Whenever you take your car out of the garage, you are putting it at risk.

That was brought home to me recently. I had decided to join the Northwest Alfa Romeo Club (NWARC) on a day tour of Bainbridge Island, Washington. This would also give me a chance to spend time with SCM 1000 Routemaster Fred Russell and John Schommer, who participated in both SCM 1000 tours this year.

My friend Schön Hoeschen and I decided to take our 1991 S4 Alfa Spider. It’s a delightful car, in as-new condition with just 23,000 miles. This would be our first 500-mile trip in the car.

Fred recommended we spend the Friday night in Edmonds, WA, about 190 miles from Portland. We would join the NWARC group in the morning. The tour was an all-day affair, with lunch in Poulsbo, WA. We would have dinner with John and Fred in Tacoma, WA, then head home.

The forecast for Friday night called for a torrential downpour. To compound the situation, I had an appointment that kept us from getting onto I-5 north until 4:30, right in the heart of rush hour.

Although the Alfa performed admirably, the drive was not pleasant. We were both reminded of just how small and low the Alfa is compared to the two-ton “Bro-Dozer” trucks that sped by us at 80 mph and more.

I visualized just how little control we would have if someone were to create a problem ahead of us. On the rain-drenched highway, we wouldn’t be able to stop or turn to avoid a crash.

Unlike other Alfa convertibles I have owned, the top on the S4 kept the water out, both speeds of the wipers worked, and the seven-outlet defroster kept the windshield clear.

However, in retrospect, I would have liked to take a modern car. The fun of being in an Alfa Spider was offset by feeling as if we were skating on ice.

By contrast, the drive home, in fall sunshine on a dry road, was delightful. The automatic S4 has a numerically higher rear-end than a manual-shift car to give it a little better acceleration, and its archaic three-speed automatic has no overdrive. That means that 65 mph is its sweet spot on the freeway. Old cars and being in a hurry don’t go well together.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

We met the NWARC group in the parking lot of a Starbucks in Edmonds. There was a line of traffic waiting to exit the lot onto the main street that would take us to the ferry. A space opened up and we pulled halfway through the line, between two cars, to take a different exit from the lot.

Suddenly, the BMW to the left of us shifted into reverse and started backing directly towards our driver’s door. Neither Schön nor I realized how many times we could curse in the three seconds it took for the driver to slam into us.

Then, he shifted back into drive and attempted to leave the parking lot. Schön chased him down on foot. When he stopped, he wanted to know why she was “harassing him,” and why “we had stopped so close to the back of his car.” She took pictures and got his information.

I remarked that it is a rare Alfa that can drive sideways into the back of another car.

Momentarily, I was crushed. The S4 had been never hit and never touched, an all-original-paint car. And now it wasn’t.

However, no one was injured, the door still shut properly, and we were able to continue on the tour.

At dinner that night, Fred and John expressed how upset they were about the situation. I replied that nothing we could do could change what had happened. I just accepted it as part of the risk you take when you go into the wilds of modern traffic in any car, classic or modern.

I am sure my insurance company will handle the situation. Portland guru Tom Black has taken the car in, and said he believes he can save the door—which he prefers to replacing it with one from another car.

Is there a lesson to be learned here?

Not really. The driver of the BMW said, “I didn’t see you, the car in front of me was backing up so I backed up to give him room. And you were too close to me, so I hit you.”

There was no way to predict that the driver would not use his mirrors, or his backup camera or proximity alerts. He was just exhibiting “dumb driving” and our poor little S4 went from the status of “clean CARFAX” to “incident reported.” Its value was likely diminished, as well.

Aside from this, we enjoyed our 500-mile trip and are ready for the next one. In the end, it’s just a car, and it’s just sheet metal. Life goes on.



  1. a vivid reminder that s*** happens! reminiscent of my, not as severe, experience…when leaving through the back door of my hotel I saw a grocery cart (left by homeless person ?) being blown by a breeze directly into the side of my unblemished car..no way to get there in time; I could only watch in horror.

  2. What a freakin’ bummer!! And the “hitter” is an Asshole.

  3. Keith, I would be interested to know if you could add “diminished value” to your damage claim against the other driver’s insurance company, and what the response from them might be.

  4. Keith, so sorry to hear. And imagine that, a completely oblivious AND unrepentant driver. (Don’t get me started.) Your attitude is commendable.

    I’ve done ‘diminished value’ claims twice and both times were favorable experiences. Not as good as having the original unblemished car, but at least a balm for a bruised experience. Vive la Alfa!

  5. Sorry to hear of the crash, but kudos on how you handled it. I remember being in the pits at the Monterey Historics back in the early 80s where I witnessed a driver totally freaking out over minor damage suffered by his (admittedly somewhat valuable) Alfa in the previous race. After several minutes of observing his histrionics an older, wiser man next to me finally said, “for god’s sake man, it’s just metal.” In the years since, those words have more than once helped me maintain perspective when an automotive object of my affection incurred damage, whether due to my negligence or that of others. Forgive, be well and drive on.

  6. Had a similar experience with my then original paint S3 Alfa. Lady that backed into me in a Volvo had the radio up so loud she couldn’t hear the constant horn, while I tried to get the car in reverse to get out of her way. Turns out the car wasn’t registered to her, she had left her driver’s license at home, and she had no proof of insurance. She called her step father, who brought all the documents to the scene of the accident, and was annoyed I wouldn’t just take her word for everything.

    Still the most fun car I own, even if I have way too much in it. It will probably never be sold while I am alive.

  7. “for god’s sake man, it’s just metal.” Yes, that’s true, and as Keith wrote, “Whenever you take your car out of the garage, you are putting it at risk”.

    But I don’t think that’s the major issue here; the issue is the prevalence of the attitude “its not my fault and don’t expect me to say I’m sorry”. Sure, accidents can happen. But the person who caused the accident could at least have shown some common courtesy.

  8. The most dangerous place on the open road is not on the open road but in a parking lot. Sitting or moving, you’re a target all the same.