The 1958 Sprint and a 5,128-Foot Summit

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It’s been a little over two years since I bought the SCM 1958 Alfa Sprint Veloce, s/n 1993E.06524.

It was an accidental purchase as I was leaving Concorso Italiano, and the little Alfa appeared to need nothing. I’d been looking for an “eyebrow” Sprint Veloce for more than a decade and was delighted to have finally found one.

As always seems to be the case, the “needs nothing” car turned into a “restoration through discovery,” with the entire nose stripped and the metal reworked to remove copious amounts of Bondo.

The tunnel-case gearbox came out and was rebuilt, as was the numbers-matching Veloce engine (s/n 1315.31015). “While we were in there,” I matched what Miles Collier had done to the engine in his Sprint Veloce, upgrading to a 1,400-cc kit, installing Megacycle Pittatori cams, and fitting a custom-built oil pump with 9-tooth gears from a 2-liter engine.

I did the same suspension mods that I’ve done to all of my Alfas: shorter, stiffer (but not rock-hard) springs by Dave Rugh, Bilsteins and a larger sway bar. I renewed all the suspension bushings.

I had put about 1,000 miles on the car since it was finished, and it got smoother and more powerful every time I drove it. Along the way, I’ve taken care of little things like the heater-fan control, the dash lights, etc. For me to be satisfied with a vintage car, all the little things need to work properly. They worked when the car was new, so why shouldn’t they be operable now?

McKenzie Pass or Bust!

Now it was time for the real test: an extended roadtrip.

Last Saturday I set off on the Alfa Club Fall Tour. Tom McGirr organized the event, hot on the heels of his quite-nice Summer Tour in August. (I drove the SCM Volvo 122S on that outing). My co-piloto this time was Alfisti Doug Hartman, who has a 1967 Giulia Super and two 1969 GTVs in his garage. (If one is good, two is better, he says.)

We put 600 miles on the Sprint over two days, and it never let us down.

Our route was all on back roads and included stops at Sahalie Falls, Cougar Reservoir, the Office Covered Bridge and Salt Creek Falls. Highway 58 took us over the 5,128-foot Willamette Pass summit, at which point the Alfa began to run a little hot (nearly 212 degrees), and I wondered if the fan belt was slipping a little bit. However, the engine didn’t spit out any coolant, and the radiator wasn’t super hot to the touch.

Using an iPhone app, we determined that the Sprint liked to cruise at about 70 mph, between 4,000 and 4,500 rpm. It still has its stock 4-speed and the original 4.1 rear axle. I could have upgraded to a 5-speed, but my intent is to keep this car as original as possible and enjoy it the way it was in period.

The hot-water control for the heater is a knob that resembles a faucet, located under the hood. A push-pull knob in the cockpit controls the air flow. The ritual on 40-degree mornings starts with opening the valve under the hood to bring hot air into the cockpit. Around 11 a.m., I turn it back off to allow the fresh, unheated air to flow in. Not nearly as convenient as the climate-controlling computers in today’s cars, but easier to fix.

The tach needle had been bouncing around, and about 100 miles from home it stopped working completely. I assume a new cable is called for.

The cams give the 85-cubic-inch engine a surprising amount of torque, and going up the mountains was a matter of rowing between second and third gears. Fourth was great for cruising.

The car handled extremely well, staying very flat through the turns, which is not typical for a Giulietta with a stock suspension.

The drum brakes just aren’t right yet. They squeak when cold and simply don’t inspire confidence. Whether the shoes are correctly arced and squared to the drums is something I will have to determine.

We spent the night in Bend and were on the road the next morning by 8 a.m. Our path home on the McKenzie Pass/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway took us over the Santiam summit at 4,817 feet, through basaltic andesite lava flows, down a winding road onto Highway 20, and then up the Interstate to Portland. I had no problem with the engine running hot, perhaps because we were driving in the morning when the ambient temperature was much lower.

Over the 600 miles, the car used less than a quart of oil and no water.

Driving this car was magic. In many ways, it was like getting into a time machine and experiencing these roads as you would have 56 years ago, if you had been lucky enough to drive this Italian hot rod back then.

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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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