Dep-O Magazine

Along Came a Spider

Simon Charlesworth August 9, 2011 3 Comments on Along Came a Spider

Along Came a Spider - Alfaholics Spider

THE IMAGE OF the Alfa Romeo tipo 105 is very dependent upon whether or not you like metal or speeding air flowing over your head.

Along Came a Spider - Alfaholics SpiderIf you like the former, then you’ve got a choice: the berlina – the unwitting clown to the Mini’s heroic straight man in that film – or the beautiful Bertone coupé.

Opt for the Bertone and, be it the purity of the Sprint GT/Veloce, the 1750/2000GTV or the GTA/GTAm, you’re cashing in on the considerable trackside glories of the lightened one. It’s both beautiful and it has considerably potent corsa DNA woven into its very twin-cam being, making it – undeniably in my opinion – one of the coolest cars ever assembled.

Opt for thin air though, and aside from the seldom seen Sprint GTC, topless 105 fun comes in the form of the Duetto and Spider – a car with a very different dolce vita image which has been cultivated via a very different podium.

Unless you’re a fan of Sixties Continental cinema, you’ll struggle to name a good film with a Bertone coupé in it – unlike the Spider. The Sixties Duetto forms part of Dustin Hoffman’s CV and even when it was showing its age in the Eighties, Hollywood showed little hesitation to cast the glamorous Italian in a leading role, such as 1984’s The Woman In Red.

Along Came a Spider - Alfaholics SpiderConsequently, Pininfarina’s Spider doesn’t really have a very manly image – probably due to it being cast as a dithering graduate’s and/or girl’s car. Could this be why they aren’t so widely tuned and also, why they are not so generally desirable as the Bertone?

Speaking from my viewpoint, the Spider is undeniably pretty and attractive yet for some reason, here is an Alfa which I definitely find a tad ‘girly’. Yes I like the Duetto, the Kamm-tail and even the Eighties SIII which starred in the aforementioned Gene Wilder flick, but for some reason – possibly that horrid colour co-ordinated ‘Hollywood hooker’ version (the tipo 115)– I’ve never felt the crazed pang of frustrated non-ownership which strikes me each time I’m confronted by a Bertone.

If any company can make me change my mind though, it has to be Alfaholics. A firm which doesn’t just specialise in Milan’s most famous marque, but has also garnished a mighty reputation for thoroughly re-engineering classic Alfas to create lustworthy quality machines.

Along Came a Spider - Alfaholics SpiderCars that are so enviable they don’t just register on Dep-O’s patented ‘Lust-o-meter’, the needle positively zooms across the dial’s face. Straight past ‘give my eye teeth’, ‘illegal organ trading’ and ‘granny-selling’ readings, before bouncing off the red paint and blowing a fuse.

The first thing which strikes you about this late Seventies SII Spider is the colour. Alfa Romeo White Pearl is a striking splash of flipped paint, particularly when applied with such skill and depth. Next is its stance – set off by wheels which are darker twist on a familiar Alfaholics’ theme – complemented by a lowered ride height and bodywork which has been aesthetically ‘cleaned’ for a more purposeful poise.

Alfaholics’ Max Banks takes up the story behind the Spider. “When the owner came here, he wanted some upgrades before changing his mind, saying, ‘No, you’re actually going to strip all this down, so that you can prepare it to look like one of your cars’. He then said he wanted the 220bhp engine, the six-pot brakes, the special tyres and the dampers. So it was all about getting the car stiff enough so that it could handle it. Plus making sure the car could handle well and not just be quick in a straight line.”

Arguably one of the trickiest things to accomplish is to successfully tune a car without a roof. All convertible cars flex, but when introduced to marked increases in both torque and power outputs, the driving experience can get distinctly wobbly.

Along Came a Spider - Alfaholics Spider“The original intention was a roll-over structure, but he then diverted from that to just keeping it below the doors so that it looks normal with the hood down,” says Max. “I do understand that, but it does make our work a bit harder.” You can imagine how many hours were spent in the design, engineering and fabrication of such a clever yet neatly concealed structure located between the front and rear bulkheads.

“The effectiveness of that is very good, it’s now as stiff as a GT with a cage in it, if not quite as stiff as our normal caged GTA-Rs, but it is pretty bloody close. That really, was the biggest challenge with the whole car.

“Outside of that… Getting the engine under a Spider’s bonnet line is not simple. It had to have one our special cam covers because of the filler cap position of the standard one. Even then it was still an inch too high, so we had to fabricate special engine mounts to drop the engine to get it under the bonnet line.”

The engineering challenges weren’t merely constrained to the installation of uprated hardware, but even things like those bucket seats represented a bit of head-scratching at the drawing board.

Along Came a Spider - Alfaholics Spider“If you bolt those race seats straight into a Spider floorpan, they sit up at the height of the soft top,” says Max.

“We had to completely change the design of the floors – we cut them all out and dropped the floors two inches. Under the floor of the car though, is where the rear chassis legs run so we had to cut the legs in half, put the floorpans where we wanted them, and then re-fabricate the legs around it.

“This is why we have those little 45 degree tubes off the rollcage going down on to the chassis legs, to strengthen it up. It’s because there’s a box section halfway under the floor (that the rear chassis leg used to come up to) and ours are chopped short so that our floorpans can fill that space… We’ve had to tie it into the rollcage to get the strength back.

“There was a load of chassis work involved in getting what we wanted. It would have been very easy spending a fortune on the bodyshell, not thinking about these things. It spent a lot of time as a bare shell with seats, because fortunately we had the foresight to check all that stuff works in a Spider and we found all the problems before the shell left here.”

Registered Alfisti will also note other subtle Spider details changes. The bespoke alloy door handles and the delicate scudetto grille (which was CAD designed, SLA prototyped and machined from alloy billet). The relocated indicator repeaters (back to their original Duetto position), custom GRP moulded boot and bonnet panels, and the aforementioned debumpered rear.

Along Came a Spider - Alfaholics Spider

As you would expect from an ex-Works Alfaholics car, the interior too has been subjected to subtle tasteful modification – but it did take a while and five hides to get there. Trim experimentation saw three rear seat designs, three rear quarter panel designs and two different door-card designs produced.

“The other challenge was doing something which hasn’t been done before. When it came to the interior, there wasn’t a template for us to use to make it look bespoke. The owner had his ideas, but trying to visualise that – for any of us – was virtually impossible,” says Max. “We ended up building three interiors before ending up with the final definitive design. The problem was that if we went with the first idea, and then looked at it, it didn’t quite work. So stuff had to get changed.”

Along Came a Spider - Alfaholics SpiderFramed by the pearlescent paint which finishes off the bodywork that took 500 hours to complete, the leather-lined, reinforced ‘office’ with a Momo steering wheel, suede-trimmed dash, alloy pedals, footwell lights and four-point harnesses, all makes the cabin a superb place to be.

The spec of this car will be familiar to Dep-O regulars – click here – in fact the only drool-inducing feature this Spider is lacking is Alfaholics’ close-ratio gearbox.

“It’s very important working with people who have the skills to do that for us – and everyone who has done stuff for this car is an existing supplier of ours. The guys who do our cam covers is the company who did the centre heart grille (scudetto) and you just can’t do stuff like that unless you know these companies,” says Max.

Indeed, and as Max sums up, I catch myself looking at this – one of the last SII UK Spiders – with a new perspective. A perspective tinted with a degree of lust and admiration not usually experienced when admiring Pininfarina’s topless tipo 105.

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