We were crossing the Oregon High Desert at 80 mph in a 52-year-old Alfa Romeo when Bradley’s jacket blew out the window. A second earlier he had been struggling to get one arm out of a sleeve.
We were about 20 miles from Madras, OR, in a caravan of vintage Alfas. This was the Alfa Romeo Owners of Oregon’s 39th Annual Old Spider Tour. We covered 500 miles in two days on two-lane country roads. The 1965 Giulia Spider Veloce we were driving was fresh from a two-year, ground-up restoration.
This was its inaugural outing.
According to the Alfa Romeo Centro Documentazione, our car, s/n 39020, was painted Grigio Mare with a red interior. It left the factory in Arese, Italy, on January 28, 1965, and was sold on February 1, 1965, to Alfa Romeo Inc. in Newark, NJ.
The Spider first entered my life in 1990. I found it through an ad in Hemmings Motor News. The asking price was $22,000. It turned out to be located two blocks from my home in Portland, OR. I had never seen the car on the street.
I drove it for a few years, and then sold it to an Alfa enthusiast, Ken Metzger, who lived in Belvedere, CA. As he drove it off, I said, “If you ever want to sell it, please let me know.”
In 2005, I got call from Metzger’s family saying that they were going to sell the car, and they offered it to me at the same $22,000 they had paid for it. Those were the days when Alfa values were static.
We had Alfa expert Conrad Stevenson in Berkeley, CA, rebuild the top end of the engine. He also went through the car from stem to stern and attended to deferred-maintenance items. The cost was about $22,000. I flew down with good friend Doug Hartman, picked up the car and drove it up Highway 1 to Oregon.
It was like spending a weekend with an old friend that I hadn’t seen in a decade.
A few months later, with my daughter Alex driving, we heard a fatal knocking sound from the engine as we were crossing the top deck of the Fremont Bridge in Portland. We had the car flat-bedded back to Conrad. After another $22,000, which included line-boring the block and a new crank from Sammy Hale, the engine was done.
In its half-century of use, the Alfa had never been off the road for a restoration. It had had minor rust repairs to the rocker panels and the trunk. It also had a mediocre repaint and fresh upholstery.
Our local Alfa technician, Nasko, noted that when he put the car on the lift, the doors wouldn’t open properly. That was evidence that there was serious corrosion under the skin of the car and the chassis was flexing.
Two years ago, we took the car to restorer Bill Gillham, who works his magic in Jefferson, OR — about 60 miles south of Portland. Once the paint was removed, it was clear that the only option was a complete restoration. The car had to be stripped down to the bare tub, all rust repair performed, new paint applied and the car reassembled.
I anguished over this decision, as I believe that most complete restorations erase the identity of a car. Every little rock chip or scar it has earned through its use is eradicated, and the car becomes just another better-than-perfect show car. It is no longer a historical artifact. It becomes a freshly created confection.
It was expensive to bring the Alfa back to life. The invoices for the restoration and parts came to $104,000. This did not include any mechanical or interior work.
You probably note that the bills tallied since 1990 total $170,000. And that doesn’t include all the ancillary amounts spent over the years.
I am happy with the outcome. Gillham is one of a vanishing breed of restorers who know how to properly restore an Alfa.
I didn’t want a trailer queen, so we preserved as much of the patina as possible. The windshield posts and taillight housings were not rechromed, and the gauges were not restored.
A friend said, “You’re not erasing originality here. The Alfa has already been painted, reupholstered and the engine rebuilt more than once. All that you are doing is creating a new chapter in this car’s life. You’re also preparing it for your daughter, who will inherit the car.”
On the road
We finally got the Alfa turned around, and about a mile back, we found Bradley’s bright blue jacket by the side of the road.
Watching the string of Alfas streak across the Oregon High Desert on Highway 26 was a vintage-car lover’s fantasy. As most cars today seem to be painted in subdued shades of gray, the 30 Alfas, colorful in red, yellow, blue, gray and white, looked like a string of glass marbles rolling down the road.
Of the 30-plus vintage Alfas on the tour, more than 15 were Giuliettas and Giulias, ranging from 1957 to 1966. Few Alfa National Conventions can boast of having so many tour-ready Alfas.
As we headed towards the John Day Fossil Beds on the second day, I accelerated to 6,000 rpm in 2nd, 3rd and 4th gears. I settled into loping along at an easy 80 mph, at 4,000 rpm in 5th gear. All of my philosophical musings were left behind. With the rust removed, the chassis of the car was stiffer than I had ever experienced. The Spider tracked well through the turns, and the sound of the exhaust was exhilarating.
Bradley was a thoughtful navigator, and he enjoyed hanging out with the Alfa gang at the rest stops. Cars create memories, and in the 30 years the Spider Veloce has been in my life, it has created a pile of them.
Now there is one more: There’s a 9-year-old boy who will never forget having his jacket fly out the window somewhere in the Oregon High Desert, and his dad frantically whipping the car around to go get it.
Just another old-car experience. You can see more photos of the Spider Veloce through the years on p. 26. ♦