There comes a moment of truth for any old car that has been restored: the day you put that car on the road.
This past weekend, the Alfa Romeo Owners of Oregon and the Northwest Alfa Romeo Club (headquartered in Seattle) put on a joint tour, “Motore Alfisti Avventura NW.” Dennis Torgeson, Forrest Whit and Gordy Hyde were the organizers. The tour was to be a weekend of reckoning for SCM’s 1958 Sprint Veloce. Was the Sprint really a car — or still a work in progress?
The Long Road to Readiness
The Sprint has been much more of a project than I anticipated. I bought it at Concorso Italiano in 2012 for $38,500. It was handsome and appeared to need nothing. I thought I had gotten a good deal – and the seller was happy as well.
Another $50,000 and two years later, pounds of bondo have been removed, the car 50% repainted, and the engine, gearbox and suspension completely redone. Although the seats are upholstered in a slightly incorrect pattern, I decided enough was enough and left them alone.
Once the car was back on the road, I noticed the rear end was noisy. Jon Norman of Alfa Parts in Berkeley restored and adapted a late-model rear end, and Nasko’s Imports here in Portland installed it. I didn’t realize how much the original rear end whined until it was replaced. It transformed the car.
Waiting almost a year for the new rear end meant I’d put only 1,100 miles on the car since the engine and gearbox were finished in December of 2013. I couldn’t wait to put in some serious seat time.
A Convergence of Alfas
My copilot this weekend was Lilly Pray, who flew out from Boulder for the tour, leaving her 1958 Porsche 356A Convertible D in its garage. Lilly grew up driving classic cars (her father was noted collector Malcolm Pray), but this was her first time in a 1950s Alfa.
The Oregon contingent met at Elmer’s pancake house near Portland International Raceway. The usual suspects were there, in an assortment of spiders, coupes and four-door sedans.
We headed north on Interstate 5, taking Exit 68 at Chehalis. There we met not only the gang from Seattle, but a trio of intrepid adventurers from Vancouver, British Columbia. One of them, Felix Chiu, drove his Sprint Speciale. It added some visual spice to the gathering, with its Bertone-designed space-age appearance.
The SCM Sprint Veloce was as happy as any ’50s car on a modern freeway. With a 4-speed tunnel-case gearbox and a 4.1 rear axle, the car turned about 4,000 rpm at 70 mph. It was not uncomfortable — but the huge SUVs barreling by on both sides were disconcerting. If one of them had run over the little Alfa, the driver probably would have thought it was just a speed bump.
The group took U.S. Route 12 to State Route 123 and into Mount Rainier National Park. The weather was overcast, so we didn’t get a good look at the mountain. But when we came to a rest stop, we had the chance to do what we tour-goers love most — walk around and look at each other’s cars.
Our lunch stop was in Naches, and the little town looked terrific with nearly 30 vintage Alfas taking up all the parking spots.
After lunch we worked our way through Yakima River Canyon on SR 821, visited the Ginkgo Petrified Forest and ended the day in Ellensburg.
The Sprint, with its 1,422-cc engine (I had the “big bore kit” installed when the engine was overhauled), pulled strong. We never fell behind and were able to pass moden cars on several stretches of two-lane.
The cockpit ventilation was good; the rear windows pivot out and give a nice flow-through in hot weather. On chilly mornings, you just open the hood and turn the faucet-style heater valve to get warm air circulating.
With its Rugh springs, a 1-inch front sway bar and Bilstein shocks, the Sprint was noticeably flatter through the turns than some of the Alfas that still had their stock suspensions. Modern Pittatori cams give the engine a surprising amount of torque from 3,000 rpm on. We were in the 3,500-to-5,500 rpm range most of the time, exceeding 6,000 when passing.
Lilly drove in the afternoon, and after getting used to the soft brake pedal, she motored on with aplomb.
The stock four-wheel-drum brakes are the last element that still needs attention. Everything in the braking system is new, from the master cylinder to the wheel cylinders to the shoes. The pedal simply doesn’t inspire confidence when you apply it. Pulling out the hand brake slightly doesn’t change things, so it’s not a matter of adjusting the rear drums.
Someone suggested that the drums may have been turned so many times that the brakes just can’t make good contact. If you have any ideas or know of modifications that would give a harder pedal, I’d appreciate hearing them.
On day two, we joined up with friend Doug Hartman and his nephew Kelly in Doug’s immaculate Giulia Super and took a different route home than the rest of the group. We went through Goldendale and then Klickitat and entered the Columbia River Gorge at Lyle. We stopped at one of Hartman’s favorite wineries, Memaloose, and enjoyed some of their full-bodied reds.
Lilly and I said goodbye to Doug and Kelly and headed west on SR 14. We crossed over the Columbia at the Bridge of the Gods and made it back to Portland just in time for her to catch her 5:53 flight to Denver.
Total distance covered was 950 kilometers (about 590 miles). The car used one quart of oil and got 18 mpg. It never overheated, and the engine never misfired. Aside from the soft brakes, it simply ran like the little Italian hot rod that it is.
In many ways, this was a rite of passage for the Sprint. I call what I’ve done to this car a “restoration by accident,” as I didn’t buy it intending to do much to it. But the deeper I got, the more things I found that needed to be replaced or repaired. If I had known at the beginning what I know now, I would have just started with a total restoration. In some ways, that’s a simpler process because you simply replace everything. My haphazard path has been strewn with “now what’s broken?” moments.
But the car is starting to get some serious miles on it now and seems to be happy. It’s exhilarating to drive, especially when you get off the freeway and into the back country.
I want to give a special thanks to Dennis Torgeson and his gang that put this tour together. When we use our cars, we re-commit to the reasons we have these old Alfas in the first place. They give us a visceral thrill that no other car, new or old, can replicate.
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