What made Alfa Romeo's Spider so memorable?

Anyone who had experience of the late unlamented Alfasud may be forgiven for concluding that Alfa Romeo produced rubbish cars that rusted away almost immediately whilst you were looking at them. Nothing is further from the truth. They long had a reputation for producing not only superbly performing cars, but beautifully designed ones, too. The Spider was an excellent example of this.

In 1991 the company displayed the Proteo show car and by 1994 Alfa Romeo were ready to bring out another sports car proudly bearing the Spider name. This was a wedge shaped beauty, designed in collaboration with their own in-house designers, and designers/coachbuilders Pininfarina. It featured of course the much loved triangular grill, twin air scoops to the front, a plastic bonnet with inset high-intensity headlights, and a tapered rear end. It was a completely fresh design, which found instant favour with the buying public and the first models were delivered in 1995.

Were there variants?

There were two: the standard Spider which was a drophead and offered two seats only, and the GTV with a fixed top; this was a 2+2, but with space only for two very small people in the rear.

Was it powerful?

You were in luck if you lived in Italy. There you had the choice of three engines:
1) A 2 L V16 with two spark plugs in each pot, producing 150 brake horsepower
2) a 2 L V6 turbocharged engine, producing 200 brake horsepower (this was available for the GTV variant only)
3) a 3 L V6 putting out 192 brake horsepower.

Cars created for the UK market had a choice of the first engine only.

Did it handled well?

The front wheel drive system – quite a departure for Alfa Romeo – performed extremely well in keeping the car firmly on the road. It generally felt highly responsive, light and agile although there was some criticism from motoring journalists that the lack of rigidity of the open car let it down somewhat. The GTV, however, receive pretty well universal praise.

Was it comfortable?

Let's be realistic and accept that this was a sports car and not a luxury saloon! However, unlike many other Italian cars of the period the driving position was quite comfortable, and the cabin had a classic, uncluttered feel about it. It was a two seater, pure and simple; the back seats of the GTV would have been extremely cramped for even children to sit in for any length of time. Some shaking and rattling was being complained about though, and driving over potholes could send quite a judder through the steering wheel.

Was it good for touring?

The boot space was reasonable at 200 litres and the droptop had a lockable storage area which replaced the back seats of the GTV.

Was it popular?

It was considered to be an exciting car to drive, but let down somewhat by inadequate rigidity in the body shell. However production longevity is a good indicator of popularity; the GTV was manufactured right up to 2005, meaning it had a production run of 10 years, and the Spider was produced for another year, until it was superseded by a later model.

Would it be a good purchase?

If you want to buy a second-hand Spider for it's looks then go ahead, by all means! Expect high maintenance costs, however, as well as continued depreciation.