I’ve pursued a two-tiered approach to my changing tastes in cars.

On the one hand, I have realized that there are fully depreciated late-model exotics, usually less than 20 years old, that offer tremendous values.

These are cars that have been owned by collectors, are in excellent condition and have anywhere from 25,000 to 50,000 miles. Like my 2004 Mercedes SL 55 AMG, they had an original sticker of over $125,000 (and now are plentiful under $25,000).

At the same time, I have been looking for options to get back behind the wheel of one of my small-displacement four-cylinder Alfas. I don’t know when or if I will be able to safely operate a clutch pedal again. So, with the guidance of our SCM Tour Director Neil d’Autremont I have engaged fabricator Fred Lux to create and install a hand-operated clutch on my 1971 Alfa Romeo Junior Zagato. Operated by a button, it engages the clutch. The regular operation of the clutch mechanism isn’t affected, so the car can be returned to stock at any time.

Fred said he was getting close and I hope to be testing the car next week.

I also continue to explore other two-pedal small displacement options. At the top of my list is a Citroën DS21 with a bespoke “Citro-Matic” manumatic – an autobox you shift manually. My mentor on this is guru Greg Long. As with any old car, buying the right car is 90% of the path to successful ownership.

The biggest challenge to owning a DS21 is that there are no Citroën specialists in Portland. The nearest one is 200 miles away in Seattle, and that’s a 400-mile round-trip for anything that requires attention, large or small.

But another option has appeared.

My Facebook friend Alex Csank sent me a listing for a 1970 Porsche 911 2.2 with a Sportomatic semi-automatic transmission. Said to be in exceptional condition with 56k miles, the asking price is $74,250. To be fair, I haven’t followed the Sportomatic market, but it seems fully priced to me.

It is listed on the website of a long-time SCM advertiser, DriverSource. The seller notes that although cosmetically it is in fine condition, a top-end rebuild will be in order. That will not be inexpensive, and who knows what else you will find “while you are in there.” I wouldn’t be surprised to have $100,000 “invested” by the time the car was to my standards.

This reminds me that the classic cars we adore tend to be extraordinarily expensive when compared to the more modern cars I have been chasing. For the $75,000 asking price I could have a modern 911 and a Boxster, and if carefully bought, would expect minimal maintenance costs from either.

However, I believe the Junior Z has a street value of about the same as the asking price here. It has been professionally upgraded to a 1750cc engine, and the complete original 1300cc, with carbs, comes with it. I had a 4.1 LSD installed so it cruises easily at 80 mph. It’s a very handsome car.

So what would you do? Just play out the hand-clutch installation and see how it goes? Try to trade the Junior Z for the Sportomatic?

Notice my first choice was not to keep searching for a DS21. I’m a former owner of a Citroën ID19, and as much as I adore those cars, the term “minimal maintenance” does not apply.

So which two-pedal car would you pursue? 1971 Junior Zagato or 1970 Porsche 911?

28 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Kate Bergman

    I will definitely go for the 1970 porsche 911, it’s a beautiful car. I enjoyed reading your blog, great job. You have a new follower.

  2. Avatar
    Mike INGELIDO

    Stick with the Alfa and see if the hand operated clutch modification meets your requirements. If not, you can always replace it with the 911 Sportomatic or something very similar.

  3. Avatar

    Porsches are a dime a dozen. Keep that beautiful Alfa!

  4. Avatar
    rand wintermute

    Keith. There is little “upside” to the Porsche Sportomatic, at that price, considering the “can of worms” repairs you will find in addition ….! Stay with the Zagato Alfa. Rebuilding an older 911 engine is not inexpensive. See you at Retromobile , in June , where a DS 21 awaits you…life is too short not to fulfill your dream car ! Rand

  5. Avatar
    David Andersen

    Not even close, keep the Jr. Z. While I’m sure the Porsche is a fine car, it will never have the style and passion of the Alfa.

  6. Avatar
    malcolm mason

    Keith,
    My brother had a serious stroke years ago that affects him significantly today – so i am not trying to be “glib” Not knowing your individual physical limitations or, more importantly, the extent of the “change” in your personal car passions makes it impossible to recommend. Using the old “if it were me” line of thinking I would follow through on the Alfa modification and see how well it works and if using it still stirs the soul. There will always be more practical and comfortable cars available – but that’s not why car people gravitate to more direct, involved cars. The Porsche sounds nice but I wouldn’t trade your Alfa for it.

  7. Avatar
    Hans Kleinknecht

    From reading your writing for well over twenty years now, you are an Alfa guy at heart. That answers your question.

  8. Avatar
    Vincent McLaughlin

    Get a late model Boxster
    Sometimes you can’t see the forest…
    Best to you
    Vince

    • Avatar
      Joe Sweeney

      For $25k less than the can of worms sportmatic you can be in a depreciated ‘18 Guilia Quad with very few miles and retain your Alfa roots.

  9. Avatar
    Richard Merrell

    If it were me, I’d stick with the much more rare and interesting Alfa Junior Zagato. Though not exactly “a dime a dozen”, there are thousands of Porsche 911s around and though they continue to garner strong prices, they’re certainly commonplace and far from unique. I’ve had several Porsches, a 356C (a VW with a more attractive fuselage), and three others – a ’69 912, a ’70 911T, and a ’73 911S, all three purchased new. They used to be somewhat exclusive and unique but mass production has watered down their cache. Though reliable and fun to drive, they’re ubiquitous. The Alfa is special.

  10. Avatar

    Junior Zagato hands down! How often do you see one of those? If you decide to go the 911 route, I’d be interested in the Junior Z…

  11. Avatar
    Barry Glading

    Oh, good Lord, 911’s are common as muck! Alfa Zagato Juniors? Hardly. I have a lot of favourite Alfa’s, but this one has to be the one that speaks to me the sweetest. I hope it does to you, Keith. The clutch conversion sounds really interesting and if it allows you to drive a car you love in the manner intended, perfect.

  12. Avatar
    Mike Kieley

    I owned a 1969 911E Sportomatic for a short time. Absolutely hated it! I have a tendency (probably shared by many others) to keep my right hand close to the gear shift. With the sporto, even a slight touch shifts the car into neutral! I am a dyed-in-the-wool air-cooled Porsche guy (my current car is a ’72 911) , but that Zagato is a beauty. Also, I should point out that sportos are hard to sell if you ever want to get rid of it.

  13. Avatar

    I would stick to the Alfa. You KNOW there are no HIDDEN costs in the Alfa, who knows what will be the costs of the Porsche once the engine is opened up, costs of it and other problems could be over the $100,000 estimate. STAY WITH THE ALFA!!!!

  14. Avatar

    My personal preference would be the Porsche 911. I don’t think the Alfa models get as much respect in the North American market.

  15. Avatar

    50-year Porsche owner here. Stick to the beautiful Alfa Junior Zagato! Sportomatic early 911’s are not fun to drive. As someone earlier mentioned, you can’t leave your hand on the shifter between quick shifts on your favorite curves like I tend to do. I know you would spend more to get this car up to your standards then you would ever get back. Not a big demand for Sportos in the Porsche world, for good reason. And no, I’m not one of those “must have three pedals” types. PDK’s can be fun.

  16. Avatar

    Alfa for sure..

  17. Avatar
    Lance Stewart

    Keith, I owned a 75 911 S Sportamatic previously owned by Mitch Payton of Pro Circuit fame. Mitch owned the car because he was paralyzed from a racing accident and could drive the car with simple hand controls.
    I loved the car, I’m a left foot braker and really enjoyed it. Mitch and I also raced in the Firehawk Series with Hondas set-up with Porsche Sportamatic systems so it could be raced by Mitch. Fred could adapt the same system to your Alfa….

  18. Avatar
    Jay A Mackro

    Looks like most responders have suggested sticking with the Alfa and that’s what I’m going to say too. But let me come at it from a different angle:

    You are a dyed-in-the-wool Alfa guy (as I am too), so you need at least one vintage car wearing the serpent and cross in your stable. And as you know, a vintage Alfa is the admission ticket to a whole world of interesting events and people. So yes, see how the clutch conversion goes and start driving that Jr. Z again!

    Good luck with the project!

  19. Avatar

    As the owner of Porsche’s too numerous to count over the last 30 years, including a GT2, Carrera 2 and 944 track car today, I say keep the Zagato. Hopefully, the clutch assist will work well and you will drive a unique, fun and gorgeous car. My grandfather had a Beetle with the Sportomatic and it was annoying. Trying to sell a 911 Sportomatic would be tough, surprised any are left today anyway. Thought they were all converted to manual. A 928S4 is the perfect automatic Porsche, and you have one

  20. Avatar

    Any Alfa over any Porsche any day. Besides Sportmatics are so very unsatisfying. IMHO.

  21. Avatar

    As the resident cheapskate, I say keep the Alfa. It’s already sorted, unknown costs are small and being able to scratch the Alfa itch is just around the corner.
    Pretend you’re buying it from a good friend and that you have observed every single maintenance or improvement event over the last few years. Of course you want it!
    Where would you find another as well set up?

  22. Avatar
    Shawn Kolbe

    Having met Fred Lux and seen his mechanical marvels over the years…

    You’ll be keeping the Alfa for sure, once Fred blesses it with his engineering magic…

    Besides, the Porsche looks so “cookie cutter” compared to the Alfa…

    And lastly. As pointed out. The Alfa is already $orted out to your liking…

  23. Avatar

    I had a 73 911E sportomatic that just sold via auction (Gooding & Co’s recent Geared Online sale) for $69,300 including premium. The car was a numbers-matching high quality driver, and I spend over $6000 having the sportomatic rebuilt a few years ago. I have other 911’s so this was a curiosity for me. I kept thinking that I would keep the car to have something fun to drive as I got older, but when I realized that the last time I drove the car was Monterey Car Week 2019, I decided to let it go. I enjoyed the driving experience, although the car always felt a bit more “delicate” than my other 911’s. My kids are not fully adept at a manual transmission, so they were able to drive the sporto as well. I think the sportos are underrated, and I suspect that they will eventually creep up in value. I believe the Hagerty and SCM price guides suggest a 15-20% discount from a true manual. Reality is probably more like 20-25% today, and they are a much tougher sell. Bottom line is I had fun with mine for several years, and found the overall ownership experience quite enjoyable, despite some negative comments from the peanut gallery online. It is still a 911 after all.

  24. Avatar
    Jack Tockston

    Add my vote to the majority here! Today’s Seattle craigslist has four pages of Porsches on offer versus zero Alfa Zs. Dare to be different!

  25. Avatar
    Howard Jacobs

    Are you kidding ! Keep the Zagato, of course. It’s my favorite Alfa for which I’d gladly trade my 1962 Giulia Abnormale – rotisserie restoration. The Sportomatic will be terrible. Hopefully, the hand operated clutch will be acceptable, however, if not, just looking at the beauty of the Zagato lines will continue to bring you huge satisfaction, besides both Alex and Bradley will thank you in then years to come.

  26. Avatar

    Do I dare ask what your son recommends?

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