Keith’s Blog: We Don’t Have Headlights!

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The fettling of the Sprint begins

We were just outside Corbett, Oregon, driving SCM’s 1958 Giulietta Sprint at 70 mph. It was pitch black and 30 degrees outside. I reached over to twist the dash-mounted heater fan rheostat, heard a pop from the fuse block and suddenly everything was dark. Gone were the headlights, directional turn signals and of course the heater fan.

I had discovered earlier that the dash lights weren’t working, and that, probably due to a bad ground, one of the headlights was very dim. Nonetheless, one bright and one dim headlight was better than no headlights at all.

Our day in the 55-year-old Sprint Veloce Confortevole began pleasantly enough. I recently took delivery of the car from restorer Bill Gillham and the engine builder, with their instructions to “take it out and get some miles on it.”

My co-pilot was SCMer and Alfa fanatic Doug Hartman. Our goal was the wineries in the area of Hood River, OR — specifically MarchesiCOR and Memaloose.

Doug asked if he should bring his tools. “Why?” I replied. “This is a fresh restoration. What could possibly go wrong?”

He brought them anyway.

As we left North Portland and headed east on Washington SR 14, we noticed that the engine developed a substantial misfire at anything more than 1/3 throttle. The issue was either fuel or electrical, we decided. A quick call to the engine builder resulted in his advice to pull the plugs and check them. (Try that in a modern car — I’m not even sure that once you got the decorative plastic cladding off, you could even find the plugs.) We decided to do that when we arrived at Marchesi Vineyards.

We soon noted a few other things: The windshield had a small leak at the driver’s side bottom, the driver’s rear quarter-window wouldn’t stay shut and the door windows on both sides wouldn’t go all the way up.

On the plus side, the car handled as well as I expected, given the fresh bushings, Rugh springs, sway bar and Bilsteins. It pulled stronger at low rpm than other SVs I’ve driven, I assume due to both the 1,400-cc kit and modern Megacycle cams.

The rebuilt tunnel-case transmission shifted smoothly, and the combination of the four-speed and the 4.10 veloce rear end made for comfortable cruising. The heater kept the car warm enough, at least when the fan was running.

Oil pressure stayed above 50 psi the entire time, and the water temp was steady at 180 degrees.

Wine and Plugs

When we got to Marchesi, we pulled the plugs and found they were gapped at around .060, which is the recommendation for Pertronix ignition. We closed the gap down to .032, and then sampled some of Franco Marchesi’s latest offerings.

We proceeded to Memaloose and COR in Lyle, Washington, about 10 miles away. With the plug gap closed down, the car was a different animal. It pulled strongly to 5,500 with no misfiring, and had even more power.

At full throttle above 5,500 (my arbitrary redline as I break in the engine) I noticed a slight miss, but I really need to put more miles on the engine before I push it very hard.

Aside from stopping on the shoulder of the highway to replace a fuse, the trip home was uneventful. We did get the car a little dirty, but there’s no way to avoid that when you’re trying to put miles on something.

My list for Gillham is growing. Once he is done with the engine bay and heater core in the Giulia Super, I’ll swap him the Sprint again.

I’ve wanted an eyebrow 750 Sprint Veloce for years. Although this one has turned out to be much more of a project than I expected — I bought it in August of 2011 at Concorso Italiano — the results have exceeded my expectations.

This whole process is simply an example of what it takes to get a “restored” car with no miles to “behave like a car.” It’s a reminder of why buying a restored car doesn’t mean you have an instant daily driver.

I continue to maintain that the absolute safest way to buy a collector car is to stand with a satchel full of cash at the finish line of the Colorado Grand. As the car of your dreams comes thundering by, running strong after 1,000 miles, just shower the owner with money until he throws you the keys and the title. Then hop behind the wheel, point the nose of the car towards your hometown, stomp the gas pedal and in the words of collector Bruce Meyer, “Never lift.”

 

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market and bi-monthly American Car Collector magazines, has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and has his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity.

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