Alfa Romeo Spider Duetto
The Silver Screen may be able to make an icon of a car, but it
cannot make the proverbial silk purse from a sow’s ear,
despite numerous attempts over the years to do just that.
The Bond franchise provides an apt example of this; no
007 connections, hidden heat seeking missile launchers or
high speed car chases ever added any lustre to the lumpen
BMW Z3. The man himself will forever be associated with Aston Martin,
and specifically, the silver DB5, leading, one suspects, to
the erroneous assumption by many that the British Secret
Intelligence Service has a limitless budget set aside for
the purchasing of luxury goods.
And so to the Alfa Romeo Spider; a car
associated, through its starring role in The Graduate, as
much with the sunshine and swimming pools of California as
with the post war Italy from whence it came. But to assume
that the car’s reputation is solely the result of a
Hollywood makeover is to do it a gross disservice; the
Spider is a machine that epitomises the glamour and
seductiveness of 1960s Italian sports cars, and had
gained true classic status prior to the assistance of a movie part.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Spider is that
it remained in production for over a quarter of a century,
only giving way to the front wheel drive GTV and Spider in
the early 1990s. There were a number of changes over these
years, not least the fitment of twin spark engines in
the its final guise, but the aesthetics and basic
underpinnings remained largely unchanged from the beginning
until the end.
We are, however, interested in the earlier and prettier
series 1 Duetto model, produced before the unnecessary
redesigns to the tail were made. With its twin cam engine
producing far more power than its immediate peers in
Britain, this is a car that exemplifies the effect of
Italy’s post war engine size related tax laws on the
country’s sports car manufacturers. Whereas the British were content to put agricultural pushrod engines in their mass produced sports cars,
he Italians were effectively forced to make small capacity motors produce high outputs. Necessity, as the cliche goes, is the mother of invention. But it is the car’s
purity of lines, and evocation of the very essence of 1960s
glamour, rather than just its mechanical sophistication, that have earned it a place on The List.
Driving one today is a surprisingly modern experience;
there’s a five speed gearbox, relatively light steering
(albeit through a rather large wooden wheel) and an engine
that is willing to rev and which makes a lovely noise in the process.
Turn into a medium speed corner and there is a fair amount
of body roll, followed by some mild understeer. Get on the
throttle early and this can be cancelled out, but there is a
slight sense that the rear axle is not located with quite
the stability of a modern car – there is a definite feeling
of the body shifting in a slightly different axis to the
wheels. This does not detract from the overall experience,
but it does temper slightly one’s enthusiasm for drifting
This does not mean, however, that it is not a fun car to
drive. Limits are fairly low, so it does not require huge
speed or commitment to drive at nine tenths of its ability –
up to the limit of grip but not over is the Spider’s forte.
At this pace one can revel in the accuracy of the steering
and the feedback from all of its skinny tyres.
Whilst some classics (Astons in particular spring to
mind) can feel like tanks to drive, with controls seemingly
designed to act as covert strength building exercises, the
Spider is a standard bearer for delicacy.
But it is the film star looks that one is really buying
– that it drives and handles well is merely
an added bonus, although it would be disappointing for a car
that looks so right not to perform, so perhaps there does
always need to be some marriage of form and function, even
when form is so beautifully realised.