I’ve only put a few miles on our recently acquired 1991 Alfa Spider S4. With just 22,000 CARFAX-certified miles, it’s like new. In fact, its “newness” is a little unsettling.
The basic underlying 105-series chassis first entered production in 1964. I don’t know if any other new car sold in 1991 had such antiquated underpinnings.
With the S4 version, sold from 1991 to 1994 in the U.S., Pininfarina did a handsome update of the rear end, and color-keyed bumpers were a feature, front and rear. The interior is luxuriously appointed in leather and suede. This is not a car you want to leave outside with the top down.
Yet the engine was basically the same 2-liter version of the Alfa twin-cam engine first introduced in 1971.
When I delivered the car to our local Alfa guru, Nasko of Nasko’s Imports, he was impressed. And Nasko is not easily impressed. “It’s really a very low-miles car. I don’t see those very often,” he remarked.
I thought about all the Alfas I have brought him over the years, from our 1956 1900 CSS to the 1971 Junior Zagato. Although they were basically sound and complete, they all had serious needs. From engine overhauls to suspension rebuilds, they suffered from age and lack of proper maintenance.
The co-founder of Bring a Trailer, Randy Nonnenberg, has a soft spot for Alfas (and for Land Rovers as well, which makes us instant petroleum brothers).
Due to the increasing prices that 105 Alfas are bringing on BaT, there are more of them available, in decent condition, than ever before. When I bought my 750, 101 and 105-series Alfas, good ones were few and far between. It took me over a decade to find my 1958 Sprint Veloce, and although it looked good, it turned out to need everything (except rust repair, a saving grace).
So, the notion of buying a used Alfa that doesn’t need much is not something I am familiar with.
Even the best of my older Alfas, the 1971 Junior Zagato with the upgraded 1,750-cc engine, benefited from installing an Alfaholics “fast road” suspension and a 4.1 LSD rear end from a more modern Spider.
There are two reasons the 31-year-old S4 is almost like a “new car” to me. First, its low miles and excellent original condition are impressive. Second, the car’s list of needs is minor. Nasko found evidence of prior regular service, including a set of uprated Bilstein dampers.
Still, it could use a new air filter and some minor adjustments. For instance, the passenger window does not go all the way up.
The biggest issue is that the air conditioning doesn’t function. Nasko says a new compressor will solve the problem. I don’t really need a/c most of the year in Oregon, but I do like everything on my cars to function properly.
When I asked in an earlier blog what modifications I should consider, the best advice I got was that these cars were pretty good when new. Just driving it and learning to understand it without mods would be prudent. Which is what I am going to do.
I will spend the next few months just driving this new version of an old car and see what it has to teach me. It may well be that I won’t be calling Jon Norman at Alfa Parts for suspension, engine and cosmetic parts.
After all, a nearly new car wouldn’t need any of those things, would it?
Antiquated underpinnings? You have forgotten about Morgans that have used the same suspension andcframe designs since the 1930’s. At least the Series 4 Alfa Spiders got power assisted rack and pinion steering systems.
Wonderful story and a great collection Keith, keep them coming.
P.S. I think we may have the same hair colorist!
I had a 1991 S4, low miles, bought it from a fellow who really took care of it…but frankly, it had no soul. It was just a cruiser. Perhaps Mr. Martin will have a different experience given his extensive history with the marque. I had one other, a 1982 Spider Veloce and this S4 was definitely prettier with a more cohesive design but it was heavier and really just not much of a sports car in the true meaning of the phrase. I look forward to Mr. Martin’s experience with the S4 given his extensive history with so many different automobiles.
Loved the article, we have a 1992 Alfa Spider with 21K on the odometer, original powertrain, interior (tan), and paint (an Italian version of BRG). We are the third owner and we bought it about 8 years ago with 9.6K miles in Vermont. The Alfa is smooth and comfortable and a joy to drive. The big surprise is it requires next to nothing and is easy to maintain. Not fussy like my old MGB, no oil leaks or electrical gremlins.
Bottom line, it is fun, low maintenance, and affordable. I also suggest keeping it stock.
I have a series 3 with 6000 miles…….yes 6000 miles. Bought it from an older gentleman who purchased it in 1989. The car was last driven in 2000 for around 25 miles. Yes I have documents to prove it.
Unfortunately, I owned a 1986-87 2liter for 2 summers. Less than spirited handling, and couldn’t get out of its own way.
My everyday car was a 1986 944 Turbo; the ALFA suffered greatly from the comparison.