Keith’s Blog: The Sprint Speciale – Preserve or Restore?

Now that our 1961 Alfa Romeo Sprint Speciale is coming back to life, we’ve got some questions to address.

The car is an unusual mix of a well-aged mediocre paint job, excellent original chrome and a completely incorrect interior.

From 20 feet away, the car looks terrific. This is why I was attracted to it at the Auctions America Fort Lauderdale sale a couple of years ago.

It had been in a museum for nearly 30 years. The engine was frozen, but the coachwork and chrome were protected from the elements. Consequently, there is no rust in the car, and the nose and tail appear to never have been hit.

Our local expert Nasko rebuilt the entire drivetrain, suspension and brakes. I’ve got about 250 miles on the car, and it’s coming together. The car rode a little rough. Then we discovered that the Pirellis on it were more than three decades old. Yes, they’re being replaced.

I recoil at the thought of stripping the paint off of the car and doing a complete body restoration and respray.

Bill Gillham just did that to my 1965 Giulia Spider. That car had internal and structural rust — and so needed a total. But it still lost a lot of its original story and patina.

The SS doesn’t have the rust issues. So I can leave the paint and body alone.

Three extra louvers were cut into the hood. I’m just going to leave them. If I ever decide to perform a total restoration on it, they can be corrected at that time.

The chrome is surprisingly good. In fact, in appears the bumpers have never been off the car. So they can stay the way they are.

The interior will be redone. It’s simply wrong. The seat patterns, the colors and the fabrics are all incorrect.

There is nothing to be gained by having a car that so far from factory-spec.

I’ve decided to upgrade the seats from cloth to leather, while returning to the original gray with red piping configuration.

The headliner in the car isn’t bad, but once the seats are replaced, it will look aged. So it, along with the sun visors, will be replaced as well. I’ve also ordered a complete rubber kit for the car, and we will replace all the rubber while the glass is out to fit the headliner.

My goal at the end of this process is to have a slightly scruffy — but honest-looking — 57-year-old car. It should run and drive as it did when new. Perhaps it will run a bit better due to the modern cams and 1,400-cc “big bore” kit Nasko installed.

Every old car presents a different puzzle. Over the years, they have all been used and cared for differently. This means there is no “one-size-fits-all” answer to restoring them.

We are simply analyzing what we have, and trying to make the best decisions possible to go forward — giving equal weight to preservation and 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 Blogs, Keith Martin

8 comments

  1. Keith,
    Is the paint original, or an original color? It does not seem to fit the car, but then again, maybe it makes it more unique than the typical red or white.

  2. Do a sensitive update to the interior, not over the top and enjoy a wonderful car.

  3. Nice car, and good job keeping the body as is. The old ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ maxim again.

    It’s always a dilemma to know what to do with not-so-great decisions made by previous owners of the distant past. Sometimes they are worth preserving as a testament to the times and driving environment that existed when the car first came out – though “customised” interiors rarely fall into that category unless they’ve been commissioned by some minor royal or a famous racing driver…

    … just make sure that you use the car regularly once you’ve done the interior. That way the patina will be back again in five years’ time!

  4. Leave it alone, it looks great. Doing anything else is just spending money and time that could be better used driving and enjoying the car. If it were me I’d be tempted to keep the interior as well, but if its going to bug you, get rid of it. Your scheme will indeed look better as well as keep you happy. Stop there.

    I hope to see it in Forest Grove this year just the way it is.

  5. As you get older you begin to realize that the expenditures on cars and other things cuts deeply into your quality of life as income decreases. In other words, you will never get the money out of the car that you put in it! Then how will you sell the car? The old people who love old cars are OLD and worried how they will keep their life style.

  6. Just my two cents. If the trim around the windows has never been removed, and the rubber is in good condition, I would highly recommend that you reconsider replacing the headliner. Installing new rubber and getting the trim back on is not for the faint of heart. (Having done this on a ‘57 Sprint-I can say with experience).

    I would recover the seats, and leave the rest of the interior alone. Given the fact that the car has other non-original and unrestored parts, I think replacing the headliner is to be left for a total restoration, if that is ever done.

    You have a beautiful car. Leave it as original as you can. (and don’t cause yourself undo headaches in the process).

Comments are closed.