Yes, it's supposed to be Italian cars that are unreliable and fall to bits with rust, but I see that the (full fat) Supercharged Range Rover Chris Harris bought has a seriously rusty 4 years old!!
Andy C

It used to be In the alfa owners club (according to all the stickers dotted around) . For what he paid (just over 1k) , it does seem like a real bargain (if it stays reliable)

Yes, the plate is horrible, but came with the car !

I've never driven a 916 Spider but have been given a Coupe as a courtesy car a few times and it was pleasant and reasonably quick.
I know they're very sensitive to rear suspension bushes - the quick steering shouldn't be a problem on a bumpy backroad (unless it's specific to Spiders).

I think values are now at the stage where they're going to level out and possibly even creep up for good ones.
Eff One

gooner wrote:
An very tempting alternative to the MX5. It certainly has the Mazda beaten in the looks department, though I imagine it would be beaten in the running costs and reliability test. Almost as tempting is the Fiat Barchetta.

I had a Barchetta for four years and 54,000 miles from '99-'03. Still the car I miss most - it was a vastly better steer than you'd expect given its Mk1 Punto underpinnings. It was a cleverer design than the MX5 in many ways, with a better interior, neater hood design and a much bigger boot.

My wife owned this car. It was her baby, she looked after it very well as you can see. We have often talked of trying to find it to buy it back. We are really pleased you like her, carry on polishing.

Well, fancy that!

Welcome, by the way!

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