Keith’s Blog: Winter and the SCM Fleet

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Only one member of the SCM Fleet is truly excited about the onset of Oregon winter, with its cold days, rain and occasional snowfall. Yes, it’s the 1984 Land Rover D90 200 Tdi. It has started to act like an automotive bully in the garage, accusing the Alfas of being fair-weather pansies wrapped in designer outfits by Pininfarina and Bertone.

It’s been a busy year for our cars, with quite a few coming and going as we settled down to the core collection. Our 633 CSi, Range Rover Classic, Volvo 1800ES, Mercedes 180 ponton, Lotus Elise and Saab Sonnett III are all with new owners. There are still a few more changes in store for the fleet. Here is your early November update.

Goodbye Isetta and Nova                             

There will be more space in the garage come January, as our Isetta is headed off to the Gooding auction in Scottsdale. Portland detail and prep expert Dave Martindale has overseen its restoration, and the car is now resplendent in Ferrari 250 TR creamy yellow and red. The luggage rack and vintage suitcase being installed are a nice touch – do you think the Ferrari shields on the fenders are over the top? We’ll have more about this car later. Suffice it to say, we put in a fresh engine with a “big-bore” kit, which I think provides a 10-cc bump to the single cylinder’s 300-cc displacement.

It’s time for the ACC 1964 Nova wagon to go as well, and you’ll see it cross the block at Barrett-Jackson – watch for details in ACC. The wagon has served us well, but the ACC gang is ready to move on. They’ve got a first-gen Viper in their crosshairs as the next staff car.

The Amazon in Wisconsin

With the 1800ES gone, I found myself Volvo-less. For some, that might seem like a plus. But I enjoy the camaraderie of the Dean Koehler-founded and -led Portland-based Round Fender Volvo Club, and I needed another admission key.

There is a retired academician from Winnebago County, WI, who is nationally known for building a pretty quick and extremely well-driven 1800. When he decided to sell his personal 1967 122S, I put my hand up. Of course, the car is in Wisconsin and I’m here, so we’re figuring out if he’s going to drive it to me, or if I’m going to fly out and drive it back.

The car did not have an overdrive, so I sourced a unit locally from vintage Volvo parts guru Chris Horn, and he shipped it to Wisconsin for installation. Yes, that breaks rule number one – never do anything to change a car until you get it home. But the thought of driving the 1,980 miles from Winnebago County to Portland with a buzzy fourth gear wasn’t very appealing.

The installation has not been without its dramas, and the story is still unfolding. I hope to be getting the car in the next couple of months; Driving it through snowdrifts in Nebraska could be entertaining.

I’ve owned several Amazons, but never a really good one like I expect this car to be. Amazons have essentially the same drivetrain as the 1800, and the pushrod tractor-like mill is better suited to a moving a four-seat car than pretending to be a sports car engine.

The Keepers

So now let’s review the status of the Alfas.

The 1965 Giulia Spider Veloce made the trip to this year’s Alfa Convention outside Santa Rosa, CA, with no drama. Its engine is now fully broken in, and the car is a joy to drive.

We have two punch lists for the car. The minor list includes sourcing a correct combo fuel-filter and pressure regulator, as the one on the car is an incorrect earlier series. Interior specialist Matt Jones pointed out a few small things in the interior that need to be changed, and parts have been ordered.

It’s a very correct car, in its correct and rarely seen Mare Grigio (sea gray), so each incremental improvement we make brings it closer to functional factory-correctness.

The larger punch list includes bringing some rust repairs done more than 20 years ago up to modern standards. This was one of the first cars Bill Gillham worked on, and he has offered to revisit it. The rockers need to be properly welded, and there are some small patch panels in the trunk floor and passenger’s footwell that need to be attended to. That’s on the list for next summer.

The 1967 GTV has seen over 2,000 miles of use this year and has never let us down. The defroster isn’t properly ducting air to the windshield, and I want to replace the cloudy ancillary small gauges with crisp, clear ones I found in my warehouse. The driver’s-side rear-seat ashtray needs some attention (just think – three ashtrays in this personal-sized car – truly a different era), and the latching mechanism that keeps the driver’s side rear window locked open needs to be replaced. But that’s it.

A heater core is ready for the 1967 Giulia Super, Bill Gillham tells me. The newest addition to our fleet, the car is running brilliantly after a head gasket, valve adjust and major tune by Alfa specialist Nasko. (The head gasket blew when the heater core gave up, draining the cooling system, while Alex and two girlfriends were in the Redwood Forest on a road trip.)

It also needs the carburetor backing plate, support strut and a Euro air-cleaner installed. Gillham has everything in stock, so as soon as the 1958 Giulietta Sprint leaves his garage, the Super will be headed down. Not having a heater hasn’t been such a problem in this year’s mild fall, but I really don’t want to keep a small fire burning in the footwell this winter.

Which brings us to the Sprint. Purchased in 2012 at Concorso Italiano because “it needed nothing,” 14 months later it’s still a couple of weeks away from being finished. I initially took the car to Gillham for a little tweaking. He discovered the front end had over an inch of bondo on it, the gearbox was shot, and the engine, although freshly rebuilt, had not been done to a high standard.

The gearbox went to a specialist back east, the engine to a legendary racer in Portland, and the body to a shop in Salem, Oregon.

While the engine was apart we made the same mods Miles Collier has done to his Sprint Veloce, installing modern-grind Megacycle Pittatori cams, and putting in “cheater” 1,400-cc Mondial pistons. It only took us four heads to find one thick enough to use, and four sets of pistons to get the right compression ratio of about 10.2:1.

It’s a special car, a second-series Confortevole, of which only 149 were believed built. I’ve always wanted an eyebrow sprint, and I had been looking for years before this one jumped in front of me at Concorso.

It’s been a long process, but I believe the end product will be worth waiting for. And my investment? I purchased it for $42,000, and have now doubled my cost basis for a “car that needed nothing.” It’s times like this that I’m glad my passion for Alfas overwhelms my sense of fiscal propriety.

What About a Duetto?

I’m still looking for a 1967 Duetto, and have decided to consider all variants — not just hopped-up 2-liter models like before. I really won’t be able to fund the purchase until after the Isetta and the Nova sell. But nonetheless, if you think you have the Duetto that should be in the SCM garage, drop me a line at keith.martin@sportscarmarket.com.

I think we’ve got a manageable number of old cars right now, and each is either “in service” or moving towards that status. All of our old cars must be “on the button,” ready to be jumped into without notice and taken out for a drive. I’ve also figured out a way to get non-inertia reel seatbelts into the Super and GTV, so I can take Bradley along on runs.

Back to the Rover

Our D90 needs its leaking power steering pump attended to, and I’m have a retractable rear step installed to make it easier for Bradley to climb into the back seat. But it should be trail-ready after that.

The local club’s next event is the Christmas run in early December. If’ you’ve got a Rover, you should join us. There are usually a couple of feet of snow in Tillamook State Forest in December, and can you imagine anything more fun than laying on your back, in the snow, attaching a winch line? Well, I bet you can.

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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