When it comes to driving old cars, some weeks are better than others. Between producing the magazine, running the business, traveling and doing non-car activities with Bradley and friends, the days fill up quickly.
That’s why I am so appreciative when things fall together and I’m able to get serious seat time.
During the past week, I ended up with three “Alfa days,” and the cars in the garage that have been patiently waiting their turn got a chance to run off-leash.
Last Thursday, Fred and Lisa McNabb of the Alfa Romeo Owners of Oregon hosted their annual “Red Duetto Tour.” To participate, you have to have a red “longtail” Alfa convertible. These cars were built between from 1966 to 1969, although strictly speaking, only the 1,600-cc models built in 1966 and 1967 were called “Duettos;” The factory referred to the 1968 and 1969 roundtails with injected 1,750-cc engines as “Spiders.”
Fred and Lisa are willing to bend a little on this one, but that’s the limit of their flexibility. If your Alfa isn’t both red and a longtail, then instead of driving on the tour, you’ll have to look at the pictures on FB.
I’ve wanted to participate in this event for years but never had a red Duetto. I solved that problem about six months ago when I purchased a 1967 that I found in a barn in Gervais, OR.
Since then, Nasko, Tom Black and Guy Recordon have ministered to the car’s various mechanical and cosmetic issues, with parts from Jon Norman (Alfa Parts), Joe Cabibbo (Centerline) and Matt Jones (Re-Originals).
At 9 a.m. last Thursday, I joined five other longtails in the parking lot of a McDonald’s off highway 26 at North Plains, OR, and the drive was on.
It’s a spectacular sight to see six 47-year-old red sports cars hustling through the Oregon countryside. One would be unusual enough, but six looks like an alien invasion.
At the 30-mile mark, we pulled into a rest stop at Mill Pond Lake in Vernonia, and it was time for the tops to come down.
The weather was gray but appeared to be clearing — an illusion that disappeared as we got near the coast and found ourselves caught in a downpour. It has been a while since I’ve driven top-down in the rain (a sign of encroaching maturity perhaps?), and I rediscovered that above 40 mph, the rain does indeed blow over the top. At 60 mph, it sweeps back in and covers the inside of your windshield. So there’s a sweet spot to maintain.
All the cars ran great. As Duettos have increased in value, it has become worth it to invest more money into their care and feeding, and it showed in how reliably these cars performed on the road. We cruised along easily at 70 mph, scared ourselves a little bit as our hopelessly narrow tires squealed in the twisties, stayed warm as the series-105 heaters poured out hot air, and in general a good time was had by all.
Lunch was at the McMenamin’s Sand Trap Pub in Gearhardt, and the run home to Portland was wet but uneventful.
It’s GTV Time
Two days later, I washed the GTV and got it ready for the weekend.
I haven’t driven the GTV much in the past few months. Jon Norman built a 4.1 limited slip for the car, and Nasko installed it. Then I swapped the GTV’s old 4.5 into the Duetto.
The 4.1 is a perfect match for the GTV’s upgraded 1750 engine, and I’ve been anxious to spend time with it.
My destination was the Oregon’s Willamette Valley Wine Country. I stopped at the Torii Mor, Lange and Ponzi tasting rooms to pick up some Pinot Noir, and then hit the Dundee Bistro for lunch before heading home.
The weather was perfect — cloudy in the morning but clear and in the high 70s in the afternoon. The GTV didn’t overheat in traffic and had plenty of space for wine in the back seat.
The next day, the fourth annual Alfa Romeo Owner’s of Oregon President’s Tour took place. Club president Roger Dilts organizes the drive, which has become one of the nicest events of the year.
Thirty-five cars showed up from a variety of marques, including Alfa, Volvo, Ferrari and Morgan. SCM supplied the commemorative hats.
SCM contributor Jeff Zurschmeide brought the Alfa 4C he is reviewing for SCM. I’m surprised the seat bolsters weren’t worn out, since every Alfa aficionado had to slide behind the wheel. The car has a spectacular look, and I’m glad that Alfa has decided to come back to the U.S. with a handsome, capable offering.
My former wife and SCM co-founder, Cindy Banzer, brought her 1978 squaretail spider on the event, along with our daughter Alexandra and her friend Sue Halton. Cindy was recently elected President of the national Alfa Romeo Owner’s Club, and it was fun seeing people address her as “Madam President.”
Dilts put together a fantastic route on roads I had never seen before, often so narrow there was no centerline or shoulders.
I got a chance to really exercise the GTV for the first time, and the harder I pushed it, the better it behaved. Engineer and racer Dave Rugh set the car up for his wife, Colleen, and it was her daily driver for over 20 years. It has Rugh springs, Bilsteins, a stiffer front bar and adjustable upper A-arms, and the car just sticks to the road.
As I was arriving at the conclusion of the tour, I got a call from Cindy. Her car was making strange noises, and she asked me to come back to get Alex while she sorted things out.
This gave me an excuse to drive even more aggressively (I was on a mission) over my favorite part of the tour.
Eventually we diagnosed her spider as having an extremely loose wheel bearing, which was allowing the passenger’s front wheel to wobble. At the same time, the disc was pushing the piston back into the wheel caliper, which resulted in the car not having brakes.
A quick call, and a flatbed was soon there. Nasko will tend to it this week.
Alex and Sue Halton rode back in the GTV — the first time this car has had two adults in the rear seats. I wouldn’t recommend it for cross-country travel, but in a pinch it was fine.
One-hundred miles later, the GTV was back the SCM garage, bug-splattered and dusty. I know the grille on the car is metal, but if you looked closely, you could see that the grille had changed shape slightly. The car was grinning. Just like its owner.