Keith’s Blog: Getting a Restoration Right

The SCM 1961 Alfa Sprint Speciale is in transition.

When we bought it at Auctions America in Fort Lauderdale in March of 2015, it had been stored for at least 30 years in the Cayman Motor Museum.

Its engine was frozen — upon disassembly, it appeared the head gasket blew, and the car was pushed into a corner to sit for decades.

At least it had the correct engine (AR00120.00778) for the chassis (10120.177277).

It appears the car had been raced at some time. The rear wheel arches were radiused, the hood had an additional seven louvers on each side, and the engine bay had been modified to accept air horn intakes on the Webers.

Alfa guru Nasko has put the car into running and driving condition. Now it’s at the shop of Tom Black and Guy Recordon to start the restoration of the body and interior.

It’s been quite a puzzle. My other cars have come to me complete and relatively correct, so I haven’t had to make any real decisions about patterns and materials.

This SS is mostly a blank slate. Today Tom Black measured local owner Rick Martin’s Sprint Speciale to get a template to “un-radius” the rear wheel arches. He will also attend to some minor rust in the floors and take a couple of small dents out of the body.

The goal with this car is to have a handsome driver, not a concours specimen.

But just how correct should the car be?

It has aftermarket Alfa magnesium wheels that were an option in the 1970s. Should I replace them with the correct Borrani wheels (which I have a set of)?

Matt Jones at Re-Originals has been sending me samples of options for seat materials. It appears that a “bluette” car like this SS could have had either a blue or red interior.

The seats had cloth facings. Guy has been doing research from his library of Alfa books.

Many owners, especially in the United States, choose to upgrade the interiors to leather or vinyl. I could also make the seats all red as they are in my Giulietta Sprint. This is handsome — but incorrect.

Now I have to decide between my personal aesthetic and what is correct.

Because this is a relatively rare car, with just 1,400 built, I feel a responsibility to try to make it right when I have the choice to do so.

Would you put all leather to the seats? Would you put the correct wheels on it? What should the guiding principle be here as this restoration moves along — my personal feelings or my responsibility to give the car a correct restoration?

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 Keith Martin

15 comments

  1. As the owner of a 1959 Sprint of the same Bluette color as the SCM SS, I would advocate for blue (and grey) interior. The wheels have to go and be replaced by the correct ones. What to do with the hood and extra louvers?
    A gorgeous car especially in that color. I am jealous.

  2. I am sure you bought the car because you felt it was an “important car” and as such should be saved. If you are serious, and I am sure you are, you are obligated to bring it back as close to original specifications as possible. Once you admit that that is the right thing to do, the decisions become much easier.

  3. My sense is that you aren’t in love with this car, so its restoration plan should take into consideration that it will be sold some day. And as SCM teaches us, cars sell better when they are original, rather than modified.

    At a minimum, I would install the steel, Borrani wheels – you have a set and those magnesium wheels may have been a period option, but they look cheesey.

    Certainly the extra louvers in the hood should be corrected while you are painting the car.

    The interior should be put back to cloth, but that is something that could be done later without a lot of disassembly. Finding the correct air filter assembly may be difficult, but it’s worth starting that hunt – again, if you locate original parts after the body restoration is complete, they can be easily installed.

    Good luck with the restoration. It’s nice to see an SS that isn’t red!

  4. I’d go for the original wheels, and would UPgrade to cloth seating sufraces, rather than DOWNgrade to leather. Yes, that’s a personal opinion, but I find that cloth is always better in a closed car, and it’s even pretty nice in my Honda Beat, where no leather or plastic was ever optional (as far as I know, that is). Keep it a driver, but a comfortable driver. Cloth breathes, which is why it was used originally. Clever, these Europeans.

  5. Keith,
    Generally I like alloy wheels (especially TZ) but not those,however, either way it’s not a big commitment since easily reversible. Thirteen louvers must go, factory looks much, much more tasteful and this is a do it now option or big bucks later, risk of color match,etc.,etc.,. As beautiful as the seats would be in lipstick red (like your Veloce, that I’m jealous of) I would stick to factory design and colors but give serious consideration to leather over cloth (up close what does the factory cloth look like would be part of the decision?) . That’s my two cents.

  6. Keith, as the owner of a 64SS I feel your concerns. Mine is a nice driver quality car appearing correct`t but it is a color change from white to black (on red) many years ago. If I were to do a bare shell restoration I would take it back to white but I would take the liberty of doing dark blue all leather interior purists be damned. I like odd wheels but those look over powering design wise to an SS. Fix the wheel arches and hood vents, go back to stock wheels and wheels and leave the interior for a later restoration. If I do to mine what you did to your Giulia I’d never enjoy it to the level I do now. I don’t want to own a trailer queen. Mine gets regular use and I feel fortunate to own it.

  7. It is your car do as you wish. I think the cost or resetting the radius on the fenders will be prohibitive and you will have to paint the car to match..thousands of dollars spent. If you like the leather seats that what you should do. Will your car become so valuable that you wish you had done a proper restoration, probably not! The person after you will change the car to his/her likes. If you had a Porsche RS 550 that would be a different story.

  8. Struggling with these same issues relative to my 1969 matching numbers GTO Judge. I hope to never sell it. So- upgraded brakes and suspension/wheels/tires; original frame reinforced; body, paint, and interior as original. Original RAIII engine with internal upgrades; will convert to a four-,five,- or six- speed manual. Aftermarket air, of course. And, all original components are being cleaned, documented and stored. (Although my painter is trying to sell me on an LS3/T56 package…)

    So I say, sort the cosmetics as original (bonnet and fenders, interior), and dial in engine, suspension and brakes/wheels/tires as you wish.

  9. Keith, everything you seem to be (understandably) agonizing over: trim, wheels, etc look to be easily-changed bits by any one any time in the future, yes? I say drop in whatever will make you smile when you walk up to the car for each drive.

  10. Personally finding correct parts and materials is ultimately more satisfying that just using whatever fits and the cost becomes a source of pride (and/or distress). If it’s a race car, it’s a different matter. My 2 cents anyway..

  11. Of the over a dozen or so older Alfas I’ve owned, the SS is my favorite one to drive, especially on a long tour out in the country. I’ve had the car for 30 years and still enjoys it every time I drive it. It is different than a Sprint, a Spider or a SZ. Comfortable, sure-footed and inspires confidence. I am sure you will love yours as much. As to what to do, if you are going to re-paint and dig into the body work, do the hood and the wheel-arches. The current configuration ruins the beautiful lines of the car plus in no time, you will be tired of explaining them. Good Luck!

  12. Keith – It is your car and you can do with it whatever you like. I’d put the correct wheels on it, since you already have a set, and I’d do the interior in fabric rather than leather or vinyl. If you prefer to slide on the seats, go for it. I sought to take my Giulietta back to the state in which the original owner passed it to me, and am happy with the result, as idiosyncratic as it is. Absent the personal connection with him, factory original might have been the choice. Do you need the extra louvers for engine cooling? If so, or if you think they look cool, leave them, if not, future value might push toward their removal as part of the bodywork process. It all sounds like a sweet set of choices to make. Motor On!!

  13. I could argue for leaving the wheel arches and hood louvers alone, since they are part of the cars possible racing history. I would do the interior with cloth facing and vinyl. If you could find a period racing photo of the car, that would bring it all full circle. The wheels have to go–they are hideous.

  14. I think I would put in the cloth interior. The question is what do you want to do with the car. The 2600 SZ that Tom and Guy are helping me restore is going to be changed away from the appliance white and black vinyl to midnight blue and a tan leather interior. I will show it a bit, but I will drive it. So, there you go.

  15. I think you can’t go wrong by putting as close to original as you can get. This is the perfect car for that set of Borranis you already own. As far as the bodywork and interior go, make them as close to factory new as you can. If you want to modify anything, do it with the engine and clutch- that way it will look original but go faster and shift better. One of the nice things about vintage postwar Alfas is that they were very harmoniously designed cars- the visual elements went together beautifully, and the engine and chassis were well-matched. That aesthetic is where you should be aiming in your restoration of the car. You will thank yourself, and the next owner will thank you as well.

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