I’ve known Brad Miller for 20 years. We have many mutual friends, and his wife, Nancy, and I serve together on the board of directors of Oregon Ballet Theatre.
Brad, who’s a successful real-estate investor, and Nancy keep a barge in France in which they ply the canals of Europe several months each year.
He’s always been interested in sports cars, had a variety of late-model Porsches over the years and recently bought a 2010 Carrera S cabriolet.
He’s often talked about buying a vintage car — but never pulled the trigger.
Several months ago he wrote in an email, “It’s time for me to buy an Alfa Berlina. I want dark green with tan, because that’s the color of one that my Dad and I test-drove when I was 16. We didn’t buy that car, but I’ve never forgotten it.”
After a quick note to Andrew Watry, keeper of the Berlina Registry (www.berlinaregister.com), things moved rapidly.
Andrew knew of a 1972 Berlina in the Bay Area. It was a handsome car — although fully priced at just over $20,000. Most important, it was green with a tan interior.
Berlinas have always been the transition sedan of the Alfa world. They were the bridge between the classic Giulia Super and the unloved transaxle-equipped Alfetta 4-door.
Their lines are clean and unassuming, without the baroque styling of the Supers. They were never raced to the same extent the Supers were, so they don’t have the cachet of being “The Family Car That Wins Races.”
On the plus side, they have handsome wood-faced dashboards with attractive gauges. The trunks are large, and there is more space in the rear seat than in the Super. This is a true 4-passenger saloon. Their engines are more powerful than those of the Super, and their suspensions and brakes are more capable.
Let the spending begin
Since taking possession of the car, Brad has nearly doubled his “investment” in it. He has installed new springs, shocks and wheels from Alfaholics.
The engine has been tuned and myriad small things attended to. Ben Howe, of Ralli-Round in Kirkland, WA, did most of the work. Nasko of Nasko’s Imports in Portland, OR, contributed as well.
During his process of rejuvenation, we have come to agree that it’s probably not possible to have a reliable car for tours and events without investing somewhere near $50,000. And that’s if you start with a decent car.
These cars are now half-a-century old. They have lived far past their designer’s wildest dreams. Many key components are simply used up and in need of replacement. This is not an inexpensive process.
Brad recently took his car on the SCM30 1,000-mile tour (we will have a complete review of that event in the next issue). When the red fuel-pressure light came on at the 6,000-foot level while crossing Mount Hood, he and his intrepid co-pilot Michael Hummel found a replacement fuel filter at a local O’Reilly Auto Parts store and replaced the clogged original one.
Hummel bought a pair of vise-grips to pinch off the fuel lines before Brad was soaked in gasoline as he detached the filter.
The sight of these two grown men on their backs in a parking lot, covered with grease, oil and gasoline, brought a smile to my face.
They could have been 16, when fixing a car on the road was our only option. In 1968, we didn’t have AAA coverage or cell phones. We had no option but to get our cars going again, ourselves, with whatever resources we had at hand.
Adventures with friends
Brad loves his car. He says it brings back memories of that long-ago drive with Dad. According to his research, given how few Berlinas were sold, there’s a very good chance that this is the very same car they tested.
We talk about how being in an old car brings the road to life. You have to pay attention to which gear you are in, and which line you are taking around a corner. Hitting 70 mph is a milestone; hitting 80 mph on a curvy road is an Olympian achievement.
Is this experience worth $50,000? Brad would argue yes.
The Berlina is a key to the magic kingdom of camaraderie and experiences that only old-car ownership can engender.
Before SCM30, Brad fretted that he had “the least-valuable car in the tour” and he wondered if he would have to put it at the far end of the parking lot each night.
I told him there were two kinds of people in the world: those who had an old car and were on the tour — and those who weren’t on the tour and simply wished they were.
It is far better to have the least valuable car on a 1,000-mile tour than the most valuable car at a Cars & Coffee, where you spend an hour primping and pimping in front of your modern supercar before driving it back to your immaculate garage.
Forever worth at least $20,000
Brad has gone all-in with this ownership experience, and he has been amply rewarded. He has made new friends and driven on wonderful roads he would never have experienced otherwise. He has also renewed his faith in his ability to solve problems and get his analog beast back on the road, something that simply can’t happen with a modern computer-controlled digital car.
He asked what I thought his Berlina was worth, now that he has put another $20,000 into it after the initial $20,000 purchase price.
“That’s easy,” I replied. “You might have one of the best Berlinas in the world, and it’s worth $20,000 all day long.” ♦