We do these things to ourselves.
On purpose. It’s part of our old-car madness.
When American Car Collector contributor Michael Pierce and his wife, Linda, invited me to spend Christmas Day night with them, it became an excuse to give an old car some exercise.
They live in Carlton, OR, a bucolic town in the heart of Oregon’s Pinot Noir region. It’s about 44 miles from Portland on the main roads. But why take a four-lane highway when there are back roads to be explored? Never mind that it was Christmas Day and cold — but clear and above freezing.
I hadn’t driven the 1958 Sprint Veloce since September. I checked the fluids and added a little air to the tires. It fired right up, although the Marelli starter was slow to turn over the engine at first. (“They’re all like that,” I’ve been told.). The high-compression 1,422-cc pistons don’t make the puny little starter motor’s job any easier.
My Sprint, chassis 1493.06524, with engine 1315.31015, was built on April 3, 1958, and sold to a dealer in Lugano, Switzerland, on April 8. It is a Confortevole, essentially a lightweight Sprint without the aluminum hood, doors and trunk — but with identical performance equipment. Some say there were 199 built; I have seen three others.
SCM subscriber Santo Spadaro races one.
Once on the way, I was reminded of how pathetic the heaters in 750 and 101 Series Alfas are in weather below 40 degrees. The later 105 cars, by comparison, are equipped with blast furnaces. Twenty miles into the trip, I realized I still had the fresh-air intake open. I closed it, and the interior temperature improved immediately, although wearing a heavy sweater was still a good idea.
I took Interstate 5 south from Portland to Highway 99W. I was pleased at how easily the Sprint cruised at 70 mph. Part of my requirement for a vintage car is it must easily keep up with modern expressway traffic.
From 99W, Michael’s secret back route includes taking Bell Road, which leads under a picturesque railway trestle. From there, it’s a straight shot to Newberg, where you pick up Highway 240, which then takes you to Carlton.
Michael is a lifelong Corvette guy, and a senior NCRS judge for mid-year (Sting Ray) cars. However, since he has become part of the ACC and SCM gang, we have corrupted him — at least in the view of his Corvette friends.
We at SCM have enhanced his vehicular appreciation with an introduction to the world of Porsches. His stable now includes a 993 cabriolet as well as the ex-SCM 996 Turbo.
After a spirited evening discussion about the merits of 427/435-hp Corvettes (he has one) versus 500-hp Turbos (he chipped his), we turned in early.
While I had checked to make sure the forecast was for sunny weather, I hadn’t paid any attention to the temperature. It dropped into the high 20-degree range overnight. The Sprint was parked outside. When I came out to it at 8 a.m., the temperature was 30 degrees. The car was covered with a sheet of ice. This was probably the first time in 50 years it has been outside overnight in these temperatures.
It was time to start the car. I hadn’t brought jumper cables or starter fluid. After all, I was only going to Carlton, so why would I possibly need them?
I inserted the key and heard the reassuring clicks of the electric fuel pump. However, when I twisted the key, the starter motor barely turned the engine over.
Michael was sure it would never start, but I had more faith. After a minute or so, the engine fired and the throaty sound of the dual Weber DC03s reverberated through the neighborhood. Michael poured a pitcher of warm water over the windows to melt the ice.
A few minutes later, I was headed home. I avoided some of the backroads, as they were quite icy. I saw more than one modern AWD SUV off the road in a ditch. The drivers had made the common mistake of confusing electronic nanny-aids with actual driving skills.
With the fresh-air vent closed, once the water temperature got near 180 degrees the car was quite comfortable. The drive home was uneventful. The total distance for the round trip was around 100 miles. The Sprint got some exercise, and I was reminded why I am so fond of this car.
In addition to the Klaus Menzel-rebuilt tunnel-case gearbox, the Sprint has period-typical performance modifications, including a Denny Pillar-built engine, a Jon Norman-refurbished 4.10 limited-slip rear end, and a complete Rugh suspension. Consequently, the car offers a driving experience nearly identical to what a “boy-racer” Sprint would have provided nearly six decades ago.
These were remarkable cars, far ahead of their time when new, and they are still superior vintage automobiles today.
As far as the starting issue, it’s time to have our guru Nasko address it and leave behind the “all Marelli starters are like this” philosophy. He’ll check the battery first, and probably replace it. After that I will suggest he pull the starter and have it rebuilt.
I don’t intend to have the Sprint spend nights outside in below-freezing weather on a regular basis. But chances are it started just fine in those conditions when it was delivered new in Switzerland in 1958. There’s no reason it shouldn’t start just as well today. ♦