My first two cars were British — a 1960 Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite and a 1958 MGA.
“When are you going to get a real sports car?” asked my good friend Bjarne Holm.
Bjarne was driving his mother’s 1958 Giulietta Spider Normale. We were parked outside Lakeside Presbyterian Church near Stonestown in San Francisco. This was in 1969.
Bjarne walked me around the car. He proudly showed off its amenities — wind-up windows, a top that stayed attached to the car, doors that locked and a heater.
Then he opened the hood. Compared to the pushrod 4-cylinder engines with cast-iron blocks in my cars, the engine in the Alfa was a jewel. It was all-alloy, with twin overhead cams. I found out later that the rear brakes of the Alfa, with massive alloy drums, were bigger than the front brakes of my MGA.
So the hunt was on.
I found several Alfas for sale in the San Francisco Chronicle. They were just oddball used cars then, from 6 to 10 years old.
I settled on a 1963 Giulia Spider Normale, red with a black interior. I learned later that its small, yellow front-fender-mounted turn indicators meant it was originally delivered to either Germany or Holland. The data plate on the firewall confirmed this.
However, it had U.S.-spec gauges (reading in miles rather than kilometers — and Fahrenheit rather than centigrade). That was a mystery I never solved.
I paid $900 for it, and that included a Weber carburetor setup, with manifold — if I wanted to upgrade the car to Veloce specs.
I immediately sold the Webers for $150 to Bjarne, making my out- of-pocket cost $750.
Enhancing its exotic allure, the car was equipped with a 5-speed gearbox – something you would never find in a British car of the era. According to the paperwork, a Rambler dealer in Santa Barbara rebuilt the engine and installed a 1,700-cc big-bore kit.
I didn’t stop to ask why the engine had needed a rebuild so early in its life.
With a 5.12:1 rear end, the car was buzzy on the freeways. But it was perfect for local autocrosses. Nearly every weekend I would drive from my home in San Francisco to San Jose, about 50 miles away, to compete. The 1,700-cc kit and the 5.12 made the car a formidable contender in its class.
I have a handful of trophies stashed away somewhere.
Bjarne and I made several trips to Yosemite National Park in our two cars, my red 1600 following his white 1300. Today, seeing those two Alfas together would qualify as a unicorn sighting.
In 1968, we were just two kids driving around in foreign sports cars.
Coming up: I take the Alfa to Oregon, and learn about real winter driving