After finishing up our Amelia Island shoot for “What’s My Car Worth,” we traveled south to Fort Lauderdale to record more episodes. We evaluated nearly 50 cars, and the new shows will begin airing in July.

I’ve always liked the Auctions America sale in Fort Lauderdale. Donnie Gould leads the gang there, and they are unfailingly hospitable. We stay at the Hilton across the street from the convention center, and while it is slightly bedraggled and certainly no Ritz-Carlton, I welcome being able to walk five minutes from the hotel and be at our shoot.

I got a chance to drive about a dozen cars — my favorite part of the production process. I only drove each car for about a half hour, but in that time you can learn a lot about a marque, model and specific car.

I got to drive an Austin-Healey 100/4, a Morgan Plus 4, a Jaguar XK 150 3.4 S, a Willys Jeepster, a Maserati Ghibli, a Ferrari Daytona and a 289 Shelby Cobra, among others. Each model spoke in a clear voice and taught me something about the vision of the designers and engineers that created it.

In addition, there were two Alfas in the sale that we didn’t cover for WMCW. I naturally had a very serious attack of Alfa Red Mist. So let’s skip the Cobras and Daytonas and get right to how I came to register as a bidder — for a car I wasn’t really looking for, didn’t need and have no real place in my collection for.

Alfa Time

It’s no secret that I’ve been looking for a 1967 Duetto for some time, and the right one at the right price just hasn’t come along. The Roundtail at the Fort Lauderdale sale was labeled a Duetto, but it was actually a 1969 production car, making it a “Spider.” In the U.S., “Duetto” was used only for the 1967 cars.

I made up my mind some time ago that nothing but a 1967 car would do, so the ’69 was never something I seriously considered. However, as a new SCM Auction Analyst Pierre Hedary was there, we went over the car together as a training exercise.

It was quite straight with decent paint and no immediate signs of collision or corrosion. The trunk floor and spare tire well appeared to be in excellent condition. The shade of red seemed a little dark to me, but it was hard to tell under the convention center lights. The tell-tale bump in the bodywork in the center of the nose, matching the shape of the grille, looked good, and all of the stainless bumpers were in good (but not excellent) condition.

The dash was terrific with no cracks, and the seats showed no rips or splits.

Under the hood, a pair of Webers with aftermarket air cleaners replaced the SPICA fuel-injection system. There was a noticeable amount of surface corrosion on the headers and in the engine bay, which led me to believe that the car had lived near the ocean — not unusual at a Florida sale.

Overall I rated the car a 2-, and it if had been a 1967, I could have been interested. I thought the auction company estimate of $32k–$36k was a little aggressive, but the final price including commission of $33k showed they were more in tune with the market than I was.

Saved by Gillham and Jones

The other Alfa was the one that got me to register as a bidder. It was a 1963 Giulietta Spider Veloce, and it was very appealing at first glance. It was an extremely late 101-series car, as evidenced by the large taillights that are usually seen on only 1,600-cc engined Giulia models.

All of the correct 1300 Veloce bits were there, from the two-piece oil pan to the DCOE Webers to the tachometer that started at 2,000 rpm. The final bit that identified the car as a true Veloce was the small stub welded onto the frame on the driver’s side which keeps the aluminum sump from impacting the frame rail under hard acceleration. Only Veloces had these, and rarely are counterfeiters crafty enough to replicate them.

I crawled under the car and didn’t see any immediate signs of rust or accident damage. The paint was good, as was the panel fit. The seats were redone in the correct pattern, but in an incorrect material with more grain than they should have had — but they were certainly acceptable. The factory ashtray was still installed, which was unusual.

Don’t Need One

I’m not looking for a Giulietta Spider Veloce, as I already have a Giulia Spider Veloce and a Giulietta Sprint Veloce. The Giulietta doesn’t offer any experiences that I don’t already have access to – unlike the Duetto, which is really a completely different car, although more refined and in many ways less exciting, from the Giuliettas and the Giulias.

I took a photo of the engine number stamped on the pad on the block and the chassis number on the firewall and sent them off to my two Alfa gurus: restoration expert Bill Gillham and parts sourcer extraordinaire Matt Jones of Re-Originals. The engine number was AR00102.24526. The paint on the firewall was so thick that one of the numbers was obscured, but what I could read was 1702?9.

With 101-series Giuliettas, there is no way to tell which exact engine came with a specific chassis. With the earlier 750-series cars, there is a data plate under the hood which has the number of the engine originally installed in the car stamped on it. (Beware — replica plates are available, and they can be stamped however you want them to be.) But there are reference books that give date ranges for chassis and engine production, so for 101-series cars you can at least say whether an engine was built within the correct time period to have been original to a car.

They both fired back immediately with the same information. The chassis number was for a Veloce built in 1961. It wasn’t unusual for the car to be titled as a different year. But when I read their next sentences my interest in the car waned considerably.

Both gurus noted that a Veloce engine has a prefix of AR00106, not AR00102. The engine block in the car, with a 102 prefix, was from a Giulietta Normale (a lower-performance car with a single Solex carburetor) Spider or Sprint built in 1961.

Does It Make Any Difference?

Functionally, there is no difference in the ultimate performance of a Giulietta or Giulia, whether it has a Normale or Veloce block. The extra horsepower of the Veloce is created through different pistons, a shaved head, different cams, tubular headers, dual Weber carburetion and more.

So why should I care? The closest analogy I can use is that of a numbers-matching Corvette. It doesn’t make any performance difference if the block in your 1963 Split-Window Fuelie was replaced with one from 1964 or 1965, but it makes a huge difference to the serious collector.

As prices of Alfa Giuliettas and Giulias have skyrocketed during the past five years, suddenly things that didn’t make any difference in 2009 make a huge difference today. A true Veloce can bring a price premium of 35% or more over a Normale from a discerning collector.

This was a true Veloce, but for me, the fact that the block had been replaced simply made me not want to own the car. If I were looking for a Veloce as my only Alfa, this could have been a good choice. It wouldn’t be very difficult to track down a Veloce block cast in the same date range as the chassis, and for $5k–$10k more, you could have a “numbers matching” correct car.

But I’m not looking for a major project. The auction company estimate of $65k–$75k was not unrealistic. The high bid was $55k, and if I were the seller, I don’t think I would have taken it — given how good the car is in every respect except for a few numbers stamped on the block.

If the car had been been “numbers matching” and I could have stolen it for a $50k hammer (Yes, sometimes that does happen, just never to me), which is closer to $60k by the time you add the 10% commission and transport to Portland (I wonder if I’ll ever buy a car that is less than 3,000 miles away), I would have been interested — and I’d know I could get my money back, and perhaps even turn a small profit if I wanted to move the car on.

But since my day job isn’t buying and selling cars, I’d just as soon keep my powder dry for the right car for my collection, in the right condition, at the right price.

Don’t you hate it when information gets in the way of a deal? I do.

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