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The List

 

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 the Spider.

 

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.





 
 

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