Why Road Trips Matter

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I was looking at my motoring schedule for the next few months, and I got to thinking about why I go through all the effort to prepare my cars for these events. I was reminded once again that it’s not really the cars that make these excursions so satisfying and enjoyable – it’s the great people with a shared common interest. The fact that we’re in wonderful cars on wonderful roads is a bonus.

If everything goes according to plan, I’ll welcome spring with a long drive in the 1965 Giulia Spider Veloce on the Alfa Romeo Owners Club of Oregon‘s annual Old Spider Tour in April. This car, unusual in its Grigio Mare (“sea gray,” actually a very gray blue) with lipstick red interior, has been around the Martin family for over 30 years.

At one point, for reasons I still don’t understand, I sold it to an enthusiast in the Bay Area, only to buy it back a few years later. That was a decade ago. Conrad Stevenson in Berkeley, CA, did the mechanical restoration, and Bill Gillham here in Oregon redid the interior. He used materials from Matt Jones at Re-Originals.

It’s a numbers-matching car with its original 1,600-cc twin-carbureted Veloce engine. The engine bay itself still has its original paint. As far as I know, the car is 100% complete and correct. However, I’m sure there will be someone at the next Alfa Convention who points out something I’ve overlooked.

The Spider had rust in the past, and Gillham did the repair before I bought it. There are a couple of patch panels evident in the trunk and in the passenger’s footwell, and I’d like to have Bill attend to those this year. Restoration techniques have come a long way in the past couple of decades.

It’s been repainted at least once, and the paint is serviceable but not concours. A full respray would increase its value but would erase a major part of the identity that has been created while this car has been in my custody.

Musing about a restoration raises a perplexing question for collectors these days – that of personality versus market value. At auction, the cars that bring the absolute top dollar tend to be restored to over-the-top standards. (The occasional barn-find Ferrari Cal Spyder or Alfa SZ can bring big money as well, but those are isolated cases.)

Part of the reason for this is that auction buyers are so often looking for dream fulfillment. When a car is freshly restored, it is theirs to admire with no work involved. I would venture to say that the percentage of fully done cars that ever see extensive touring is small. Perfectly restored cars are bought as jewelry, to sit in climate controlled garages and be ogled over.

My Giulia Spider doesn’t have a full restoration in its future. Alexandra and I, and now Bradley, have put many miles on this car in rallies and tours, and we’ve bonded with it, our imperfections meshing with its. The gearbox doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and it lets you know when you should have double-clutched when downshifting into second. The high-strung engine will buck and stumble if you’re not assertive with the throttle and don’t keep the revs in the 4,000-rpm range. The top will always leak onto the passenger’s right leg.

The front disc/rear drum brakes are good for their era, but you don’t want to be behind a Kia that makes a panic stop on the freeway. You’ll end up wearing its rear bumper on your Pininfarina-designed nose.

The Spider has a specific way that it likes to be driven, and if you learn what it wants, it rewards you with a magnificent experience. In all the years I have driven Alfas, there is nothing quite like the feel and sound of this particular engine as its hit redline. (Click here for a video of me driving the Spider on Marmot Road near Mount Hood.)

On last year’s Old Spider Tour, I hit an indicated 110 mph on an open stretch of road. In a modern car, that’s not a remarkable speed. But in 50-year-old car, you feel like you’re really moving.

There’s no time to talk on a cell phone or take sip of coffee. You’re busy monitoring gauges, watching the road for unexpected challenges and constantly making small adjustments to the steering wheel.

The Giulietta and Giulia Spiders take the lead on the Old Spider Tour, followed by Duettos and then square-tail Spiders, with GTVs and Berlinas bringing up the rear.

Seeing these cars go down the highway is like watching a group of antelope cross the African plains — an exotic herd, unique and apart from all the other cars on the road.

Road Trip Number Two

In May, the Alfa Clubs in Seattle and Portland are getting together for a weekend tour to Leavenworth, WA. Part of the impetus for this tour was my “Tips for Car Clubs” blog posts back in November, urging clubs to become more active and do things together.

I haven’t decided which Alfa I’ll take. The 1967 Duetto drives brilliantly and makes a great road trip car. Last year I drove it on the Oregon Region Porsche Club‘s Northwest Passage. It took the 1,000 miles of back roads in stride. It would have been nice if the heater valve hadn’t been stuck open in the 100-degree weather, but Nasko is fixing that problem.

But then there’s the 1967 GTV. It is a true GT car and is perfect for high-speed cruising. It’s more than powerful enough with its 1,750-cc engine. Now that it has a 4.1 rear axle (replacing the stock 4.5), it rolls along effortlessly at 80 mph.

If I decide the tour is a family event, we’ll roll out the 1967 Super. It could use the miles on its fresh 2.0-liter engine, and its heater has just been repaired as well. It was frozen in the Off position, and it will be nice to feel warmth on my feet when I slide the selector to On.

Part of me thinks it should be the 1958 Giulietta Sprint Veloce that gets the nod, but its original rear end is quite noisy, which makes the car unpleasant for long trips. I had Jon Norman of Alfa Parts build a 4.1 rear end from a later Alfa that will bolt right in. Alfa guru Denny Pillar is bringing the rear end up from Berkeley at the end of March, and I’ll have Nasko install it.

In case you were wondering, I’ll put the original rear end in storage, and it will stay with the car if I ever sell it. I thought about having it rebuilt, but that would have meant having a dead car for months while the rear end was out. Further, Norman said that if it turned out it needed just bearings, a rebuild was no problem. But if the gears were worn, sourcing good used ones could be an issue, as the parts went out of production in 1958.

I don’t have to make my decision until a couple of weeks before the rally; whichever Alfa I take will go to Nasko’s for a quick once-over just as insurance. Before I drove the Giulia Spider Veloce to the Alfa National Convention in the San Franciso Bay Area a couple of years ago, Nasko discovered that the fill-plug for the transmission was just finger tight — it could easily have vibrated out, and the transmission would have run itself dry. That wouldn’t have been much fun, especially if it happened somewhere north of Eureka on a lightly-traveled section of Highway 101, outside of cell service.

Which Alfa do you think I should take? Let me know in the comments below.

Road Trip Number Three

Then we jump forward to July. Every year, SCM is a sponsor of the Oregon Region of the Porsche Club of America’s Northwest Passage. It covers about 1,000 miles of great roads. Most of the cars are late-model Porsches. Over the years, I’ve driven my Porsche Boxster S, Lotus Elise, Alfa Romeo Duetto and Alfa GTV on the tour.

This year, I’ll have a real Porsche: our 2001 911 Twin-Turbo. With its 420 hp, a/c, anti-lock brakes, stability control and Tiptronic transmission, I will be swaddled in luxury. The only upgrade I’m considering is a better stereo. That said, this is the only old car I have in which you can actually hear the tunes (a 14-year-old car is an old car by many people’s standards).

People who enjoy putting old cars on the road are a special breed. It takes a different mindset than prepping for a concours or going to a cruise-in. Road-trippers would rather be cruising on an open road through great scenery than doing nearly anything else. And that’s exactly the way it is for me. Give me a well-fettled Alfa (or Porsche or Volvo), an enthusiastic co-pilot, a fantastic route and a satisfying bottle of a Washington red wine at dinner, and I’m the happiest guy on the planet.

Now is the time to plan your summer road trips. If you’re not hooked up with a local marque club, you should be. If your club isn’t planning trips, it should be — whether that means Saturday-morning jaunts or week-long multi-state odysseys.

Take advantage of the adventures your car can bring to you and the fellow enthusiasts that will be alongside you as you head out on another road trip.

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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