Keith’s Blog: 400 Miles in a 1965 Alfa

Just about 100 years ago, Bob McGill, one of the founders of the Alfa Romeo Owners of Oregon, was born.

Just about 60 years ago, McGill bought a new 1958 Alfa from Rambo Motors in Portland. A Normale, its serial number was 1495.02609.

McGill died at age 92 in 2011.

Exactly 40 years ago, Alfa Romeo Owners of Oregon began to celebrate Bob and his Alfa by having a tour that featured “Old Spiders” (those built between 1955 and 1965).

The 40th running of the Old Spider Tour this past weekend brought out more than 25 vintage Alfas, along with a handful of new ones.

There were nine Old Spiders, eight of them the higher-powered Veloce models. Roundtail and Squaretail Spiders, some four-headlight GTVs and Giulia Super sedans also came along.

I drove our 1965 Giulia Spider Veloce, S/N AR390290. I originally bought the car over 30 years ago. I then sold it — and then bought it back.

My navigator for this Old Spider Tour was Cindy Banzer, president of the national Alfa club — the Alfa Romeo Owners Club. We also were married once upon a time.

We hadn’t been together in this car for more than 30 years.

I knew nearly everyone on the trip. Denny Pillar, a legendary Alfa racer and engine builder (he built the 1,400-cc hot rod engine in my 1958 Sprint) had three generations of Pillars on the tour, including his son Jerry and his grandson Jason.

Our route covered more than 400 miles of Oregon two-lane roads. We started just outside of Portland at Lewis and Clark State Park. We crossed the Columbia River to Washington, then crossed back into Oregon at Biggs Junction and headed toward Condon.

Even though these cars are more than 50 years old, they can still hustle. The oldest cars have barely 80-ci engines, but they maintained a cruising speed of over 80 mph.

In a time of increasingly congested urban highways, it was good to get these vintage Italian machines onto the roads they were designed and built to run. In the 1950s, most American highways were two lanes — and certainly not expressways.

While by current standards the brakes and suspensions are marginal at best, in their era these Alfas were diminutive rocket ships.

We rowed through the gears, hitting 6,000 rpm redlines in 3rd, 4th and 5th. Despite brisk 50-degree weather in the morning, all the Old Spiders traveled with their tops down.

At lunch, tour organizer Eric Roe (who brought his 13-year-old son along), presented a cake emblazoned with an Alfa grille and the serial number of McGill’s car. That very car, in French blue, was on the tour  — its current caretaker is Bill Eastman.

At every rest stop, we got out, kicked tires and reminisced about all the memories that these cars have created. Cindy and I talked about driving a 1958 Alfa in one of the very first California Milles. We had a moment of excitement when, with Cindy behind the wheel, the throttle linkage jammed wide open. I reached behind us where the vintage-racing battery-cutoff was and shut the car down.

Everyone on the trip got home safely, with just a little sunburn to show for the day.

Once again, these little twin-cam jewels brought a day of delight to Alfa aficionados. Like pouring a great Oregon Pinot Noir or grilling a freshly caught coho salmon, driving a properly set up vintage Alfa — at the right speeds on the right roads — is a unique and extraordinary experience.

I look forward to many more Old Spider Tours.

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.

Posted in Blogs, Keith Martin

3 comments

  1. simple pleasures with beautiful, simple cars. This is the essence of sports car. Thanks for reminding us Keith.

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